Seth Tanner
Courtesy of the Grand Canyon
National Park Museum Collection

Seth Tanner was a Mormon who went to the California gold fields with his brother, Myron, at the age of 27.  They helped establish a Mormon settlement in San Bernardino, drove horses to sell in Salt Lake in 1855, and went to San Diego in 1856 for a while to invest in the coal business, an enterprise that met with little success.  He married Charlotte Levi in 1858 in Pine Valley, Utah, settled in North Ogden, and had seven children.  After charlotte died in 1872, he moved his family to Payson to be near other family members.  In 1875 he was chosen to go on an exploring mission with James S. Brown to Arizona to search out a suitable place for a settlement on the Little Colorado River.  He later returned to Utah and married Anna Maria Jensen in 1876, then moved his family to Arizona to an isolated cabin on the Little Colorado River near Tuba City on the present-day Navajo reservation.  His cabin was on the main travel route and visitors often stopped there, including some who were hiding out from the Federal Marshalls.  His second wife had no children of her own, but raised the children of Seth's first wife in this lonely cabin in the wilderness.  He also helped with the Hole-In-The-Rock expedition for a time, joining the expedition as a guide for the initial exploring party and guiding them up to the Bluff area after they had reached Moencopi in the Navajo country. The whole expedition would have been much better off had they followed the route which Seth showed them, instead of taking a "short cut" down through the hole and across the redrock country.  This "short cut" took them six months, instead of the six weeks it took to go the "long way" around.

Tanner got along well with both the Navajo and Hopi Indians.  He and his children learned their languages and they called him "Hosteen Shush," a Navajo name which meant "the man who is strong as a bear," and his children were known as "Shush Yaz," which meant "little bears."  Tanner's descendants even today operate a chain of Indian trading posts throughout the Southwest known as Little Bear's Trading Posts and Ellis Tanner Trading Company.  Due to his friendship with the Indians, he was often sought out to deal with them.  Tanner was a gentle, solitary man of the desert and did a lot of traveling and exploring through northern Arizona.  He engaged in prospecting and mining in the area near Palisades Creek at the Colorado River, but did not have much success in these ventures.  It is said that he is somewhat of a legend in northern Arizona and many natural features bear his name, including Tanner Crossing, Tanner Springs, Tanner Wash, and the Tanner Trail in the Grand Canyon.  He died in Taylor, Arizona, at the age of 90.

From the book, John Tanner and His Family, by George S. Tanner, 1974.


Copyright Richard M. Perry, 2004-2022.  All rights reserved. This web site, its text, and pictures may not be copied without the express written consent of Richard M. Perry.