Adapted from and Vivian Lindford Talbot. A History of Garfield County. Salt Lake City: Utah State Historical Society, 1998.
The present town of Cannonville was settled due to the abandonment of the earlier settlement of Clifton. Clifton (Cliff Town), named after the view of nearby cliffs, was settled in 1874 by David O. Littlefield and Orley Dwight Bliss, with other settlers arriving in 1875. Like many of Utah’s pioneer settlements, water turned out to be a major issue. During the summer of 1877, water flowed only at night, and the settlers were forced to try and store it in barrels to use, while hauling their drinking water from Bryce Spring. Figuring that prospects may be better upstream, the settlers moved their settlement a mile and a half up stream and named their town Cannonville, after apostle George Q. Cannon, who presided over the area.
The settlers had much more water from the Paria River than they did in Clifton, but the soil eroded easily, so keeping the water supply constant was difficult, though the settlers managed. The settlement was flooded with prospectors within its first two years due to a rumor of a gold rush in the area. An early winter that year meant that a large number of miners wintered over in the town, and did not have enough food. Under the direction of local church leadership, the residents of Cannonville shared what little food they had with the miners. No one starved to death, but everyone was pretty lean by the end of that winter.
Though largely remaining an agricultural community, a few early businesses developed to help the area, including a sawmill and a general store. With no nearby banks, the owner of the store, William J. Henderson, minted his own coins as scrap for use in the store. Cannonville was near a crossing of the Colorado River, so the town saw a decent amount of Navajo travelers who would trade their handicraft for goods at the store. The white settlers and Native Americans had a high amount of peaceful contact from this trade and from proximity to trails the Navajo used.
By 1890, the population of the town had grown to 273, likely due to the prospect of a better water supply out of East Fork, a canal project that was completed by 1892. Sheep herding was a major industry toward the turn of the century—before rangeland use became difficult and wool prices fell—and sheep shearing season meant time off from school to help with the shearing.
Cannonville was hit hard by the depression. It was difficult to afford equipment for farming, and with older equipment it was hard to expand one’s cultivated acres. Additionally, the bottom had fallen out of the agricultural market. Some of the poorer residents of Cannonville ate animal feed to supplement their diet, and farming took place almost on a subsistence level for some. This did not prevent residents finding entertainment in the form of weekly dances, though they alternated with Henrieville as dance hosts. Kay Haywood also brought a gasoline powered movie projector to the town weekly, weather permitting. He took admittances to the film in cash (10 cents) or kind. Federal programs also brought more reliable culinary water to the town, as well as electricity.
The town saw some major developments in the 1970s and 80s under the leadership of Mayor Laurie Dea Holley, who served as mayor for 12 years. She oversaw upgrading of the water system, increasing the rate of flow from six gallons of water per minute to one hundred gallons per minute. She also led the effort to transform the old, disused school lot into a park, and the construction of a community center. The population of the town today is approximately 200.