Early Utah History
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The Earliest Years
There is a great deal of controversy concerning when and how the early inhabitants of what is now Utah reached the area but there have been a succession of prehistoric cultural traditions since approximately 12,000 years ago. See Wikipedia: Prehistoric Southwestern Cultural Divisions
Between about 1A.D. to 1300 the Anasazi and Fremont Indians had an agricultural based society known as the Puebloan culture, in what is now southern Utah. The Ute, Bannock, Gosiute, Paiutes, Shoshone and Navajo tribes lived throughout what is now the State many years before the arrival of explorers, mountain men and pioneer settlers. See Indians of Utah
In the 1700s, while the United States was declaring independence from England, Catholic Spanish Explorers and Mexican traders drew journals documenting Utah's terrain, and the native people, as well as many of its plants and animals. In the 1820s, Mountain men like Jedediah Smith, William Ashley and Jim Bridger roamed northern Utah, taking advantage of abundant fur trapping opportunities.
Utah which ranks as the tenth state in the United States of America as to its size, is located between 37 and 42 degrees north latitude and 109 and 114 degrees west longitude and comprises an area of about 84,000 square miles. The main altitude of the state is 6,100 feet above sea level. Utah is bounded on the north by Idaho and Wyoming, on the east by Colorado, on the south by Arizona, and on the west by Nevada. The country is crossed mostly from the north to south by mountains ranges, the principle one being the Wasatch Mountains (with peaks towering from 7,000 to 15,000 feet in height), which might be termed the backbone of the state. This variation in attitude and consequent climate conditions permits the cultivation of a large variety of vegetables and cereals.
The state leads in the production of silver and copper. Coal, lead and zinc are also mined extensively, and Utah holds second place in the United States in production of ores of the rare metals uranium and vanadium.
Agriculture and cattle raising are largely carried on, and in the Great Basin area large sections of apparently irreclaimable desert have responded generously to irrigation. In the north central part of the state is the Great Salt Lake—the Dead Sea of America—a body of salt water, 80 miles long by 30 miles wide, remnant of the gigantic Lake Bonneville of the prehistoric days.
Settlement during the Mid-to-late 1800s
Mormons migrated to Salt Lake Valley seeking religious freedom in 1847. In May of 1869 the first transcontinental railroad was completed at Promontory, Utah. More than 60,000 Mormons had come to the territory by covered wagon or handcart. Utah became the 45th State in the United States on January 4, 1896.
The settlement of Utah by Anglo-Saxons was commenced in July, 1847, when Brigham Young, president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, consisting of 143 men, 3 women and 2 children. Behind them at different points for a thousand miles, spanning the distance from the Missouri River, the original company was followed by nine other companies, comprising in all about 2,000 souls. To the barren, alkali-covered desert they came, but to them it was a haven of rest, for their leader, Brigham Young said, "This Is The Place," where they should be.
It is estimated that about 1,800 people spent the winter of 1847-1848 in the Great Salt Lake Valley. Pres Brigham Young and a number of pioneers had returned to Winter Quarters, on the Missouri River, too call together the members of the Church residing temporarily in Iowa and other places in the east and prepare for their migration westward the following year. As these and other converts to Mormonism from the Eastern States and Europe, year by year, gathered with their co-religionists, the population steadily increased and Brigham Young, who was a natural colonizer, called many of the older settlers to locate in the outlying districts and establish settlements to which newcomers might be sent. Thus the area of colonization increased and thirty years after the arrival of the first pioneers of Utah, or at the time of the demise of Pres Brigham Young in 1877, nearly three hundred settlements of saints had been established in the Great Basin and vicinity. In due time other people, not members of the church, located in the various settlements and took part in the development of the country.
The acquisition of the territory ceded to the Untied State by Mexico in 1848 placed the Mormon pioneers in Great Salt Lake Valley, where they desired to be, namely, within the limits of the United States, and steps were taken to draft a constitution for a proposed state, to which the title of “Deseret” was chosen, the name, taken from the Book of Mormon, meaning a honey bee. In 1849 Almon W. Babbitt was sent as a delegate to Washington D. C. and with the splendid assistance of Dr. John M. Bernhisel presented before Congress of the United States a petition asking for admission of the state of Deseret into the Union. This action resulted, however, not in the organization of a sovereign state, as had been hoped, but in the passing, on Sept 9, 1850, of an act of Congress providing for the organization of the territory of Utah, that name being suggested because of the Indian tribes who for many years previously had roamed in the vicinity of the great Salt Lake. But the desire of these pioneers in regard to the name has been perpetuated in the section of a beehive as the state emblems and Utah is often referred to as the “Beehive state.”
The original size of the territory of Utah was about 225,000 square miles. This area was reduced in 1861 by the formation of the territories of Nevada on the west and Colorado on the east, and in 1864 and 1866 by the extension eastward of the limits of the state of Nevada: also by the ceding of part of the northeastern areas to Idaho in 1863 and to Wyoming in 1868.
The increase in population in Utah from 1847 to 1868 is phenomenal, but the labors of missionaries of the Church in the United States and in foreign lands brought thousands of converts with their families to Utah. It is estimated that about 80,000 members of the Church crossed the plains and mountains from Missouri River to Salt Lake City, a distance of about 1,000 miles, with ox or mule trains, or on foot, pulling handcarts, previous to the advent of the railroad in 1869.
As time goes on, the contribution of Utah to the United States in the “winning of the West” is becoming more and more apparent. To the founders of this commonwealth is due the redemption of arid America. They were the Anglo-Saxon pioneers of irrigation, and the parched land, responsive to their untiring efforts, blossomed as the rose and yielded not only the necessities of life but many of its luxuries, such as delicious fruits and lovely flowers. The steady streams of emigration from the Missouri River to Utah were a great inducement in regard to the construction of the transcontinental telegraph line in 1861 and of the transcontinental railroad in 1866-1869. Previously the fastest means of communication was the stage coach or pony express.
For nearly fifty years repeated efforts were made by the citizen of the territory of Utah to be granted statehood, but it was not until Jan 4, 1896 that this ambition was realized. On that date Pres Grove Cleveland signed the proclamation which admitted Utah into he sisterhood of states. The first governor of the state was Heber M Wells.
Additional history of Utah and the early Mormon settlers there can be found in: Andrew Jenson. Encyclopedic History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.