Utah's prehistory is as diverse as its scenic topography, covering a period of more than 11,000 years. Archaeological sites have been identified in all corners of the state illustrating the ancient people of Utah were able to adapt to deserts, high mountains, badlands, and marshes.The first people living in Utah are called the Paleoindians (11,000-8,000 years ago) by archaeologists. The Paleoindians were hunters and gatherers who sometimes hunted now-extinct mammals like the mammoth. Paleoindian sites have been found across Utah but due to their age, they are very rare. Some Paleoindian camps along the shoreline of ancient Lake Gilbert have been identified by archaeologists reflecting Paleoindians' use of marsh environments.

At about 8,000 years ago, changes in weaponry styles and subsistence patterns mark the beginning of the Archaic period. During the Archaic, people were hunters and gatherers, and nomadic but they also lived in semi-permanent small villages and caves. During the Archaic (8,000-2,500 years ago), people made a variety of basketry for plant collecting and various stone spear and dart tips used in hunting. The atlatl, or spear thrower, was used from roughly 8,000 to 2,000 years ago in Utah. Danger Cave and Juke Box Cave near Wendover, Utah are two famous sites used during the Paleoindian and Archaic time periods.

Subsistence patterns began to slowly change around 2,500 years ago. Corn and later beans and squash were introduced into Utah possibly from the south. Farming changed how people made a living. Across much of northern Utah, the Fremont (2,500-600 years ago) adopted a farming lifestyle but they still heavily relied on hunting and gathering for much of their food. Further to the south, in the Four Corners region and across the southern portion of Utah, the Anasazi (2,500-600 years ago) heavily relied on corn, beans and squash. The Anasazi had domesticated the turkey and it was also used as an important source of food and raw material. The Anasazi sometimes built multi-storied homes along cliff faces and around the heads of deep canyons. Cliff dwellings dating to over 700 years ago can be seen in southern Utah and in the Four-corners area. Around AD 1300, the people we call Fremont and Anasazi are no longer visible in the archaeological record. Some areas were abandoned and new cultures moved into the region. The archaeological record changes and is most similar to what is seen for Archaic age sites. In many respects, people went back to a hunter and gatherer lifestyle.

American Indians

At historic contact, Native American groups living in Utah included the Ute, Southern Paiute, Navajo, Goshute, Northern and Eastern Shoshone. The Ute, Paiute, Goshute, and Shoshone speak different but related languages from a family known as the Numic Language Family. The Navajo speak a language that is in the Athapaskan Language Family.The Ute, Goshute, Southern Paiute and Shoshone lived similar lifestyles by hunting, fishing and gathering wild plant foods. The pinyon nut was especially important to all of these groups. These groups now live in reservations in Utah, Colorado, Nevada, and Idaho - although prior to European settlement, they ranged all across the Great Basin and Inter-mountain West. Navajo culture during historic times was based upon herding sheep, goats, and cattle. More detailed information on the historic Native American peoples of Utah can be found in Handbook of North American Indians, Volume 10: Southwest and Volume 11: Great Basin. Smithsonian Institution, Washington D.C. 1986; edited by Warren L. D'Azevedo.

The state of Utah is named after the Ute tribe. The Ute once lived over much of Utah and all of western Colorado. In historic times, they ranged well onto the great plains of eastern Colorado into Nebraska and south into New Mexico. In historic times, there were at least 11 different bands of the Ute Tribe. Each band claimed their own territory but membership in a band was fluid. The Ute lived by hunting, fishing, gathering and trading with other Native American groups in the region. Housing consisted of brush structures and conical shaped tipi's made from animal skins. During the late 1800s, the Ute lost most of their lands and were restricted to reservations in southern Colorado and northeastern Utah.

The Paiute are divided into two groups: the Northern Paiute and the Southern Paiute. The Northern Paiute lived in what is now Oregon, California, and Nevada. The Southern Paiute lived in southern Utah, southern Nevada, and northern Arizona. Hunting and gathering with some fishing was the main source of subsistence. Often, small mammals such as rabbits made up much of the protein in their diet. A Southern Paiute house might be made of brush and poles stacked in a conical shape. These are known as wickiups. Basketry was made by the Southern Paiute as was pottery. There are Paiute reservations in southern Utah and in Nevada.

The western deserts of Utah is the home of the Goshute. They are related to the western Shoshone groups and through intermarriage, to the Ute. The Goshute lived in the Great Basin as hunters and gatherers living in conical wickiups and similar structures. Two reservations in western Utah are now the home of the Goshute.Idaho, eastern Oregon and northern Utah was the home of the Northern Shoshone. The Eastern Shoshone lived across western Wyoming, northeastern Utah and northwestern Colorado. Shoshone subsistence revolved around hunting, gathering and fishing. Bison hunting was a important pursuit. Herding sheep and goats was, and still is, the mainstay of many Navajo families.

Southern Utah, northern Arizona, and northern New Mexico is the land of the Navajo; the largest Native American Tribe in the United States. Some scholars believe the Navajo migrated south into their current homeland sometime after A.D. 1300 where they lived as hunters and gatherers. In early historic times, the Navajo acquired sheep from the Spanish and they learned to weave from the Hopi. The Hogan is the traditional Navajo house.

Explorers, Trappers & Traders

Mexicans and Spaniards were the first known non-Indians to enter what is now the state of Utah. The recent discovery and translation of the journals of Juan Maria Rivera show that he led no fewer than two expeditions into the area of present day Utah in 1765, accomplishing the first white man sightings of Hovenweep and the Colorado River, which he reached on the second trip at the site of modern Moab. Twelve years later, in July 1776 (just as the American Revolution was beginning in the East) a 10-man exploration team left Santa Fe, New Mexico under the leadership of two Franciscan priests, Dominguez and Escalante. They entered Utah from the east near the present town of Jensen, traversed the Uinta Basin, crossed the Wasatch Mountains via Diamond Fork and Spanish Fork canyons, and visited the Indian encampment at Utah Lake. Traveling south, they eventually forded the treacherous Colorado River and returned to Santa Fe in January 1777. Early snows had forced them to give up their attempt to reach Monterey, California.

Utahns are indebted to the Dominguez-Escalante expedition because of the detailed diary kept by Father Escalante which describes plant and animal life; geography; and the appearance, dress, food, and ways of life of the Utes and Paiutes. The Rivera journals, the Escalante diary, and the map made by Bernardo de Miera, who accompanied the Dominguez-Escalante party, are the first documents in Utah history.

Although there was no immediate follow-up to the historic Dominguez-Escalante expedition, traders continued to be interested in establishing new routes to California, and by the early 1800s trade between Santa Fe and the Indians in north-central Utah was fairly well established. From 1807-1840, mountain men competing for fur explored vast areas of the American West, and their knowledge was eventually passed on to future settlements. In the 1820s trappers explored most of Utah's rivers and valleys as well as some of the desert land. Jedediah Smith, one of the great explorers made several significant journeys through Utah and publicized South Pass in Wyoming, over which thousands of later immigrants traveled.

Trapper Jim Bridger reported his sighting of the Great Salt Lake in 1824; Osborn Russell and a party of French-Canadian trappers wintered near present Ogden in 1840-41; and Miles Goodyear established Fort Buenaventura on the Ogden River in 1844-45. The explorations of other trappers including Peter Skene Ogden, Etienne Provost, John H. Weber, William H. Ashley, James P. Beckwourth, the Robidoux brothers, and Joseph R. Walker also contributed to knowledge of the Utah area. So did groups such as the Bartleson-Bidwell party, whose wagons crossed Utah in 1841, and the Donner party, who blazed a trail into the Salt Lake Valley in 1846 that the Mormons followed in 1847. In the 1840s United States government explorers and settlers bound for California came into Utah. Among the most notable explorers of the West in this period was John C. Fremont, who mapped trails and described the land and plant and animal life of the Great Basin.

Territorial Days

The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ended the Mexican War in February 1848 and gave the United States title to much of the Southwest, including Utah. The Mormons responded by forming a political government and creating the State of Deseret (1849-1850). Congress would not admit Deseret to the Union and instead created the Territory of Utah, a vast area encompassing, until the 1860s, most of present Nevada and part of present Wyoming and Colorado. Utah's territorial period, 1850-1896, was marked by Mormon expansion, the immigration and settlement of non-Mormons, the development of transportation and communications, economic growth, and religious conflict.

Territorial Governor Brigham Young faced difficult problems with other federal appointees almost immediately. In addition, Indian problems surfaced in the 1850s and settlements were threatened, especially during the Walker War of 1853-54 and the massacre of a U.S. Topographical Survey party led by Lieutenant John W. Gunnison. Difficulties were compounded during the presidential election campaign of 1856 when national attention was focused on Utah as Republican candidates vigorously denounced both polygamy and slavery in the territories. Reports that Utahns were in rebellion against federal authority led President James Buchanan to send an expeditionary force under Albert Sidney Johnston to Utah in 1857. Tense settlers in southern Utah and nearby Indians, caught up in an atmosphere of war hysteria, killed about 100 California-bound immigrants at Mountain Meadows, the darkest event in Utah history and the only major disaster of the Utah War. Salt Lake Valley residents temporarily relocated in Utah Valley in 1858. Peace was attained that spring.

Johnston's troops established a military post at Camp Floyd, west of Provo, and newly appointed Territorial Governor Alfred Cumming assumed civil authority.The appointment of Cumming signaled the beginning of the struggle for control of political and economic power in the territorial period. The issue of polygamy provided a sensational topic to lay before the rest of the nation. Polygamists were arrested, Church leaders went into hiding, and the federal government seized Church property. Denial of statehood by Congress continued until after Mormon Church President Wilford Woodruff announced the abandonment of polygamy in 1890.

Crossroads of the West

Mountain Men and settlers had explored much of the West, but the systematic, scientific investigation of this immense land really began when Congress authorized exploration for railroad and wagon routes. Captain Howard Stansbury explored and mapped Great Salt Lake Valley in 1849-50; Lieutenant Joseph C. Ives studied part of the Colorado River in 1857-58; Lieutenant E. G. Beckwith completed the railroad survey begun by Gunnison; Joseph Dixon, James Harvey Simpson, Ferdinand V. Hayden, Clarence King, Clarence Edward Dutton, and George M. Wheeler led productive surveys; and Major John Wesley Powell came in 1869 and 1871 to explore the "last frontier," the Green and Colorado rivers, by boat. Powell's contributions to our understanding of the arid Colorado Plateau, water resources, and the life-ways of the area's Indians were monumental.

Communication between East and West became increasingly important between 1850 and 1870. The overland freight brought needed goods to Utah settlers; the faster stagecoach brought passengers and mail; and the Pony Express brought both mail and news in its brief nineteen months of operation.On October 24, 1861, the overland telegraph connecting Omaha, Nebraska, and San Francisco was completed in Salt Lake City. Brigham Young had helped with this venture, and he planned the Deseret Telegraph to connect Salt Lake City with the outlying Mormon settlements.Next came the railroad. In 1868 Brigham Young contracted with Union Pacific to build part of the transcontinental railroad through Echo and Weber canyons. Mormons earned more than two million dollars working on this project. Meanwhile, hundreds of Chinese worked on the Central Pacific line east from Sacramento. Finally, on May 10, 1869, the Central Pacific and the Union Pacific were joined at Promontory Summit, Utah. Mormon isolation was permanently ended. In the 1870s railroad lines were built to connect many Utah settlements, including mining towns, with the capital. The transcontinental railroad and the branch lines spurred commerce and led to the opening of the mines.


In the thirty years from 1860 to 1890, Utah's population jumped from some 40,000 to more than 200,000.

Although there was a tendency toward urbanization along the Wasatch Front, Brigham Young and other Mormon leaders continued to direct the settlement of remote areas of Utah. In the 1860s and 1870s many new places were settled: Cache, Sevier, and Sanpete valleys; the back valleys of the Wasatch Mountains; and southern Utah. This expansion, at the expense of Indians, led to the most serious of Utah's Indian wars, the Black Hawk War, from 1865-1868, and the subsequent removal of many Indians to reservations. Following the war, white settlers moved into southeastern and eastern Utah.

As many as 90 percent of the total population were Mormon at this time, and their way of life dominated politics, economics, and social life. Brigham Young was, of course, the principal figure in the territory's life until his death in 1877. Some of the significant developments in the 1860-1890 period include the Mormon cooperative stores, begun in 1868 with the founding of Zions Cooperative Mercantile Institution (ZCMI); the mastery of irrigation agriculture and the development of large sheep and cattle herds; communal living and economic experiments, called United Orders, announced at St. George in 1874; the building of more enduring structures such as homes, churches, tabernacles, theaters, and business offices; and the flowering of a full cultural life with music, drama, higher education, and newspapers and magazines.


Utahns began petitioning Congress for admission to the Union in 1849, but statehood was not achieved until 1896. During most of the intervening years the territory was governed by federal appointees - almost exclusively non-Mormons. Residents chafed under these outsiders. While the number of non-Mormons living in Utah was then 10 percent or less, they were mostly concentrated in the urban areas or in mining and railroad towns. A number of factors made this minority feel fearful of Mormon dominance: communitarian economic practices, lack of free public schools, encouragement of immigration by converts to Mormonism, polygamy, church authoritarianism, and the mingling of church and state affairs.

Congress passed the Anti-bigamy Act in 1862, but it was generally not enforced. The Poland Act of 1874 and the Edmunds Act of 1882 were upheld by the Supreme Court, and after 1883 arrests for polygamy greatly increased. Finally, in 1887 the Edmunds Tucker Act dissolved the church corporation and threatened the survival of all Mormon institutions. Additionally, women, who had the vote under territorial law, were disfranchised by this act. Clearly something dramatic had to be done to reverse this trend.

In September 1890 LDS President Wilford Woodruff issued the Manifesto renouncing the practice of polygamy. In 1891 the two national political parties were organized in Utah. Careful teamwork by Mormons and non-Mormons in Washington, D.C., and positive recommendations by the Utah Commission led to the passage of the Enabling Act, signed by President Grover Cleveland in July 1894. Utah held a Constitutional Convention in 1895, and statehood became a reality on January 4, 1896. Utah women, who had been at the forefront of the national suffrage movement, campaigned vigorously and successfully for restoration of the vote and achieved a full equal rights provision in the new state constitution.


The old ways of life died hard. But gradually, in the period between statehood and World War I, Utah adjusted its economic, social, and political life to that of mainstream America. State government and the codification of Utah law began, and the State Capitol was built. Conservation and reclamation projects were instituted. National parks, monuments, and forests were set aside by the federal government. Urbanization continued, until by 1920 nearly half of the population lived along the Wasatch Front. The percentage of Mormons in the total population declined to 68 percent as the state grew. The development of mining and heavy industry drew an influx of various ethnic groups - such as Greeks, Japanese, Hispanics, African Americans, and others - and ultimately diversified the social and cultural life of the state, especially in Carbon, Juab, Salt Lake, Tooele, and Weber counties. Less than a third of the people were engaged in agriculture and related occupations, although farm acreage had more than doubled. Utah continued to pioneer in dry-farming techniques, while irrigation opened up other farmlands to fruitful use. Sheep and cattle competed for range lands, and the railroad centers at Ogden and Salt Lake City boosted the livestock processing industry.

A fortune in silver had been taken from the Utah mines in the nineteenth century, but in the early twentieth century the big story was the development of the copper industry at Bingham Canyon under Daniel C. Jackling who made the open pit mining of low-grade ore profitable. Coal mining increased in profitability with the coming of the railroad to coal regions. Mine owners built a number of company towns in Carbon County for the coal workers, many of whom were recent immigrants. With industrialization came conflict between labor and management particularly in the mines. At Scofield in 1900, 200 men were killed by an explosion in the Winter Quarters Mine. This major catastrophe signaled the end of an era. Never again would miners be quite so willing to endure dangerous working conditions for so little personal gain. Important legislation was passed by the state to benefit laborers. Strikes and militant unions emerged as economic forces to be dealt with. The legendary IWW worker and songwriter Joe Hill was executed in Utah in 1915 for the murder of a Salt Lake City grocer and his son, a case that aroused national and international controversy.

Modern cities emerged as electricity, telephones, and automobiles changed forever pioneer lifestyles. The building of palatial homes, business blocks, power plants, interurban railroads, highways and secondary roads, and housing for average citizens contributed to city development. Population continued to grow and to concentrate along the Wasatch Front in Weber, Davis, Salt Lake, and Utah counties, a trend that continues to the present and profoundly affects the state's political, social, economic, and cultural life.

In 1905 the opening of large portions of the Uinta Indian Reservation to white settlement led to the founding of more than a dozen towns in the Uinta Basin. Resentful Utes reacted to this betrayal by attempting an alliance with Sioux Indians. Their trek to South Dakota in 1906-1908 ended in failure and a deep sense of loss. In San Juan County Indian and white confrontation primarily over grazing rights on public lands led eventually to the so-called Posey War of 1923. Concession was made to Indian grazing rights, and thereafter the "Indian problem" lay quietly buried on the reservation until mid century. Politically aware and adept at exercising their legal rights, Utah's Indian peoples have successfully fought for greater control of tribal lands and resources and management of their own affairs in recent years.

War & Depression

Beginning with World War I, events in Utah generally echoed the national scene. Utah made her contribution to the war effort and her businesses enjoyed temporary prosperity. The 1920s and the 1930s in Utah were marked by increased union activity, particularly in the coal and copper industries. In 1933 the United Mine Workers of America finally succeeded in unionizing the Carbon County coal mines.The Great Depression of the 1930s hit Utah especially hard. Unemployment was already widespread in mining and agriculture, and conditions worsened for a number of reasons. Severe droughts hit farmers hard in 1931 and 1934. High freight rates limited the expansion of manufacturing. Not until the New Deal programs such as WPA and the CCC came to Utah with a variety of cultural and reclamation and conservation projects was recovery, although slow, in sight.With World War II came an increased demand for food production that boosted Utah agriculture. Important military installations, the Geneva steel plant, and other war-related industries brought new payrolls to the state. Utah was also the scene of prisoner of war camps and of Topaz, one of the relocation camps for Americans of Japanese ancestry.

Utah Today

In the decades following World War II Utah has continued to grow. Cultural institutions such as the Utah Symphony, Mormon Tabernacle Choir, Utah Opera Company, Ballet West, and Utah Festival Opera (Logan) to name a few, have a solid reputation both locally and nationally. Utah's educational and research centers have developed a variety of scientific and medical innovations, including the artificial heart. Utah is also a leader in information technology.

High-tech companies that have resided in Utah include Iomega, Novell, Correll, and WordPerfect. Even after WordPerfect moved to Canada and Novell went through a layoff cycle, programmers, engineers, and executives reinvested their severance money in new companies that have sped the growth of Utah's high-tech industry. Intel Corp. announced in March of 1998 that it had purchased options on two Salt Lake County properties to possibly build a seven-building campus that may eventually employ 8,000 people.The announcement in 1996 that Salt Lake City would host the 2002 Winter Olympics spurred not only the construction of new sports venues and facilities but the development of $300 to $400 million in fiber optic communications infrastructure upgrades. In 1998 Scarborough Research Corp. stated that Salt Lake City had more personal computers per household than any other city in the United States advancing Utah's reputation of being savvy to technology.

Tourism has become a major economic factor year-round with the development of Utah's ski industry, national parks, and recreation areas such as Lake Powell and the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument which was created by President Clinton in 1996. Southwestern Utah is also booming, due to its warm climate which is attractive to retirees.Another growing multi-million dollar industry in Utah is that of film and television production. Popular television shows produced in Utah included "Promised Land" and "Touched by an Angel." Motion pictures filmed in Utah include: 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969), Footloose (1984), Forrest Gump (1994), Independence Day (1996), and Thelma and Louise (1991). A major issue in Utah is that of transportation. An ever-growing population along the Wasatch front has spurred the reconstruction of I-15 (the main artery around Salt Lake City), light rail (Provo-Salt Lake City), and TRAX (street railroad for Salt Lake City). Nevertheless, as a modern state, Utah faces the same kinds of problems that face other states: adequate funding for all levels education and other public needs, environmental protection, increased opportunities for women and minorities, preservation of the historic and cultural heritage, continuing economic development of rural areas, conservation of natural resources and areas of natural beauty, and urban renewal. Additionally, with some three-fourths of her land owned by the federal government, Utah in recent years has been a leader among the western states in the so-called Sagebrush Rebellion against federal dominance. How these and future challenges are met will fill tomorrow's history books.

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