Gunlock: A Short History of Washington County’s Earliest Settlement

Gunlock is one of the most beautiful areas of Southern Utah. Situated on Washington County’s west side, this gorgeous narrow valley is located on the Old Spanish Trail along the Santa Clara Creek.

Of all the areas eventually settled in Washington County, one of the earliest was Gunlock. 1857 was the year that the very first home was built in the area. Most of the communities in Southern Utah were originally planned Mormon communities, but Gunlock was actually the result of expansion as well as a single man and his search for an area with land and water. That man’s name was William Hamblin and he was simply trying to find a place where friends and family could eventually join him.
Hamblin was officially Gunlock’s original settler and the area was appropriately named after him. Well, it was named after one of his exceptional talents, to be more specific. It was said that he was an expert hunter and skilled gun mechanic. He had a reputation for keeping in good condition the gun locks of other pioneers and was given the nickname William “Gunlock” Hamblin.

His name may sound familiar to some familiar with other aspects of Southern Utah history. That is because Joseph Hamblin, a well-known LDS missionary and historical figure, was William’s brother. There is a legend that says that somewhere in the area we now call Gunlock, William’s wagon broke down. Apparently, he decided that he liked the area and chose to stay. Another version of the story says that it was not a chance occurrence that led to William staying in the area but rather he was legitimately searching for a new place to settle. Regardless, Hamblin immediately realized that the area he found himself in had a rich supply of land and large amounts of water, exactly what nineteenth-century Western settlers needed. He built a home there and his family soon joined him, including a cousin named Dudley Leavitt, Dudley’s brother Jeremiah, and Isaac Riddle, a friend. All these men brought their families as well over a short period of years.

Then came the flood of 1862. This natural disaster laid to waste most of the fields and homes that the settlers had cultivated. Hamblin and the others were forced to relocate the settlement upstream. Even though the settlers still had some flooding issues as well as issues with Indians, they were able to hold their new settlement. The Old Spanish Trail was the location of this small, relocated settlement making it easier to trade with travelers. The Hunt and Holt families were two prominent groups that ended up staying and joining Hamblin and company. Eventually, two dams were built upstream. Gunlock Dam was built downstream while Baker Dam was built upstream. Because of this, their flooding issues were greatly diminished. Due to limited farming land, cattle raising was soon adopted.

Descendants of the settlers make up a large portion of the modern-day residents that call Gunlock home. The area is absolutely beautiful, peaceful, and has no problem maintaining its early charm.


A Short History of Washington County’s Earliest Settlement