Under the direction of Brigham Young and other LDS church leaders, 12 men set out to establish a major control point on the Old Spanish Trail in southeastern Utah. The group intersected the Old Spanish Trail northwest of the Green River crossing. They followed a rocky descent into Moab Canyon until they reached a steep escarpment of the Moab Fault near the present entrance to Arches National Park.
At that point, their five wagons had to be dismantled and lowered by rope down a 25 feet "jumping off place." The pioneers left their wagons cached in Spanish Valley and proceeded southeast toward the Colorado line. The next year, 1855, 41 men were called by the church to establish an outpost in Spanish Valley, which had been reported as a beautiful valley with rich soil, good timber and abundant water. In the summer of that year, the Elk Mountain Mission was established. The valley had served as a common gathering ground for Navajo and Ute Indians.
A major Ute leader counseled Native Americans to keep peace with the missionaries. A fort was constructed and a steady stream of Indians kept trading in the valley lively. The peace was always tenuous and by September events exploded into a tragedy. Within a month a confusing and unplanned battle occurred between the American Indians and the Mormon settlers. Two missionary hunters were killed and the decision was made to abandon the Elk Mountain Mission.
Few people ventured into Grand County during the period from 1855 to the mid-1870s. Cowboys and ranchers became more interested in Grand Valley and by the 1880s, the area became settled. A post office was established and the town named "Moab."