Four Things You Might Not Know about Jacob Hamblin

Samuel R. Palfreyman
12 August 2019

The Jacob Hamblin Home in Santa Clara, Utah, was originally constructed between 1862 and 1863. It is a historic pioneer residence that has been restored and opened to visitors. While the home bears Jacob’s name, evidence suggests that he may have spent more time visiting indigenous tribes, exploring remote regions, and guiding federal expeditions than living in this home of seven years. Jacob’s obligations kept him away for months at a time. Nevertheless, there are significant events that occurred shortly before, during, and just after Jacob’s family lived in their Santa Clara home that reveal telling details about Jacob Hamblin’s extraordinary life. Here are four things you might not know about Jacob.

1. Jacob received a spiritual manifestation that he would be a messenger of peace to Native Americans.

Jacob Hamblin (1819–1886) devoted his life to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In particular, he spent his final 32 years serving as a missionary among American Indians in the southwest United States.

John Jarvis’s gouache painting titled Jacob Hamblin and Chief Tuba Near the Crossing of the Fathers on Route to Salt Lake City (1982). In 1870, Jacob Hamblin brought Hopi leaders from northern Arizona to meet Brigham Young.

When Jacob was about 34 years old, he came to a profound understanding about his relationship with Native Americans. He later remembered, “The Holy Spirit forcibly impressed me that it was not my calling to shed the blood of the scattered remnant of Israel [American Indians], but to be a messenger of peace to them. It was also made manifest to me that if I would not thirst for their blood, I should never fall by their hands.”1 Following this experience, Jacob accepted a call to serve as a missionary to American Indians. He and about 20 other men and their families were tasked with sharing the gospel and settling the southern frontier of the Utah territory.2

This assignment was not an average mission call. Before missionaries could share the gospel with the American Indians, they needed to learn to communicate with them and help with their temporal needs.3 Jacob and his fellow missionaries established harmonious relationships with Paiutes, Hopis, and Navajos. Once Jacob made a connection with tribes that allowed for increased Church settlement in an area, he moved his family to a new extremity of the frontier and began anew.

In August 1857, Brigham Young called Jacob to be the president of the Santa Clara Indian Mission.4 For three decades, Jacob served as the regional mission president, visiting Indian villages and tribes across southern Utah, southern Nevada, and northern Arizona.

2. Jacob suffered through difficult trials while on the frontier but persisted in providing for and loving his family.

Like most men of the time, Jacob expressed love for his family primarily by working hard and providing for them. But he was also a tenderhearted husband and father.

The Jacob Hamblin Home in Santa Clara, Utah, was inhabited by members of Jacob’s family between 1863 and 1870. The “big rock house,” as his wife Priscilla called it, was likely their most comfortable dwelling. The family more commonly occupied fort cabins.

The Hamblins’ time in Santa Clara included tragic loss. In January 1862, a flash flood destroyed the entire Santa Clara settlement. Jacob nearly lost his life struggling to save people and supplies.5 He lost most of his material possessions: cultivated fields, a gristmill, and his home. His biggest loss came later. Weakened by prolonged exposure during the flood, his infant daughter Arminda passed away several months after the event.

In the face of adversity, the family persevered. They constructed a stone home uphill from the Santa Clara River.6 The family experienced tragedies, trials, and growth while building and living in this home. Two teenage sons died, and Jacob’s wife Rachel passed away from a relentless illness.

Later that year, Jacob became deathly ill and returned home to recuperate. At his worst, Jacob said he felt willing to die, except that, as he said:

“My little children were crying around me, and the question came into my mind: What will they do if I am taken away? I could not bear the thought of leaving my family in so helpless a condition.

“I then asked God, the Eternal Father, in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, to spare my life long on the earth, and I would labor for the building up of His kingdom.”7 After offering that prayer, Jacob ate for the first time in two days and slowly recovered.

In October 1870, Jacob moved part of his family from Santa Clara to Kanab, Utah. His two-year-old daughter, Ella, accidentally left her treasured porcelain doll beside a stream. She noticed its absence only after miles of travel. To comfort his sobbing daughter, Jacob rode back in search of the doll. When he returned, Ella began to weep again, fearing that he hadn’t found the doll. But he pulled the doll from behind his back. He offered it to Ella and said, “Now you hang on to it, my Little One. I can’t go back for it again.”8 Ella held her doll closely for the rest of the journey, comforted by her father’s gesture.

3. Jacob was a consequential explorer and a respected frontiersman.

In addition to serving as a dedicated husband, father, and missionary, Jacob Hamblin explored frontier regions. Due to his extensive travels, connections, and experiences, he gained a reputation as a gifted interpreter and guide.

John Wesley Powell’s Geological Survey Map of the Colorado River (1873). Jacob Hamblin shared information and expertise that assisted Powell’s expeditions from which he produced this map.

On March 22, 1864, Jacob initiated the practical use of a ferry across the Colorado River in northern Arizona. Formally opened in 1873, “Lee’s Ferry” served as the main artery between southern Utah and Arizona for over 50 years.9 This crossing was helpful for Latter-day Saints who accepted a call to settle Arizona.

Jacob Hamblin helped the federal surveyor John Wesley Powell on two expeditions of the Colorado River. In 1869, Powell obtained the journal of Jacob’s boat explorations of the Colorado tributaries. The following year, Jacob served as a hired guide and Paiute interpreter, securing safe passage among Indian tribes before Powell’s 1871–72 expedition.10 Powell noted: “Hamblin . . . speaks their language well, and has a great influence over all the Indians in the region round about. He is a silent, reserved man, and when he speaks, it is in a slow, quiet way, that inspires great awe.”11 Jacob’s time with Powell in 1870 culminated with the Treaty at Fort Defiance, which moved Navajos and Latter-day Saints toward an enduring peace.

4. Jacob was a skilled diplomat and a compassionate friend, who tirelessly labored to peacefully build the kingdom of God.

Jacob worked for peace throughout his life. He learned to be sympathetic to both sides of a conflict. His compassion and gentle approach won him the respect and friendship of many.

John Wesley Powell and Jacob Hamblin seated at a Paiute Tribal Council near the Grand Canyon, Arizona, circa 1871–1875.
Photo courtesy of the Utah State Historical Society

One of the most dramatic examples of his peacekeeping occurred in the winter of 1873–74. Four Navajos were attacked in the Grass Valley just east of Circleville, Utah, and three of them were killed. The survivor blamed local Latter-day Saints for the murders.12 Jacob felt a sense of urgency to avoid any retaliation.

Along with two American prospectors, Jacob entered a hogan to quell the outrage of two dozen Navajo leaders. Jacob later recounted what happened when he refused to concede guilt: “One of them remarked that he thought I would [concede guilt] by the time I had been stretched over that bed of coals awhile, point[ing] to the fire in the middle of the lodge.” Asked if he was afraid, Jacob communicated that he “was not afraid of my friends.” Jacob said that he was a great friend of Hastele, a revered Navajo mediator and judge. At this, the temperament of the room changed. The Navajo leaders said Jacob had a good heart and that the matter would be settled before the greater chiefs. Jacob’s levelheaded coolness throughout the 11-hour ordeal resulted in a peaceful resolution.13

In the winter of 1876–77, Brigham Young told Jacob: “I know your history. You have always kept the Church and Kingdom of God first and foremost in your mind. That is right. There is no greater gift than that.”14 Reflecting on this later, Jacob wrote, “The assurance that the Lord and His servant accepted my labors up to that time, has been a great comfort to me.”15