Big Water

Adapted from Martha Sonntag Bradley, A History of Kane County. Salt Lake City: Utah State Historical Society, 1999; “Laid-back Big Water mixes gay mayor, polygamists,” Salt Lake Tribune, Accessed April 9, 2020

While every town’s history is unique, Big Water is especially unusual compared to Utah’s other towns. Big water began as Glen Canyon City. It was built in the late 1950s, and was largely developed in conjunction with the construction of the Glen Canyon Dam, to be used by the workers and as a home base for recreation in the area, with plans for children to be bussed to nearby Page, Arizona for school.

In 1976, the makeup of the town changed dramatically with the arrival of Alex Joseph, an unorthodox character who some consider to be the father of the Sagebrush Rebellion. An open polygamist, as well as the founder and leader of the Church of Jesus Christ of Solemn Assembly, Joseph and some friends had attempted to settle on federal land in Cottonwood Canyon, then around Lake Powell, under their interpretation of the 1916 law allowing homesteading. They left their initial settlement (which consisted of trailers, tents, and temporary buildings such as shacks), and settled near Glen Canyon City and began to establish a town they called Bac-Bone. The group lost several legal battles, and after being evicted moved to Glen Canyon City. They established a compound they called Long Haul, as well as a home school and a military academy for their sons, known as the “Royal Guard.” 

The Josephites soon dominated local politics, and Joseph led efforts to get the town incorporated (which happened in 1983), serving as the town’s first mayor. In many areas the town has since both embodied a sense of the libertarian, and been a part of controversial clashes with the county and federal government. These controversies included the building of a baseball diamond and a cemetery on federal lands, making it illegal for the federal government to control the land within city limits, and an effort in 2001 to make marijuana use a citation-level offense without any fine (less than a parking ticket). Big Water also attempted to secede from Kane county and make a new county, called Dry Powder County, with the intention to promote development of the land near Lake Powell. The proposal was defeated, as Kane County was not keen to lose the revenue from the federal lands. Today, the population is about 500.