The Anasazi Indians - called "The Ancient Ones" - inhabited this area of southern Utah some time between A.D. 700-1100, but they left suddenly and no one today seems to know why.
Plans and work are underway to preserve relics of the Anasazi culture, history and heritage, as well as artifacts, crafts and other items from Indian peoples from many parts of the world.A major part of the project is the proposed construction of the Anasazi Valley Indian Cultural Center, the site for which was dedicated Jan. 23 by Elder Vaughn J. Featherstone of the First Quorum of the Seventy and president of the Utah South Area.
The cultural center will occupy 20 acres on an 80-acre tract of land about eight miles west of St. George, Utah, and in close proximity to the states of Arizona and Nevada. The project is being developed by Sunhawk Productions, a non-profit corporation of which Shela D. Wilson is president.
She and her late husband, Joseph E. Wilson - who was general contractor for the Polynesian Cultural Center in Hawaii - searched for nearly 30 years for a site to stage a pageant depicting the Savior in the Americas. She purchased the tract near St. George for that purpose about three years ago.
Because of the abundance of artifacts in the area, the site has long been viewed as a possible Anasazi historical site. Initial findings by a BYU archaeological team, which began preliminary surveys on the site in 1986, included ruins of dwellings, bits of broken pottery and stone tools.
The BYU archaeological team began excavating and stabilizing a site in 1987. Shortly after digging began, team members discovered evidence of a second ancient civilization, a Paiute community. Some researchers speculate the area may have been inhabited up to 4,000 years ago. Two other digs are planned for the spring and fall of 1988.
Elder Featherstone, in remarks before he offered the dedicatory prayer, said, "Where there is no vision, the people perish. I believe it takes someone like Shela Dean Wilson to have that kind of vision and then move forward on it."
He referred to the ancient inhabitants of the Anasazi Valley, and what the project will mean to their descendants, the modern Lamanites. He said as he thought of what he might say at the dedicatory service, the words of Ezekiel came to his mind: "The hand of the Lord was upon me, and carried me out in the spirit of the Lord, and set me down in the midst of the valley which was full of bones, and caused me to pass by them round about: and, behold, there were very many in the open valley; and, lo, they were very dry. And he said unto me, Son of man can these bones live? And I answered, O Lord God, thou knowest." (Ezek. 37:1-3.)
Elder Featherstone said, "I think after death, we don't wander far from where we lived on this earth. I think the ancient Lamanites that once inhabited this valley are nearby."
Other participants in the dedicatory service were Paul R. Cheesman, who conducted the meeting; Asa Nielson, director of humanities at BYU, who is in charge of excavation work at the Anasazi site; Karl Brooks, mayor of St. George; and Sister Wilson, a member of the St. George 4th Ward. Also participating were Dale Tingey, administrator of Indian Affairs at BYU, and Gary Tom, director of Paiute Indian Education Affairs. Millie Cheesman and Lena Judee sang solos.
Nielson said, "The Anasazi Valley Cultural Center is a public project. We invite everyone who would like to be part of it to participate. It will help you understand how deep are the roots of the ancient inhabitants of this area."
He said work of the past two years have barely touched the surface. "We have used the best scientific instruments in planning the project."
He said there are four major Anasazi villages on the site. At least another two are within 10 minutes away, and more than 120 major villages are in the area.
"Right where we are and on down the valley was a 1,000-year-old corn field," he said. "The Anasazi were agriculturists. They had a long canal system that the Paiutes used when they came along, and which the pioneers continued to use when they settled here.
"The [St. George] temple sits on the site of one of the largest villages," he said.
Mayor Brooks commended efforts of the project developers and acknowledged "our responsibility to re-create what it was like here thousands of years ago."
Sister Wilson said discovery of the Anasazi ruins was an extra bonus for her. "I didn't know they were here when I purchased the property," she said.
In his remarks, Tingey asked, "Could Moroni have dedicated this land?" He then answered, "We had better not say so, but perhaps he passed through here on his way to what is now Manti. (On visiting the site for the Manti Temple, on April 25, 1877, Brigham Young said, "Here is the spot where the prophet Moroni stood and dedicated this piece of land for a temple site." - Temples of the Most High, compiled by N.B. Lundwall.)
Gary Tom, a member of the Cedar City, Utah, 2nd Ward, began his speech by referring to the Book of Mormon prophecy that the gentiles would scatter and persecute the Lamanites. "You have done a magnificent job in that respect," he said, "but, on a brighter note, the prophecy also says that you will come back and teach us the gospel. So let's get together on this. The same God provides for all of us. The Indians know and respect this belief. It takes courage, foresight, perseverance, patience and pride.