intriguing history dates back to the Messozoic Era (230
to 65 million years ago), when many types of dinosaurs
lived in the eastern and southern parts of what is now
known as Utah. Their fossilized remnants are still being
discovered and unearthed.
Puebloan cultures also known as the Anasazi and Fremont
Indians had an agricultural lifestyle in southern Utah
from about 1 A.D. to 1300. The Utes and the Navajo tribes
lived across the area before the arrival of explorers,
mountain men and pioneer settlers.
In the late 1700s while residents of the eastern United
States were declaring independence from England, Catholic
Spanish Explorers and Mexican traders drew journals documenting
Utah's terrain, and the native people, as well as plants
and animals. In the 1820s "mountain men" like
Jedediah Smith, William Ashley and Jim Brider roamed northern
Utah, taking advantage of abundant fur trapping opportunities.
During 1847, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of
Latter-day Saints (Mormons) migrated to the Salt Lake
Valley seeking religious freedom. Before the first transcontinental
railroad was completed at Promontory, Utah in May of 1869,
more than 60,000 Mormons had come to the territory by
covered wagon or handcart. Utah became America's 45th
State on January 4, 1896.
Since then, people of varied ethnic, cultural and religious
backgrounds have made Utah their home-drawn by the state's
beauty and economic opportunities. Residents of Utah enjoy
an invigorating four-season climate, a high tech business
environment, high-quality education, excellent health
care, and outstanding cultural and recreational opportunities.
These economic, social and cultural advantages make Utah
a very desirable place to live.
historical writing has included memoirs; autobiographies;
life sketches; biographies; edited diaries and journals;
town, country, and valley histories; theses and dissertations;
monographs long and short; and general histories. These
have been produced by the historic persons themselves,
their kinsmen, journalists, amateurs and enthusiasts,
freelance and paid writers, defenders and attackers, students
and teachers, and professional historians. Researchers
have discovered a great variety of sources for direct
or corroborative evidence, such as diaries and journals,
church records, institutional records, town and county
records, the state archives, the National Archives, periodicals,
and newspapers, to name a few.
Utah history in broad terms properly treats of all human
endeavors of all groups of people acting within the state's
boundaries through time, ideally based on authenticated
original documents from reliable eyewitnesses, and told
with understanding and respect for differing points of
Many sources now have been collected and inventoried.
Special collections divisions of university and college
libraries have increased their holdings of printed and
manuscript materials. State and national archives remain
relatively untapped but are open. The Latter-day Saint
Church archives remain a major repository of importance
because of the role of the church in Utah history.
The conflicts between Mormons and non-Mormons in history
colored many of the primary records now extant, and the
prejudices, biases, and antipathies, on both sides, found
their way into many studies, particularly in earlier days.
There was a tendency to treat the conflicts as central,
whereas in more recent times the movement has been toward
bringing all groups into historic focus and attempting
to understand each group's life and contributions from
their point of view. While dispassionate objectivity has
brought us closer to some truths, our works frequently
fail to capture the depths of the human experience and
the emotions of the time.
Edward W. Tullidge was Utah's first historian of stature.
He wrote a History of Salt Lake City (1886) and many articles
on the political and economic history of early Utah in
his histories and Quarterly Magazine (1880-1885).
Utah received special one-volume treatment among the histories
produced by Hubert Howe Bancroft, nineteenth-century San
Francisco entrepreneur. He acquired a considerable library
of books and newspapers, and for Utah, manuscripts extracted
from the Church Historian's Office. He hired writers (Alfred
Bates wrote most of the Utah volume), and aimed to please
his audiences. LDS Church authorities read and made suggestions
on the work before it went to press. His History of Utah
(1889) was popular for years.
In Orson F. Whitney the people of Utah found a historian
of their own who undertook the prolonged task of writing
a full-length history. His History of Utah (four vols.,
1892-1904) placed emphasis on political, judicial, and
legal history, with heavy use of documents. After treating
the coming of the Mormons, the volumes chronicled events
year by year. Volume four contained some 350 biographies.
The four-volume work completed, Whitney turned to write
Utah's first school textbook: The Making of a State; A
School History of Utah (1908). In 1916 he produced a one-volume
Popular History of Utah, in which he traced mainly political
themes through the territorial period, with chapters on
the years to 1916.
Over the years five persons (including Whitney) produced
three- and four-volume works. Noble Warrum put out Utah
Since Statehood (three vols., 1919), which, while mainly
political, but much more or a large variety of topics.
J. Cecil Alter, who made many contributions to Utah history,
wrote Utah, the Storied Domain: A Documentary History
(three vols., 1932). Wain Sutton edited Utah, A Centennial
History (three vols., 1949), bringing together signed
articles on a variety of subjects. Wayne Stout put out
his History of Utah (three vols., 1967-1971), which chronicled
the years 1870 to 1970. Heavy with long quotations from
mainly printed sources, the work shows strong anti-non-Mormon
bias. In none of these works is there synthesis, rather
year-to-year chronicles using mainly quotations from documents.
Popular history found expression over the years in some
publications designed to promote Utah, such as early works
by S. A. Kenner, George E. Blair, George Wharton James,
and others. Many households obtained their views of Utah
and Mormon history from lesson pamphlets published by
the Daughters of Utah Pioneers.
Increasingly professional influences in the study of Utah's
history came at about the time of World War I when a group
of young Utah men went off to graduate schools for advanced
degrees in history. Included in this first generation
were Levi Edgar Young, Andrew Love Neff, William J. Snow,
Leland H. Creer, and Joel E. Ricks, among others. Most
went to the University of California at Berkeley, worked
in the Bancroft Library, and studied under Herbert E.
Bolton. Upon completion of their doctorate degrees, they
returned to Utah and taught college courses in Utah history,
conducted seminars, and sometimes wrote. Their influences
were felt mainly in the classroom and in public lectures:
Young, Neff, and Creer taught at the University of Utah,
William J. Snow at Brigham Young University, and Joel
E. Ricks at Utah State Agricultural College in Logan.
The writing of school textbooks provided a continuing
challenge to historians who would attempt a broad coverage.
Following Whitney's example, Levi Edgar Young wrote The
Founding of Utah (1923), breaking new ground with attention
to the pre-1847 period. He wrote social history for his
readers; his accounts of pioneer life are still useful.
The work showed a refreshing breadth of interest. John
Henry Evans produced The Story of Utah (1933). He began
the story in 1847 and carried it to 1932. He treated political
and judicial themes central to Utah history, and enlarged
his treatment of social, economic and cultural subjects.
The scope and presentation of material is impressive.
Soon Marguerite Cameron produced This is the Place (1939),
written "primarily for youth in our schools" as well as
"fireside reading." Whatever its success in the schools,
it was soon succeeded by Milton R. Hunter's Utah In Her
Western Setting (1943), later revised as The Utah Story
The writing of county and local histories was taken up
by a number of groups, especially the Daughters of Utah
Pioneers. Centennials have called forth worthy efforts.
Town and gown collaboration produced a history of Cache
Valley in 1956. Pearl Jacobson and others produced volumes
for Richfield's and Sevier Valley's in 1964. Dixie is
perhaps best treated of Utah's regions, by the writings
of Andrew Karl Larson and Juanita Brooks. Recently southeastern
Utah has received exemplary treatment by David Miller,
Charles S. Peterson, and Faun McConkie Tanner.
During the Great Depression the study of Utah history
was advanced by activities sponsored by the WPA Historical
Records Survey. Inventories of county records were made,
scores of pioneer diaries, journals, and life sketches
were copied and made available. Many pioneer records were
brought to light and placed in permanent depositories.
Dale L. Morgan and Juanita Brooks were important in this
work, the former contributing significantly to Utah, A
Guide to the State (1941), with its chapter essays on
a wide range of subjects, the best information and writing
up to that time.
During the 1930s came the promise of much better history
in the efforts of Andrew Love Neff and Nels Anderson.
Neff visioned a multi-volume history of Utah which would
have been definitive and detailed, but his life was cut
short in 1936. Leland H. Creer prepared his unfinished
manuscript for publication: Neff's History of Utah, 1847
to 1869 (1940). The work made new contributions to the
pre-1847 period, and defined the 1850s and much of the
1860s; it is a tribute to the man and his goal.
In 1942 Desert Saints by Nels Anderson appeared. While
not intended as a history of Utah, it filled that need
for nearly a generation. He told the story of Utah up
to the time of statehood and established a new standard
for the inclusion of chapters on priesthood government,
economics, polygamy. and the Mormon way of life. Nels
Anderson, Dale L. Morgan, and Juanita Brooks formed a
triumvirate of Utah's ablest historical scholars and writers.
None had a professional history degree; yet their works
remain distinguished today.
A second generation of professionally trained historians
provided a new intellectual stimulus to the study of Utah
history following World War II when veterans took to graduate
schools and wrote thesis and dissertations in Utah and
Mormon history. These historians came to Utah, taught
at the universities, conducted research seminars, and
wrote out of their researches. They included A. R. Mortensen
(director, Utah State Historical Society); C. Gregory
Crampton (UU); Brigham D. Madsen (BYU, USU, UU); Richard
D. Poll (BYU); David E. Miller (UU); Dello Dayton (Weber);
William Mulder (UU); Everett L. Cooley (State Archivist,
USU, Director, Utah State Historical Society): Eugene
E. Campbell (BYU); Leonard J. Arrington (USU, Church Historian.
BYU); S. George Ellsworth (USU), and others. Utah history
was quickened on many fronts through the work of this
second generation and their students.
Aiding authors was an array of technological advances:
typewriters and electric typewriters, photostats cameras
and photocopying, microfilm and microfiche of collections
of documents and newspapers, secretarial assistance, and
monetary grants in support of research. More recently,
personal computers and fax have both speeded and aided
research. Guides, inventories, catalogs, and bibliographies
led to a new materials, essential sources.
The era of the monograph followed. Single subject articles
and books abounded, mostly on the territorial period but
gradually moving into the field of the twentieth century.
Altogether, hundreds of monographs were published. Studies
came out as historical essays and lectures in articles,
pamphlets and books, biographies long and short, edited
letters and diaries, and guides to source collections.
Among the major contributors were Dale L. Morgan, Juanita
Brooks, Leonard J. Arrington, Gustive O. Larson, William
Mulder, David E. Miller, C. Gregory Crampton, Everett
L. Cooley, Brigham D. Madsen, A. R. Mortensen, Davis Bitton,
Austin and Alta Fife, Andrew Karl Larson, Helen Z. Papanikolas,
Thomas G. Alexander, James B. Allen, S. George Ellsworth,
and Charles S. Peterson. There were also many more; others
who were working mostly in Mormon studies and are not
The monographs covered a wide variety of subjects. Anthropologists
contributed notably to prehistory and Indian history.
Much was done on the pre-1847 period, especially on the
mountain men. Excellent works came out on the economic
history of the territory and state. The early Mormon Council
of Fifty sparked a great deal of interest. The territorial
period came to be much better covered by well-researched
and written essays. The struggle for statehood, the state
constitution and government were topics receiving needed
attention. Following national trends, women in history
gained much attention, and the heritage and contributions
of minority groups came to be written. There were studies
were made on Mormon polygamy, significant books came out
on Utah architecture and the arts, photographs and photography.
Publication in the Utah Historical Quarterly or some other
scholarly journal was a satisfying reward to many historians
for their labors.
While the era of the monograph continued, there were still
those who attempted coverage of the whole of Utah history
in one volume. S. George Ellsworth's Utah's Heritage came
out in 1972. Written for the public schools, it also attracted
adult readers. The work was detailed and comprehensive,
and based on primary or contemporary sources, newspapers,
and monographs. Coverage included geology and geography,
prehistoric and historic Indians, and much on the pre-1847
period. Attention was given to non-Mormons and the twentieth
century was treated in depth. In 1985 the New Utah's Heritage
appeared; the book has been revised, reduced by one-third,
and chapters added on minority groups.
In commemoration of the American Bicentennial, William
B. Smart and Henry A. Smith edited Deseret, 1776-1976:
A Bicentennial Illustrated History of Utah (1975). A work
of art, the text was written by Deseret News staff writers
on subjects of their expertise. Another work to come out
in connection with the Bicentennial was Charles S. Peterson's
Utah, A History (1977). Neither a textbook nor a conventional
history, it was an interpretative synthesis of Utah history
in the context of the national experience and was part
of a national series of books.
Aiming at the college students in Utah history courses
and the general adult reader, a group of the abler scholars
in Utah studies collaborated to produce Utah's History
in 1978. Richard D. Poll was general editor. Twenty-eight
scholars contributed chapters in their fields of special
study. Each monographic chapter had its own bibliography,
and the whole was supplemented by 58 pages of charts,
tables, and maps.
The next attempt as synthesis came in connection with
the KUED-TV educational television series on Utah history
written by and featuring Dean L. May. The series was successful
and the text was published as a companion volume under
the title, Utah: A People's History (1987). Popular and
personal, the work gave due attention to all the people
who came to Utah, emphasized the territorial period, and
gave brief attention to the twentieth century.
The next effort in a one-volume treatment was Wayne K.
Hinton's Utah: Unusual beginning to Unique Present (1988)
- an oversize coffee table book, filled with pictures,
many in color, the popular and well-written text briefly
covered most periods and subjects.
Basic reference works of outstanding quality have been
produced recently. Davis Bitton published a Guide to Mormon
Diaries & Autobiographies (1977) which described and indexed
by subject some 2,894 personal records. In 1978 A Mormon
Bibliography, 1830-1930 was published; it was edited by
Chad J. Flake and based on the beginning work of Dale
L. Morgan. The Atlas of Utah was edited by Wayne L. Wahlquist,
was published in 1981; it is a truly beautiful book. And
in 1982, the 1941 edition of Utah, A Guide to the State
was revised and enlarged by Ward J. Roylance. These are
essential books for the shelf of any student of Utah history.
Inasmuch as Mormon history is an integral part of Utah
history, and one cannot always distinguish between them,
it may be appropriate to add a few works of Mormon history.
Today, it is best to begin with James B. Allen and Glen
M. Leonard, The Story of the Latter-day Saints (1976).
Leonard J. Arrington and Davis Bitton address a more cosmopolitan
audience with their The Mormon Experience (1979). Arrington's
Great Basin Kingdom is both Utah and Mormon history. See
the bibliographical essays and chapter notes in these
three books for the best starting place in Mormon studies.
During the past quarter century excellent reference works
and innumerable monographic articles and books on Mormon
history have come out very nearly dwarfing Utah studies.
Older reference works, still useful, include those by
Andrew Jenson, and B. H. Robert's A Comprehensive History
of the Church (6 vols., 1930).
The general outline of Utah history is now pretty well
known thanks to an amplitude of monographs. Yet, it is
doubtful if any subject has been over-done. Students of
Utah history have a strong tendency to regard early works
as definitive, whereas most of what has been done can
be done over again, better, based on wider experience
and perspective, with more adequate sources now available.
Official records in the Utah State Archives and in the
National Archives still remain relatively untouched by
historians. There are many subjects begging for excellent
new monographic treatment, while some few subjects call
for a new synthesis by gifted writers.
Social and intellectual history, inclusive of many themes,
remains relatively untouched. The life of immigrants and
of settlers of various areas and generations, of life
in towns and villages need better portrayal. Regions need
updated histories. The anti-polygamy raids by federal
marshals is a drama only touched upon; the judicial crusade
against the Mormons is becoming better known, but the
crusade in other states is hardly known at all. The technological
revolution that have changed the world need a place in
our histories: the coming of the telephone, electricity,
refrigeration, the automobile, the airplane, radio, movies,
television, the computer chip and all it has done to us.
How life has been changed needs to be told. There is no
Great Basin Kingdom for the twentieth century, nor an
economic or political history for Utah through time. Much
remains to be done in political history: changes in forms
and functions of government, party history elections,
agencies and services, changes in political thought. All
call for our attention.
There is little in our literature that matches the epic
quality of Utah's history. For some subjects the time
has come for a synthesis--the integration of our knowledge
into a more meaningful whole in a work of greater breadth
in scope that covers a longer period of time than any
work presently available. Great history must deal with
subjects of significance, be based on knowledge derived
from critical examination of the sources, studies with
some imagination and understanding, written with some
literary skill, and hopefully portray what is universal
in the human experience. We have very little that can
pass as great. We have had many articles on small and
often not very significant subjects. We need more studies
of significance to many people, that enrich our knowledge
of the human condition and experience, and our understanding
of our heritage and of ourselves.
S. George Ellsworth