KANAB — The first snow of the season had dusted Savage Point in Dec. of 1912, when many of the cowboys in Kanab were watching for the freight wagon from Marysvale to arrive.

Rowland W. Rider, who told the story of “The Roll Away Saloon,” shown here in the fall of 1909 at Lee’s Ferry on the Colorado River | Photo courtesy Memories in FamilySearch.org, St. George News

They were counting on their mail-order liquor to take the chill off the short, cold days. As there were no liquor stores nor grog shops in Kane County, townspeople who believed the word of wisdom only applied north of Mt. Carmel Junction looked to the U.S. Mail to supply their need for spirits.

To the cowboys’ shock and dismay, the town marshal got there first and took possession of twelve gallons of hooch, pouring most of it into the gutter in front of the local courthouse. For the cowboys, this was just the latest injustice perpetrated by the newly elected, all female Kanab town council. 

Just how the council had been elected was a bit of a controversy. Many of the ranchers, cowboys and other young men in Kanab had tired of years of governance by the town’s old guard, who were mostly businessmen and leaders in the Church of Jesus Christ Latter-day Saints.

To stir things up, a slate of the leaders’ wives and daughters were nominated to run the town, and to everyone’s surprise they won by a landslide. These capable young women, most still in their thirties and well-known to one another, included Tamar and Blanche Hamblin, Luella McCallister, Ada Seegmiller and Mary Chamberlain. After initially questioning whether they should assume the posts, they embraced the opportunity with gusto.

The all-female Kanab Town Council that served 1912-14. They include, L-R, Luella McAllister, treasurer; Blanche Hamblin, member; Mary Chamberlain, president; Tamar Hamblin, clerk; and Ada Seegmiller, member. Photo courtesy the “Woman’s Journal and Suffrage News,” Kanab, Utah, Feb. 1914 | Photo courtesy Memories in FamilySearch.org, St. George News

Mary Chamberlain was the natural leader of the group and was elected chair, effectively making her the mayor of Kanab. She was the oldest, had attended college in Salt Lake City, and was the daughter of the Kanab Stake president, Edwin D. Woolley. It was an open secret in Kanab that she was the sixth wife of Thomas Chamberlain, another prominent businessman and church leader.

But because they had been married after the 1890 manifesto ending polygamy, which could have put her husband at legal peril, she was known publicly as Mary D. Howard. She had no illusions about how they assumed office, writing later of the election: “No one seemed interested in the supervision of the town, so the loafers on the ditch bank (of which there were always plenty) proceeded to make up the ticket as a burlesque.”

Rather than take offense, however, the women took up the challenge and went to work. Under Chamberlain’s leadership, the women quickly addressed what they felt were neglected needs to clean up Kanab. In quick succession they passed an ordinance charging “peddlers and traveling merchants” two dollars a day for the privilege of selling their wares in Kanab, and another to impound stray livestock and sell them if their owners failed to pay the $1.50 a day fine for letting their cows wander the streets.

To protect Kanab’s songbirds, they banned slingshots, or “flippers,” within the city limits, imposing a 25 cent fine on boys for their first offense and 50 cents for the second. They then arranged for the Kanab cemetery to be platted, after which they appropriated funds to create a dike to control flooding and to construct small bridges over irrigation ditches. It seemed their reforms knew no bounds as the women proclaimed Sept. 12, 1912 “Stink Weed Day,” offering cash rewards for the best clean-up jobs in town.

A group of cowboys gather around the chuckwagon for a meal, date not specified. This was part of life for the cowboys of Kane County who grazed cattle on the Arizona Strip in the early 1900s | Photo courtesy Wikipedia Commons, St. George News

While there was some grumbling, there was also grudging respect for their accomplishments. But it was when they started to legislate morals that the cowboys took umbrage, with many bristling at the thought of having to conform to someone else’s religious views. When the liquor ordinance was passed, enterprising cowboys soon found ways around it. 

“[They] know we are on the look-out…[and thus are] pretty sly about it,” Chamberlain wrote. Undeterred, the council upped the ante and passed a five-page ordinance that forbade the sale and consumption of alcohol except for that obtained from a licensed pharmacist for “medicinal purposes.”

With that, all manner of previously undiagnosed illnesses requiring alcohol suddenly appeared in Kanab. Adding insult to injury for the cowboys, in 1913 the council passed an ordinance prohibiting gambling and “Sabbath breaking.” Citizens were no longer allowed to “indulge in ballgames, foot races, horse races or in any noisy outdoor amusement within the limits of this town” on Sunday, nor could they “play at a game of cards, dice, horseshoe pitching” or “any other game of chance.”

The LDS Meeting House Main Street in Kanab, Utah, circa 1907 | Photo courtesy Utah Historical Society, St. George News

This really threw the gauntlet down, as some of these activities were thought by the cowboys to be wholesome recreation — if not a God-given right. At this point a dilemma presented itself, it was one thing to pass an ordinance and quite another to enforce it. The council discovered to its dismay that it was hard to find a marshal willing to enforce their new laws.

Writing of the council’s experience, Susa Young Gates stated that a man willing to take on the task faced “jeers and slurs from his fellows… about being under a petticoat government, [and] after a few weeks or months of being the town joke he gives up and another marshal must be found.”

During their two-year term, the council burned through seven marshals and were turned down by others who refused to serve, a record likely unmatched to this day. A local cowboy, Rowland W. Rider, caught the temper of the time in his telling the tall tale of “The Roll Away Saloon” in a book of the same name published by Utah State University Press:

As far as I can remember, all the cowboys liked to drink alcohol. The freighters couldn’t get it in there fast enough. That’s a fact. So they built this little saloon and it was right on the Arizona-Utah line four miles south of Kanab and four miles north of Fredonia about seven or eight rods to the west of the present highway. It was just kind of a two-room affair, with a bar at one end and the barkeeper’s bedroom at the other end. It wasn’t very large, maybe twelve by eighteen feet, but it created quite a bit of disturbance among the Mormon housewives of Fredonia and Kanab because their men would come staggering up home on their horses, too late for dinner, unable to take their saddles off. So the men of these towns, fearing their women, built this saloon on rollers, log rollers that went clear under the joist.

Well, one day when the women in the Relief Society up to Kanab got together sewing and having a quilting bee, they decided among themselves that too many of their men were going down imbibing at this Roll Away Saloon. So they organized a posse to go and burn the thing down. And their plans were all kept a secret from their husbands, of course. So when the men all went out on the range or out in the fields or doing something, the women saddled up their horses, and they headed for this saloon. Just fortunately for the saloon keeper there, there’s a little raise of land to the north about a quarter mile from the saloon, and on the south side there’s also a little incline up to a little ridge there, what we call Halfway Hill. And sure enough, this saloon keeper saw the dust coming from these women on horseback as they came over the rise. And he got the crowbar and rolled the saloon back into Arizona. The women got down there and were all ready to light their torches, they had their bundles all ready, when the saloon keeper said, ‘You can’t touch this business; it’s in Arizona. We don’t belong to Utah at all. There’s the line.’ So they had a little confab, then said to the saloon keeper, ‘Well, if you sell our men any more liquor, we’ll get you next time.’ So they went back home all disgusted that they couldn’t go over into Arizona and wreck that place and went back to their quilting. 

Well, anyway, in a few days or a few weeks maybe, why the women down in Fredonia would be doing the same thing, quilting and making things for the needy and so forth. They would find out that their husbands had been spending all the spare cash up there at the Roll Away Saloon, so they’d organize a posse and here they would come. They’d come over that little ridge down there a quarter mile from the saloon and the saloon keeper’d see them coming, and it’d just take a few little pushes on those crowbars under the logs under the saloon, and over she’d go, over into Utah. The women would come up and the same thing would happen. ‘You can’t touch me, I’m over here in Utah. Look there, there’s the line.’ So the women would give up, threatening, and go back to Fredonia. And this went on for years. 

Well, now, that’s the Roll Away Saloon story and I guess I’m the only one that ever told it. And I think if you want to take a picture, you might find a few of those old rollers still rotting over there.

Notwithstanding the good humor of Rider’s tale of the roll away saloon, there was spirited sparring between the cowboys and the town council throughout their two-year tenure.

Edwin Ford with a lamb and his sheepdog, date not specified. Ford was among those who served briefly as Kanab’s marshal during the all-female town council | Photo courtesy Memories in FamilySearch.org, St. George News

But the all-woman town council was widely applauded for their effectiveness and even gained national attention during the suffrage movement, being featured in a front-page article in the “Woman’s Journal and Suffrage News.”

Many townspeople urged the women to run again when their terms expired, but Chamberlain graciously declared: “We are not at all selfish and are perfectly willing to share the honors with others.”

She told their supporters she hoped they would elect other women to fill their vacancies but it was not to be. In the next election Kanab returned to an all-male slate, thus ending the history-making all-female town council.

Editor’s note: Sources for this article include: “Kanab’s All Woman Town Council, 1912-1914: Politics, Power Struggles, and Polygamy” by Kylie Nielson Turley in Utah Historical Quarterly, Volume 73, Number 4, 2005; “The Roll Away Saloon: Cowboy Tales of the Arizona Strip” by Rowland W. Rider, Utah State University Press, 1985; Memories in FamilySearch.com and Kanab’s All Woman Town Council, 1912-1914: Politics, Power Struggles, and Politics.

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