On September 10, 1911, twelve Jewish families arrived in Gunnison, Utah, to establish a Jewish agricultural community. The group was part of the “Back to Soil” movement, which believed Jews needed to leave the city and live on farms. The Gunnison colony, called Clarion, was one of many established throughout the United States, Canada, and Argentina.
Rabbi Joseph Krauskopf, Benjamin Brown, and Isaac Herbst were the main organizers of Clarion and carefully selected the site near Gunnison for their colony. Krauskopf believed Salt Lake City’s Jewish community would help support the colony, and saw the local Mormons as friendly allies, because like the Jews, they too had been a persecuted people. They also knew about colonization and farming.
The Clarion location had other benefits, in that is was near the Piute Canal and the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad. Convinced of the land’s fertility, the Jewish Agricultural and Colonial Association purchased the 6,085-acre tract for $45.50 per acre.
The colony folded four years later in 1915. The Board of Land Commissioners auctioned off Clarion land at a public sale the following January. Utah historian Robert Goldberg attributes the colony’s failure to a lack of farming experience. Poor soil, short planting seasons, an inadequate water supply, and money shortages also doomed the colony. A few families stayed in the area. Some opened small businesses, but only two families continued farming.
Although most returned to city life, Clarion provided a respite from skyscrapers, tenement housing, and pavement. Colonist Isaac Friedlander hinted at why this desert Jewish enclave away from urban life took root for a while in the Beehive State. He wrote of an autumn day, “The leaves are falling; the mornings are cold, frosty… The mountain walls are hued rose and yellow. We see forms like sphinxes, artistically sculpted by nature. Riding in open wagons, we keep gazing, with heads thrown back, towards the colorful heights.”
Rebecca Andersen for the Utah Humanities © 2012
Image: Clarion settlers use horse drawn farming equiptment. Sitting is Russian-Jewish immigrant Aaron Binder. c. 1912, courtesy Salt Lake Tribune.
See Rebecca Andersen, “Zionism in Zion: Salt Lake City’s Jewish Community and Israel, 1933-1967,” MA Thesis, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah, 2008, pp. 33-35; Robert Alan Goldberg, Back to the Soil: The Jewish Farmers of Clarion, Utah, and Their World (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1986), pp. 3, 37-39, 41-42, 49, 57, 59, 61; and Isaac Friedlander in A Homeland in the West: Utah Jews Remember edited by Eileen Hallet Stone (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2001), p. 202.
The Beehive Archive is a production of the Utah Humanities. Find sources and the whole collection of past episodes at www.utahhumanities.org