By Lynn Arave
Who is "Saint George"?
Located in the heart of Utah's Dixie, the city of St. George is one of the fastest-growing communities in the nation. But who is the city named after, and why is "Saint" affixed to this name?
Most historians agree on the same name origination for St. George, Utah, but there is an alternate version out there.
"St. George itself was named in honor of Elder George A. Smith, an early LDS Church apostle and first counselor to President Brigham Young. Although Smith did not participate in the town's settlement, he personally selected most of the company of the pioneers of 1861," Bart C. Anderson, states in the "Utah History Encyclopedia,"
Anderson also states on St. George city's Web site, www.sgcity.org, that Elder Smith was also nicknamed "the potato saint," because he had encouraged early pioneers to eat raw, unpeeled potatoes to "cure a troublesome bout with scurvy."
Andrew Jenson, an early 20th-century historian for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also believed the name came in honor of Elder Smith.
"From the very beginning, the location was named St. George in honor of Apostle George A. Smith," Jenson wrote in "Encyclopedia History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints," published in 1941.
Jenson said St. George was founded in 1861 by missionaries called in the October general conference of that year to settle there with their families. By Dec. 1, 1861, they made a camp a half-mile northeast of where the St. George Temple stands today.
Elder Smith was grandfather to President George Albert Smith, the church's eighth president.
St. George LDS Temple. Photo by Liz Arave Hafen
John W. Van Cott, who wrote "Utah Place Names" in 1990, also agrees that St. George was named for Elder George A. Smith. He states that the naming came even before settlers arrived there and called Smith "Father of the South."
"It was half-humorously suggested that if other churches could have Saints, Mormons could, too," Van Cott wrote at the end of his paragraph regarding the naming of St. George.
In fact, the most historically famous "St. George" is a figure in early Christianity, who is considered the "Patron Saint of England," according to the Catholic Encyclopedia.
Rufos Wood Leigh, who compiled "Five Hundred Utah Place Names" in 1961, also sides with the Smith origin story.
Utah historian Milton R. Hunter also stated that the town of St. George was named after George A. Smith in his 1940 book, “Brigham Young the Colonizer” (page 82).
However, in a different article included on St. George city's Web site, Anderson stated there is an alternative to the lone St. George origin possibility: Phillip St. George Cooke, a non-Mormon who may have donated a good share of equipment and wagons to Utah's Dixie. Anderson described Cooke as a trusted friend of Brigham Young. Cooke, a U.S. Army officer, also led the Mormon Battalion from New Mexico to California.
St. George is also not be the only Mormon settlement named after a "Saint." There are at least two more:
(-Originally published in the Deseret News by Lynn Arave on July 8, 2007.)