Littlefield on Virgen River, Arizona
Littlefield on Virgen River
By Roman Malach

Littlefield in Mohave County on the Virgen River (originally spelled Virgen not Virgin) is located eight miles north of Mesquite, Nevada. Littlefield is separated from the Arizona Strip by mountain range, and it is squeezed in the corner of land by borders of Nevada and Utah. At the end of 1974 year, only families resided in this historical community going back to 1960’s.

During our last visit to Littlefield, we talked with Dessie Reber, resident of that Mormon community for over quarter of century, and also a teacher for 16 years. Dessie Reber loaned us a book, entitled, "The Rebers", put together by Robert & Vinda Reber. This book presents chiefly the genealogy of the Reber’s family going back to 1600 in Switzerland. In this book, the history of Littlefield is recorded based on diaries and other documents. From this book, we present excerpts pertaining to Littlefield and its immediate area.

Jedediah Strong Smith, frontiersman, with party of men came to Virgen river in 1826 from north emerging through the "Narrows" (last narrow part of Virgin gorge) and established camp on Beaver Dam creek. In 1927, Jedediah Smith made another trip to the same place and gave the name of "Virgen" to the river now known as Virgin. It was in honor of one of his men, Thomas Virgen, killed by Indians. On early maps and in early writings, we noticed this name of Virgen instead of Virgin.

As Mormon missionaries pushed ahead with their exploration and establishment of settlements, Santa Clara Fort, in 1854, was the last of their outposts. In 1855, Mormon missionaries were sent to Las Vegas to build a fort, and among them was George W. Bean, who in his diary told about experiences after leaving Santa Clara.

"June 3rd …Crossed the river (Santa Clara) five times and came to the missionary camp. June 4th …Decided to lay here today until about 4 o’clock on account of making a drive of 27 miles from here to Rio Virgin most in the night, it being very hot. Started about 3 ½ p.m. and reached Cottonwood creek near the Virgin about sunrise where we lay by the rest of the day. The Indians have some corn planted there."

Cottonwood creek is known now as Beaver Dam, which name was established prior to 1864, according to the "Deseret News" publication:

Henry Miller was called to settle Beaver Dams in the fall of 1863, and he later reported that they settled on track of land lying six miles below the point where the river (Virgin) emerges from a box canyon, cleared land and put in crops. In early 1865 – he reported some trouble with beavers damming up the irrigation ditches, but he added that - a large number of fruit trees and grapevines have been set up. Corn, wheat and vegetables were growing thriftily.

Beaver Dam’s tiny community had experience with flood in 1867, which became a pattern during the following years, bringing destruction to everything in its way. That flood in 1867 actually washed out the Beaver Dams settlement, which had to be abandoned.

In the Rebers book, there is information about a man, named Littlefield, who took land a little below the Beaver Dam, where the village of Littlefield now stands. It is safe to say that Littlefield came into existence together with Beaver Dam. The creek of Beaver Dam flows into the Virgin River, and just above the junction of these two rivers is the present Beaver Dam.

In those early days, Beaver Dam and Littlefield were stations along the road for travelers to stop, especially to get feed for their teams. Even today Beaver Dam and Littlefield appear as oasis with plenty of green vegetation surrounded by desert.

After the 1867 flood, Joseph Miller took up land in Littlefield. So did Samuel Reber, Albert & Henry Frehner. The latter two married Henrietta and Matilda Reber.

We quote from Robert Reber’s diary:

"Our living conditions were as good as can be expected at that time. Our family of ten children lived in a small house, and we used a wagon for a bedroom for the four older boys. By sleeping tow at the head and two at the foot, we had plenty of room, and the cover kept out the rain during stormy weather."

Littlefield grew in number of people and in production from fields and gardens. Reber recalled that 965 bushels of wheat were treashed during one season.

We continue from the Reber’s diary:

"Joseph (Reber) got a contract to furnish vegetables to the Apex Mine in southern Utah about 25 miles northeast of Littlefield. He made a trip once a week usually, though sometimes he would have to make two a week or have some other member of the family take an extra load. He also hauled to Delamar, Nev., but this market was unsteady."

The Apex mine provided a few opportunities for Littlefield men. The same Joseph Reber hauled wood to the mine. Wood had to be dragged down the mountain to a place where it was laded and taken to the mine. Also Joseph Frehner, Alvin Reber and Clark McKnight worked in the Apex mine.

We found more information about the Apex mine.

"Maybe you would like to know where the Apex mine was located. We would leave Littlefield about noon and go to Summit Springs to stay overnight. We would have to take our horses to water at the springs a mile and a half from the road both night and morning. As we were supposed to be at the mine at 10 o’clock, we would have a short night. About a mile from the summit we would leave the main road, and turn right up a draw that went to the top of the mountain. It was one-way road, with only a place or two where wagons could pass."

Since this was the road over which they must haul the ore from the mine to the smelter at Shem, Utah, they would have to be on lookout for freight teams coming in, which was another reason for us to get there early in the morning."

"When we would get to the boarding house to unload, there was hardly enough room to turn wagon around. Usually when it was unloaded, we would pull up a little ways and then take the wagon apart and turn it around and put it together again. If we had a good, well-broken team we might try to turn by pulling up about four feet and back about four feet. By repeating this enough times, we might finally get turned around, but a miss of a single good would send the whole outfit over a high cliff and on down the mountain."

Among others, H.P. Iverson, with his wife, Hannah, had moved to Littlefield. They operated a store in Littlefield, the only one that ever existed in this small community. Soil was good for raising grapes, melons, and vegetable gardens were thriving well.

When Edward McKnight married Alice Starusser, he took bottom land on the other side of the river south of Littlefield. A lot of work was put into cleaning of land and building along the irrigation ditch. As soon as his field started producing, it was washed away.

A flood came in February of 1906. First it hit Beaver Dam wash, destroying almost all the land and crops of James McKnight and H.P. Iverson. All went down the river – pigs, hay, machinery, corrals and out buildings. The same flood reached Littlefield at night. By telephone, people in Mesquite were warned about the flood coming their way.

Thomas Judd of St. George, Utah, was quite an innovator, and he started growing walnuts, pecans, almonds and grapes very successfully. Littlefield people got cuttings, which they planted, establishing a 40 acre vineyard carefully laid out with paths for pickers and roadways for wagons. Local young people were hired to pick the grapes, put them on trays and let them dry in the sun. They came in groups and camped during grape harvest. Such production was providing a good cash crop, and raisins were sold all over the state. The whole vineyard was destroyed by flood.

Another flood came in September 1909, and at Beaver Dam, a large piece of Samuel Reber’s land was destroyed. At Littlefield, flood water swirled through corrals and around haystacks. Cattle had to be turned loose, and they became frightened and stampeded into flood waters. Fortunately they were saved by swimming to higher grounds. Albert Frehner was proud of his treashing machine which was across the river. He watched the flood waters cutting the bank and coming nearer and nearer to his treasher. By phone, he asked at Mesquite for help, hoping someone on horse could cross the river and pull the treasher away from river’s bank. William Abbott and Charles Hardy made unsuccessful attempts to cross the river, and almost lost their lives. Somehow they swam back to Mesquite side of Virgin river, after abandoning their horses. Frehner waited until next day, when flood subsided, then he swam across and moved his treashing machine to higher grounds. This treasher would be great loss to Frehner and to the community, which used his machine also.

The 1909 flood left devastation all along the river, destroying dams and irrigation ditches, washing away farm land and covering crops with sand and mud. After each flood, a few more families would move away, and it really required courage to stay and rebuild what was damaged or destroyed.

On the land across the river from Littlefield, there was a spring, but the water was not fit to drink. People had a hard time to raising anything on it. That land was covered with so much desert vegetation, that one could hardly ride a horse through it. Once this land started to produce, it provided good hay for 25 years before it had to be plowed.

The largest flood came on the first of January of 1910, and the Virgin Valley was radically changed. At Beaver Dam, Samuel Reber Jr., lost his house and his field was without water. He had to move away. The field of Albert Frehner was washed away also. One house of H.P. Iverson was destroyed. As the flood was rising, people carried to higher grounds their furniture and other belongings. Even some hay was saved, but most of the real property was destroyed. Almost every family was affected by the 1910 flood.

In those days, Littlefield people turned to range cattle. Frank Reber and Willard Iverson found a spring close to the road. The spring was legally located by the people as their water _______. The land surround the spring was used as community range.

In 1916, people of the valley constructed a grist mill above Mesquite, which was run by water power. It was made of adobe bricks on the field of Charles Hardy. When the mill was started, the flour as very good. During World War I flour was shipped to Phoenix, Salt Lake City and to other places. Fire of unknown origin destroyed the mill.

In 1917 came another flood, even bigger than the one in 1910.

In 1925, Littlefield received a new schoolhouse, which had three teachers ______d grades up to third years of high school.

Electric power came into the valley in 1939, but Littlefield people had trouble in getting power across the state line. Littlefield had temporary power from Beaver Dam Lodge (now closed and in ruin) but only from home. After a long delay, electric power came to Littlefield on March 12, 1952.

At its peak, the population of Littlefield was reaching one hundred, but it went down to 75, then to 52 in 1952, and in 1974 only 32 people remained including children of nine families: Clifford Peterson, Dessie Reber, Dan Reber, Louis Reber, Eddie Jones, Lena Copley, Melvin Peterson, Cecil Hardin and Polly Harris. Only four children attended school in 1974.

Littlefield remains a mixture of old and new. One of its rock houses, now empty is over 100 years old, a fine example of those early pioneer homes constructed with a few tools and materials obtained locally.

(This article was given to me by Dessie Reber Staheli out of her many scrapbooks from through the years. It does not have a date or source on it. If anyone knows where this article came from or how to contact Mr. Malach, please let me know so that I can give proper credit where credit is due)