The little pioneer settlement named Holt was established in 1874 on Meadow Valley Creek, in the northwest corner of Washington County. James Holt led a small band of Mormon pioneers to Meadow Creek with high hopes of building a permanent farming community there, but farms weren’t part of nature’s plan for the Escalante Desert country.
Drought at the settlement of Hamblin further upstream often caused Meadow Creek to run dry before it reached Holt. And, just as disastrous as droughts, were the years when the stream flooded its banks with red silt-laden water washing away homes and flooded farmland.
Old-timers still recall how the Holt family stayed on, even after their neighbors moved on, raising a few head of cattle in the foothills which line the southern edge of the Escalante Desert. One day James Holt was searching for stray cattle in the foothills between his nearly abandoned town and the edge of the desert, a few miles to the north, when he came upon an out-cropping ledge of “pretty looking red rock.” Holt picked up several pieces of the heavy rock, noting well the place where he had found it. Later, when a friend of his who had been an assayer examined them, Holt learned that the strange red rock was heavy with gold!
Now, Holt knew that it was against orders of his church leaders to seek for treasures in the earth. But, despite the Mormon prophet’s warning against seeking precious metals, Holt was determined to develop his find and was preparing to take his sons to the golden ledge when he met the Nephite!
The supernatural Nephites are mentioned in the Book of Mormon, according to which, after Christ’s crucifixion He visited the New World and founded a church among a race of fair-skinned people. Three of their number requested the gift granted John The Beloved, that they be allowed to tarry on earth until His return. Their wish was granted, and thus was born the legend of the Three Nephites.
Strange stories are still told in Mormon households how one of the Nephites, always an old man with long white hair and beard, but with the blue eyes and unlined face of a saint, would suddenly appear at a poor home and ask for food or lodging. Often they would appear at the home of a widow, whose last cup of flour must be used to feed the stranger, or at the home of a farmer whose meal sack was nearly empty.
Not everyone would welcome the uninvited stranger, but those who did later told wonderful stories of how after resting, their strange guest would mysteriously disappear, leaving no tracks, or how they would suddenly vanish as they walked down a long open road. And always those who shared their meager store with the strange old man would find that their flour bin would never get empty, or that their sacks of meal were multiplied!
Holt later told that it was early morning as he and his sons were preparing to leave for the place where he had found the golden ledge when the stranger approached his door. He was an old man with a white beard, dressed in clean but ragged clothing, and riding an ancient looking mule. The stranger asked for something to eat, and, although Holt was anxious to leave, he invited the old man into his home. The stranger was no sooner inside the house when, to Holt’s amazement, he said, “Forget what you have found and that you ever saw it, or it will be the ruin of both you and your family!”
Wondering at the old man’s strange warning, Holt stepped from the room to see to the preparation of his breakfast, and although he was gone for only a moment, when he turned around not only had the old man disappeared, but the mule which had been left in the yard outside was also gone. And not only was there no trace of either, but there were no tracks of man or mule in the roadway!
Convinced that the mysterious stranger was one of the Three Nephites of Mormon legend, Holt recalled the prophet’s admonition against seeking treasures, and never again went near the golden ledge, nor would he even discuss it with his sons or family. His fabulous find was known to all of the settlers in the area, for he had not tried to keep it a secret, but none were ever able to locate it, although many searched through the rugged red-colored foothills. The story of his find died slowly, for many had seen the rich samples from the golden ledge.
Today, the site of old Holt can be reached by traveling west from Cedar City on Utah State 56 for 17 miles to where a dirt road turns to the southwest. Five miles along this road brings the traveler to the ruins of old Irontown, a ghost town dating back to 1852.
Six miles further is Pinto, a fascinating old ghost town, where century-old Mormon houses still stand. Six miles beyond Pinto a dirt road goes to the right, climbing steeply over a rocky ridge on top of which is the old Hamblin cemetery. It is four miles further to Holt, however little remains to mark its site.