The scorching temperatures, sparse vegetation, and endless red rock of Saint George, Utah were all that greeted early settlers in the Cotton Mission. Charles Walker, born 1832 in Leek, England, was one of the individuals called by Brigham Young to settle the area and produce cotton to supplement the income for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Upon arriving in 1862, Walker remarked, “St. George is a barren looking place. The soil is red and sandy. On the North ranges a long high red rocky bluff. On the East is a long black ridge of volcanic production. On the west the same. On the south runs the Virgin river, a shallow, rapid stream from which a great portion of the land is irrigated. To look on the country it [is a] dry, parched, barren waste with here and there a green spot on the margins of the streams.” While his observation seemed bleak, Walker exuded optimism with the work that he believed God had called him to do. He wrote in his personal journal, “Well it’s all right; we shall know how to appreciate a good country when we get to it, when the Lord has prepared the way for his people to return and build up… Zion.” Walker’s time in St. George reflected the stalwart nature of those called to settle far Western settlements, and his life in the area would have a significant impact on those around him.
The initial hope that settlers could grow cotton as a cash crop was dashed by poor soil quality. In an attempt to keep the community thriving, Brigham Young ordered the construction of a large public works project to bolster the economy: a new temple. Walker transitioned to stonemasonry and worked on the temple constantly. When the temple was completed, Walker participated in the, and a song he wrote for the occasion was sung at the event. When Walker was not busy with blacksmithing or working on the temple, he spent time with his family and saw to his various church callings. One labor that endeared him to the hearts of his neighbors was his gifted ear for writing hymns, the most famous of which is “Dearest Children, God is Near You.”
Walker later adopted polygamy as practiced by Latter-day Saints in the nineteenth century, marrying his second wife, Sarah Smith. His first wife, Abigail Middlemass, helped him select Sarah, and the trio lived together for the rest of Walker’s life. Each wife gave birth to eight children, sixteen total, with twelve of them reaching adulthood. Walker noted that his peculiar family situation allowed him to labor on the temple and work in his shop more because the burden of running the household was shared between his spouses. Walker also kept himself busy as an assistant marshal for the city and a leader in the local militia. He passed away in 1904, leaving behind a legacy of faithfulness and work ethic on the Utah Frontier.