Monday, January 4, 2010

Land of Pioneers and Parks

Magnet # 134:  Salt Lake City, Utah Letters

Material:  Wood

Purchased By:  Greg

Today marks the anniversary of the day Utah became the 45th state in 1896. This was about fifty years in the making, and few states following the original thirteen - or Texas - have had as much difficultly or drama in achieving statehood. All in all, it makes for a pretty interesting history lesson.

Followers of the Church of Latter-Day Saints (or LSD) first arrived with their new leader, Brigham Young, in 1847, after leaving Illinois after the assassination of their founder, Joseph Smith. At that time, the area that would become Utah was still controlled by Mexico, but the United States would gain it in less than a year after winning the Mexican-American War. Although the land was barren, the LDS favored it because it was so remote that they were allowed to practice their religion freely. And, after they developed better irrigation techniques, they were able to support both themselves and the many converts that followed them into the West. But, soon, they began to come into conflict with the United States Government, mainly because they practiced polygamy. In 1850, the Utah Territory was established, after the LDS leaders had proposed their own settlement - the State of Deseret, an enormous state that would have included what became Utah, Nevada, much of California, Arizona, Colorado, and parts of several other states. Conflict continued between the LDS and U.S. Government until it was decided that a territorial governor would replace Young. Federal troops were sent to carry this out, and to settle down the rebellions that were rumored to be going on in the territory, but when the news of their arrival reached the LDS, they both slaughtered 120 settlers who had come from Arkansas in what became known as the Mountain Meadows massacre and fled from Salt Lake City. When the troops finally arrived, Young relinquished his post, although most governors appointed to the territory soon quit their position, and it is believed that he still held a great deal of influence over the territory. Only one person was ever convicted of participating in the Mountain Meadows massacre. When the Civil War began, the troops had to withdraw, but were eventually replaced by more from California. Fort Douglas was built near Salt Lake City and more settlers came into the area, including miners. Eventually, tensions with the Native Americans in the area were so built up that the Black Hawk War broke out, the only Indian conflict to be fought between the three powers of the U.S. Government, the Indians, and the LDS. This resulted in a complete loss of power for the Indians and the LDS to loose more control of their local government. Eventually, the First Transcontinential Railroad made its way into the area, bringing even more settlers. Utah did not receive its statehood on the first few tries, but after banning polygamy with laws and agreeing to do the same in its state constitution, its fifth request to become a state was approved.

Nowadays, the LDS still dominates the population in Utah - they make up about 80% of the citizens living there. Although I've never been to Utah, I'd be interested in visiting to see the National Parks there - they have 5 in all, more than any other state except California and Alaska. Arches National Park is best known for its amazing, often freestanding red sandstone arches and other unusual rock formations. While there are over 2,000 there, some of them, like Delicate Arch, are particularly striking and beloved by visitors. But if you want to see them, the sooner you get there, the better. The park has lost 43 arches since 1970 alone thanks in part to gravity, including Wall Arch, which collapsed when no one was around in 2008. Bryce Canyon National Park is a relatively small park - only 56 miles, and because of its remote location, receives fewer visitors than other nearby parks. But its amazing natural amphitheatre, consisting of more hoodoos, or tall, thin rock formations, than can be found anywhere else in the world, definitely make it worth the trek.  Canyonlands National Park features two rivers cutting through picturesque land masses and rock formations.  Capitol Reef National Park differs from other Utahn parks because of its stunning white cliffs and domes that follow a long and narrow fold. And then there's Zion National Park, which is made up of four different life zones - desert, riparian, woodland, and coniferous forest, and features an impressive canyon.  Some have said it is reminiscent of Yosemite, but is even more colorful.  It's the most visited National Park in Utah, and is one of the top en most visited in the nation, so I imagine there are some pretty amazing sights to be had there.  Clearly, when the first settlers reached this area, there were plenty of amazing views for them to discover.

The population of Utah is growing faster than most states, and I'd like to see its amazing natural wonders for myself.  I think a roadtrip to see all five of its National Parks would be pretty incredible.  This state has come a long way, both in its formation, and in the time before and since it joined the nation, and it no doubt has an impressive future.


  1. Another interesting thing about Utah is that it was at the heart of the women's suffrage movement.

    It may seem odd to some given the beliefs that polygamy is oppressive against women, but the tough western families produced independent women who not only supported polygamy (lookup Emmeline Wells), but also pushed their state to grant the right to vote. When the territorial government granted suffrage in 1870, it empowered the largest group of women with voting rights in the nation.

    When other states demanded this be removed before Utah became a state, other women suffrage leaders like Susan B. Anthony converged in Salt Lake City to protest. The right was temporarily removed in 1887, but regained in 1891. Ultimately other attempts failed, and when Utah became a state, women still held the vote, over 20 years before the 19th Amendment would grant it nationwide.

  2. I guess the men in rest of the nation were afraid of their women expecting to get the vote, too.

    Interestingly enough, Wyoming was actually the first territory to grant women the right to vote, narrowly beating Utah out. It was also later the first state admitted to the Union that allowed women to vote. Colorado, Utah, Idaho, and California soon followed suit. Clearly, the Western states were the most progressive in those days.