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The origins of Utah's 'Dixie'
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

By focusing on some of the settlers at Washington, Utah, the Dec. 10 article by Tribune reporter Brian Maffly, "Dixie debate: Honor past or change for the future," clouds the issue with considerable extraneous material that is not relevant to the founding and development of Dixie State College in southwestern Utah.

The founder of St. George, where Dixie is located, was Erastus Snow, a northerner. And the founder of Dixie College, his son, Edward Hunter Snow (1865-1832), exhibited no Southern or Confederate sympathies. Erastus Snow was from Vermont and Edward's mother, Julia Josephine Spencer Snow, was a New Yorker.

Edward served a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Virginia and North Carolina in 1886 and 1887. On Edward's mission, Confederate sympathizers, some organized as the Ku Klux Klan, subjected him to considerable abuse and threatened to kill him.

Southerners had killed a missionary from Utah's Dixie two years before Edward entered the mission field, and his mother did not want him to go to the Southern Dixie for that reason.

A graduate of what became Brigham Young University, Edward Snow spent much of his life promoting education. He introduced the legislation that led to the founding of what is now Southern Utah University. In 1901, the church's First Presidency called him as president of the St. George Stake, and in that capacity he served as father of what was first known as St. George Stake Academy. This institution became Dixie College and is now Dixie State College of Utah. He served as chair of the board of trustees until his death in 1932. You can read about his career in my biography, Edward Hunter Snow, Pioneer, Educator, Statesman (Norman, Okla.: Arthur Clark, University of Oklahoma Press, 2012).

There is absolutely no evidence that the use of the name Dixie in connection with the college had anything to do with pro-Confederate or even pro-Southern sympathy. It simply referred to the nickname for Washington County, "Utah's Dixie."

Given Edward H. Snow's northern and decidedly un-Confederate background, it is unfortunate that recent generations have tried to revise the college's history by associating it with the Confederacy and slavery. The earliest student newspapers and yearbooks were called simply The Dixie. The association with the Confederate states and the Confederate rebellion and slavery is of much more recent vintage.

Maffly calls the source of this myth "old yearbooks," but they date from the 1990s, which is relatively recent.

In addition, while I respect much of Will Bagley's work as a historian, I believe that he is absolutely wrong in asserting in Maffly's story that "The name Dixie reflects the sympathy that the southern Utah and the Mormon people felt for the Confederacy."

Utah never applied for admission to the Confederacy, but it applied in 1849, 1856, 1862 (during the heat of the Civil War), 1872, 1882, 1887, and finally in 1895 for admission into the Union.

It is true that you can read statements by Mormon leaders during the war as disparaging the conflict. If you read them carefully, however, the statements appear in the context of an expectation that the violence would usher in the Millennium and Christ's Second Coming. Early Mormon leaders had predicted those events long before the Confederate rebellion tore the Union apart.

In addition to applying for admission to the Union, Mormon leaders offered both tangible and verbal support for the United States. At Abraham Lincoln's request, Brigham Young sent out an official unit under Lot Smith and another informal unit under Robert Burton to guard the overland mail route for the Union.

Moreover, in October 1861, upon the completion of the transcontinental telegraph line, Young telegraphed to the president of the company in Cleveland: "Utah has not seceded but is firm for the constitution and laws of our once happy country."

There may be reasons for eliminating the name "Dixie" from the name of a newly designated university in St. George, but the idea that Confederate sympathy had something to do with the founding and development of the Dixie College is not one of them.

Thomas G. Alexander is Lemuel Hardison Redd, Jr. Professor Emeritus of Western American History at Brigham Young University. He lives in Provo.

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