Had they listened to a warning, James Davidson and his family would not have made a fatal mistake during the summer of 1869. Davidson, his wife Maria Armstrong Davidson and their son Joseph Davidson had been called by Mormon leaders to settle the Cotton Mission in Southern Utah. James was asked to install machinery and oversee the cotton mill in Washington, Utah to produce cotton fabric for residents in the Utah territory. But the Davidson’s, natives of Scotland, found the desert a difficult adjustment. In the latter part of May 1869, Davidson and his family joined a group of Mormon Church members on a trip to St. Thomas, a settlement in Nevada on the Muddy River, now under Lake Mead. The purpose of the trip was to persuade Muddy River farmers to grow cotton for the mill and to support construction of a telegraph line from Las Vegas to St. George and beyond, according to journalist Helen Gardner.
Following a farewell feast one evening, the Davidson wagon started out the next morning for St. George. A few miles between St. Thomas and another Muddy River town, name St. Joseph, a wheel broke on their wagon. Davidson knew little about wagon repair. So another member of the caravan, Benjamin Paddock, drove a wood wedge between the iron rim and the wood wheel before placing the rim back on the wheel. “This is only a temporary fix”, he told Davidson. “I urge you not to try to travel across the Mormon Mesa alone. If you can’t catch up with the wagon train very soon, turn back to St. Joseph or St. Thomas until your wheel is fixed and another wagon train or caravan is ready to cross the mesa. There is thirty miles of harsh land ahead. You’re on the rim of the Mojave Desert and it is pure folly to travel this trail alone” The Davidson’s couldn’t travel with any speed because of the damaged wheel and eventually, the Davidson’s lost sight of the wagon train. For some reason, however, they kept going. It was June 11, and the desert burned with intense heat. In an area marked by gullies and washes, and a few miles from the closest water source, called Mormon Well, the Davidson wagon broke down. At Mormon Well on June 12, three men worked all day to enlarge the well for other travelers. That evening, a horse wandered into the well site. Thinking it had strayed from a wagon train, one of the men; William Webb decided to back track the horse trail. That trail led to the bloated body of Joseph Davidson, according to Gardner’s account. Webb buried the boy, placed a market on the site, and send word to St. Thomas he had found a dead child. Shortly after June 20, 1869, the bodies of James and Maria Davidson were found five miles west of Mormon Well. Both the parents and son had died within walking distance of water. Today, on the desolate, windswept Mormon Mesa, North of Interstate 15 and between Mesquite and Glendale, NV, the graves of the Davidson’s have been marked three times. Once with a huge pile of rocks, once by an iron pipe cross and more recently relatives and friends have placed Mother, Father and Son in a common grave, adorned by a marble grave stone on the desert floor.