The First Peoples -- The first known inhabitants were the Desert Gatherers, who, from around 9000 B.C., wandered about the Great Basin and Colorado Plateau searching for food. However, being nomadic, they left little evidence of their time here. The Ancestral Puebloan (also called Anasazi) culture arose in the Four Corners region at about the time of Christ; by A.D. 1200, their villages were scattered throughout present-day Utah. For some reason -- possibly drought -- by 1300 the villages had been abandoned, leaving the ruins seen standing today in Hovenweep National Monument and at other sites. The descendants of these early people -- Shoshone, Ute, Goshute, and Paiute -- were among the Native Americans inhabiting the area when the first Europeans arrived.
Another prehistoric group, the Fremont peoples, settled in central Utah, establishing small villages of pit houses. They arrived about A.D. 1200, but had disappeared by the time the first Europeans reached Utah.
Spanish explorer Juan Maria Antonio Rivera and his European expedition arrived at the Colorado River near present-day Moab in 1765. Eleven years later, two Spanish Franciscan friars reached Utah Lake and mapped it, hoping to return to establish a Spanish colony. Spain did not pursue the idea, however, and the next Europeans to explore the area were fur traders in the early 1800s. Then, in July 1847, Brigham Young led the first Mormons (a nickname for members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) into the Salt Lake Valley, and the flood of Mormon immigrants began. These were the people who established Utah as we know it today.
Meet the Mormons -- The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was born in the 1820s when Joseph Smith had a revelation: After much prayer asking which Christian church he should join, Smith was told by God and Jesus that he would be the one to restore the church that Christ established when he walked the earth. An angel named Moroni then gave Smith some ancient inscribed gold tablets that, under divine inspiration, he was able to translate into the Book of Mormon. In 1830, Smith and his followers published the Book of Mormon and founded the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) in upstate New York. Smith's revelations and the fervor with which his followers believed and tried to spread the word bred hostility among their more skeptical neighbors; the early Mormons were soon forced to leave New York.
Smith and his followers settled in Ohio and Missouri in the early 1830s. A few years of prosperity were succeeded by strife, and the growing Mormon community was once again forced to flee. They established their church headquarters at Nauvoo, Illinois, reclaiming a swampy area along the Mississippi river. Within a few years, Nauvoo was the second-largest city in Illinois, and the Mormons continued to grow and flourish. Also during these years, the practice of polygamy began slowly and quietly among church leaders. Both their nonconformism and their success bred fear and anger in their opponents, who considered Smith and his followers a political, economic, and religious threat. In 1844, a mob stormed the jail in Carthage, Illinois, where Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum were being held on treason charges, and murdered them.
Brigham Young, a confidant of Smith, became the second leader of the church, displaying a genius for organization in the evacuation of Nauvoo and the subsequent migration westward in search of a new Zion. In 1846, the Mormons headed west from Illinois, establishing winter quarters on the far side of the Missouri River, near present-day Omaha, Nebraska.
Founding Zion -- In the spring of 1847, Brigham Young started out with the first group of emigrants -- 2 children, 3 women, and 143 men. When the first group reached the mouth of Emigration Canyon and looked out upon the empty wasteland of Salt Lake Valley, Young reportedly said, "This is the right place." Within hours of their arrival, the pioneers had begun building an irrigation system and establishing fields for growing food. In the next few days, Young chose the site of the temple and laid out the new city in a grid system beginning at the southeast corner of Temple Square.
That first year almost ended the settlement before it had properly begun. The sod roofs leaked; provisions ran low, forcing the pioneers to eat whatever they could find, including the sego lily bulb (now the state flower); a late frost damaged the wheat and vegetables; and drought damaged more. Then a plague of crickets descended on what was left of the crops. After 2 weeks, the crickets were effectively eliminated by sea gulls (now Utah's state bird) that came from the Great Salt Lake to devour the insects by the thousands, and enough of the crops were saved to feed the pioneers. A monument in Temple Square commemorates their deliverance from famine.
By the end of 1848, almost 3,000 Mormons had arrived in the Salt Lake Valley. It was now a part of the United States, ceded to the Union by Mexico. In 1849, the Mormons petitioned to have their territory declared the State of Deseret, a name that comes from the Book of Mormon and means honeybee. Denied statehood, the territory of Utah -- named after the Ute tribe -- was created in 1850, with Brigham Young as territorial governor. Although it was no longer officially run by the church, the territory was assured of its continued influence: The vast majority of voters were Mormons who elected church leaders to positions of authority in the civic domain as well.
In these years, non-Mormons -- or "Gentiles," as the Mormons call them -- began traveling through the valley, many on their way to or from the gold fields of California. Salt Lake City was an ideal spot for resting and resupplying before setting out again. The Mormons often bought horses, livestock, and supplies, in turn reselling what they didn't need to other travelers. The travelers who passed through to rest and trade took with them a collection of sometimes-confused ideas about the Mormons, including their fascinating practice of polygamy. The journals of these travelers gave the nation its first real knowledge -- however incomplete -- of Mormon faith and customs.
The Utah War -- In 1857, a new governor was sent from Washington to supplant Young. Fearing that he would be rejected, President Buchanan sent federal troops to escort him. The Mormons harassed the troops by driving off livestock and attacking their supply trains, forcing them to winter in western Wyoming. Although the Mormons were prepared to fight to keep the army out, neither Brigham Young nor President Buchanan wanted bloodshed. As the new governor entered Salt Lake City, Mormon families packed their belongings and awaited the order to move.
An estimated 30,000 Mormons left their homes in Salt Lake City and the northern settlements, moving south over a period of 2 months, leaving the capital virtually deserted by mid-May. The exodus drew national and international attention and placed the U.S. government in quite an unfavorable light -- the government had persecuted innocent people, steamrolling over the fundamental right to religious freedom. An uneasy peace was finally established, the Mormons returned to their homes, and the two groups lived side by side until the outbreak of the Civil War, when the army was called back east.
Becoming the Beehive State -- After the close of the Civil War, attention was again directed toward the enforcement of antipolygamy laws, and many Mormons were imprisoned. Finally, in 1890, the church leaders issued a statement: Based on a revelation from God, the church was no longer teaching plural marriage and no person would be permitted to enter into it. With this major bar to statehood removed, Utah became the 45th state on January 4, 1896.
The Depression hit Utah hard; the unemployment rate reached 35% and per capita income was cut in half. Not until World War II was industry brought back to life. Several military bases established during the war became permanent installations, and missile plants were built along the Wasatch Front. After the war, steel companies reopened, the mining industry boomed, and high-tech businesses moved in. By the mid-1960s, the economy base had shifted from agricultural to industrial.
Dams were built -- including Glen Canyon Dam, creating Lake Powell, and Flaming Gorge Dam, creating Lake Flaming Gorge -- to further the cause of industry and to ensure water and energy supplies, but they had an additional benefit: They provided recreational opportunities for a modern society with an increasing amount of discretionary income and free time. Ski resorts began opening in the Wasatch Mountains. In the early 1980s, after outsiders started showing interest in the new playground of Utah, Salt Lake City International Airport and the city's cultural center, the Salt Palace complex, expanded.
As the mining industries began winding down, tourism and service industries grew; today, they account for more of the state's economy than any other industry. In the 1990s the state lobbied hard to be named the host of the 2002 Winter Olympics, and then built numerous venues and even roads to assure that the games would be a success. The Mormons, who spent their first decades fleeing from outsiders, are now welcoming them with open arms, and they're coming in droves.
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