George A. Hurst, Jr.
GIANTS OF SAN JUAN
Both of George Hurst’s grandfathers moved from Utah to Mexico to avoid persecution and prosecution for having multiple wives during the period that polygamy was practiced in the LDS Church.
They and many like them had built several thriving towns and productive ranches in Northern Mexico before the Mexican Revolution forced them out in 1912.
George was born in Colonia Duban, Chihuahua, Mexico on September 28, 1895. He lived across the street from Mitt Romney’s great-grandparents as a boy and knew the Romneys, the Eyrings and the Pratts in Colonia Duban.
These families and many others have descendents who have become some of the most successful and respected people in the church and in the nation.
George lived in Mexico until he was 15 years old. His father decided to leave about a year before most of the other Americans were forced out. They left on February 11, 1911 and went straight to the tiny town of Grayson (Blanding’s early name). His Father had heard about Grayson and had decided to check it out.
They traveled a great distance with little more than a hope and a prayer. There were only a hundred people in Grayson when they arrived. But they stayed and San Juan has been abundantly blessed because of the quality of the “Hurst” name today.
George became a member of the first high school class in the first year of the existence of the high school in Blanding.
One of the first things young George became involved with after arriving in Grayson, was to help build the first LDS Chapel which is still in use on Main Street in Blanding today.
“I helped dig the basement with a team of horses and a dragline. “My Father, Dick McAllister, and I quarried the rock that is in that building. Our quarry was located just north of where Edge of the Cedars Museum is today. We hauled those rocks, some of which weighed nearly a ton, down to the construction site where they were shaped and put into the foundation and some of the walls of the new Church. They were lifted into place with a derrick and team of horses.”
There were two large steel girders that had to be placed to hold up the floor of the new church. The steel was shipped from the East by rail to Thompson in eight sections. The sections were hauled 100 miles on wagons and assembled in Blanding.
George had experience in logging and milling lumber. He and his brother, Phil, owned their own sawmill. In 1947 George had his arm nearly shot off in a deer hunting accident. Despite being partially crippled by the accident, he continued with the sawmill until it burned down in the mid 1950s. The brothers had no insurance and they decided not to go into debt to rebuild.
In 1916, George married Lona Porter in the Salt Lake LDS Temple. It took the young couple four days to make the trip north with a horse and buggy to Thompson and then on to Salt Lake on the train.
They became the parents of three daughters, Rosamond Melartin, Dal Marr Hellstrom and Georgan Burtenshaw. The also raised a foster son named Ray Burtenshaw.
During his lifetime, George worked at many different jobs: cowboy, farmer, teacher, lumberman, undertaker, water master, justice of the peace, town marshal and scout master.
“I worked much of my adult life for $1-2 a day. The other day (1971) a boy wanted to mow my lawn for three dollars an hour and I told him that was more than I had ever made in my life. If I made $40 a month, that was pretty good.”
He also served in many different capacities in the LDS Church, including three full-time missions. He will be long remembered for having started the first Boy Scout troop in San Juan in 1916, many years before it became part of the Young Mens’ Program of the LDS Church.
“We were affiliated with a Scout Council out of New York City, in the early days,” George recalled. “We were that new. Later on, as scouting caught on across the nation and in Utah we became part of the Utah National Parks Council. We did a lot of wonderful things with those boys in scouting.”
After the Hurst Brothers lost their lumber mill to fire in the mid 1950s, they went their separate ways. George started dabbling in politics. His first challenge came as a member of the Blanding City Council, a position he held for 13 years. In that position he managed the city water system and the power plant. He was also Justice of the Peace for several years.
He served for 16 years on the San Juan School Board. One of the most controversial and most important things that happened in that experience was when he voted with Superintendent J. B. Harris to allow Native Americans to attend local schools. “We got a lot of mean spirited criticism for standing by that decision,” George said, “We had one prominent man in town say, ‘I’ll impeach the son of a bitch (Harris) and I’ll send that board member back to Mexico where he came from (me).’”
When George recounted those statements in 1971, he said that there were still people in the County that would like to kick the Native Americans out of county Schools. He had a hard time understanding their anger when one of the principle reasons the Mormons came into Southeastern Utah in the first place was to help the Indians. In George’s view there was nothing more important than education. He noted that in l97l the Blanding Elementary School student body was 60 percent Native American and the High School Indian population was 42 percent.
Later, federal mandates required school construction on the Navajo Reservation. Even so, in 2012 there are still large numbers of Native Americans in Blanding schools because their parents live and work in the area.
George served four terms in the State Legislature. Later, he was the Governor’s representative on Indian Affairs in Southeastern Utah until he was 70 years old. That position also meant that he was a member of the Utah Indian Affairs Commission.
With the experience he had with the State, he was retained by the San Juan School District in l965 to advise and assist on the many challenges with the matriculation of the Navajo and Ute students into the educational mainstream in the county.
One of George’s special memories from his years in the State Legislature had to do with the bill he had introduced which created the “This is the Place Monument”, located at the mouth of Emmigration Canyon in Salt Lake.
At the time, George and his wife were on a mission in Texas and were residing in Corpus Christi. As the story goes, some anti-Mormon elements had come to Salt Lake and purchased all the land around the Monument and were planning a large real estate development which would have degraded the area and had negative effects on the monument. The legislature wanted to stop or at least change several aspects of the project.
One day George got a phone call in Texas from Governor J. Bracken Lee, who asked that he try to be released from the mission field just long enough to come back to Utah for a special session of the legislature wherein the State would try to change the thrust of the project.
George called his mission president in Houston. The mission president said George would have to get permission from the First Presidency to leave the mission field.
He got the blessing of the brethren at church headquarters, drove 1500 miles to Salt Lake with Lona and helped the State win its case.
The day after the vote occured, Preston D. Richards, the lead attorney for the Church, came up to George and put his arm around his shoulder and said, “When we told President Smith (George Albert) that the bill had been amended and the problem was solved, he shed tears and said, ‘I can now die in peace.’”
President Smith did not get out of bed again after that day and died five weeks later. George later recounted the story and said the experience was one of the most precious of his life.
One of the most interesting experiences George Hurst shared during his lifetime was his part in the last Indian war in the United States which occurred in Blanding in l923. He was standing in the street when it all started.
George shared the details many times over his lifetime. Space does not allow a retelling of the better known story. However, what follows is the story of what George and four associates did after the Federal Marshall returned to Blanding saying that he had found Posey’s grave; that the matter was now over and that people should not go out and try to find the grave.
“Well, a bunch of us fellows who had put our lives on the line were not happy with what the marshall said,” George recalled. “I got my horse and with Marion Hunt, Joe Hunt, Vell Washburn and Lynn Lyman, who was just a kid at the time, we rode out of Blanding the next morning. We didn’t think to take any food with us we were so anxious to go see for ourselves.”
Lynn had been the driver of the car for the marshall the day before and he took them back to the spot they had stopped. He had not been allowed to go with them, so the men had to try and track the previous day’s group to the burial site. There were tracks all over the place and it was not an easy job, but by late afternoon they found what looked like the gravesite back up under an overhang where there was a drip spring.”
“We hadn’t had anything to eat and the sun was getting low but we went to work. We hadn’t brought a shovel and so we had to dig with our hands. It was a slow business and it got dark on us. We built a little fire so we could see what we were doing. Two of the boys said they figured this was the grave and they were ready to go home. But not me. I was going to make sure. We finally felt some blankets in the grave. I got one of the guys to get in the grave with me and together we heave-hoed the body into a sitting position.
“Posey was wrapped in six new army blankets that the Marshall had given the Indians in town. We unwrapped him. Boy, it was a gruesome thing. It was darker than a dungeon in there and nobody knew where we were. We inspected the body. He had been shot in the leg. He had plugged the holes with pine gum so as not to bleed to death, but just lying there for days, he probably died from blood poisoning and infection because the wound was not allowed to drain.”
“Since the federal marshall had ordered us to not go there, we figured we would be in trouble if we were found out. So we made a pact between the five of us that we would not tell anyone about what we had done.”
“When we got back to Blanding, the first person who I talked to was Lem Redd. He asked if we had found Posey. I said no. He left. Later my bishop came to the house and asked if I had found him. It hurt to not be forthcoming with him, but again I said no.”
“I tried to keep under cover, but the sheriff was the next person to find me. He said, ‘What did you fellows find?’ I said nothing. He said, ‘Now look here, you are under arrest.’ He took me out of earshot and said, ‘I don’t want any foolishness. I know you guys think you are in trouble because you went out there, but you’re not. If you found him you should have hauled him to town and gotten the reward money.’
“And so I told the sheriff the whole story. The next day he and a bunch of other officials went out and dug Chief Posey up again. They held an inquest, took pictures and then buried him again.”
“I have taken several groups out there since. Once I took a bunch of Boy Scouts, and I was concerned that the place would be lost and forgotten so I took a hammer and a chisel and carved in the rock, “The burying place of Posey” and the date.”
After George had served four terms in the state legislature, his constituents asked him to run for the Senate. He was persuaded and made a run. He lost by 38 votes to Charlie Steen of Moab, who at that time, was one of the richest men in the United States. Charlie was a legend in Canyon Country. He owned the richest uranium mine in the world and was building the only private uranium reduction mill in the U. S. in Moab.
Carl Lyman captured George’s seat in the legislature that year. George became the Governor’s special representative on Indian Affairs after his service in the legislature. He traveled extensively representing the Governor’s Office at the Department of the Interior and the Bureau of Indian Affairs. He was also employed by the San Juan School District to work on Indian Affairs as it pertained to education in the county.
George A. Hurst Jr. died at his home in Blanding, September 24, l980 at the age of 85. He is buried in the Blanding Cemetery.
Mr. Hurst earned a place in the history of San Juan County for his decades of service to people as a missionary, a citizen, a politician and a family man.
From Boy Scouts to leaders at the highest levels of county and state government, his courage, tenacity and desire to be of service will forever etch his name in the annuals of San Juan’s story.