History of Utah

The territory of Utah was part of the Viceroyalty of New Spain until 1821, when Mexico became independent and Utah became a province of its territory. The Franciscan fathers, Francisco Atanasio Domínguez and Silvestre Vélez of Escalante, were probably the first Europeans who, in 1775, crossed this territory. These were part of an expedition of missionaries seeking a route between New Mexico and California. However, some historians believe that as early as 1540 Garcia Lopez de Cardenas crossed part of Utah.

The first steps towards colonization of Utah did not begin, however, until the 19th century. In 1824, the American Jim Bridge arrived on the Great Salt Lake, which he confused with an arm of the Pacific Ocean. Since the early 19th century, trappers explored the region, in 1825, Peter Skene Ogden’s expedition of the Hudson Bay Company had disputes with hunters in northwestern Utah. In the 1830s, this region acquired great importance as a crossroads between Santa Fe and California. After the Mexico-United States War 1846-1848, Utah passed to the United States, as established by the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.

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Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, better known as Mormons, settled in Utah in 1847. Previously, John C Frémont, and Miles Goodyear, had explored the area. Mormon settlers organized a massive emigration to this region after the persecution of their congregation in Illinois. Brigham Young, who in 1844 had assumed leadership of the congregation after the death of its founder, Joseph Smith, organized and led the march from the eastern United States. The first Mormon colony was created near the Great Salt Lake. Two years later, the group created a fund to finance the journey of new settlers. In 1849, Mormons created the state of Deseret, with Young as governor. This state originally encompassed the states of Utah, Nevada, Arizona and parts of Oregon, Wyoming, California, Idaho, New Mexico, and Colorado. Although admission to the United States was urged, the debate on slavery at that time hindered the entry of new members into the union. However, Congress decided to create the Utah territory, with current borders, and reaffirmed religious leader Young as governor. The application for admission into the Union was again rejected, on several occasions, due to the thorny issue of polygamy that Mormons accepted. Tensions between the US government and the Mormons gradually deteriorated until, in 1857, President Buchanan imposed a new governor and sent federal troops to remove Young. The conflict erupted that same year. This three-year conflict is known as the Mormon War or the Utah War. When the Civil War began, (1860-1865), this conflict in Utah had not yet been resolved, but federal troops had to leave the state to fight in the eastern countryside.

The rapid colonization of the region caused friction with the Indian communities, who had initially maintained good relations with the Mormons. In 1853 the conflict known as the Walker War broke out, and in 1865 the Black Hawk War broke out which lasted two years. The conflicts with the Indians worsened with the discovery of gold and silver in the Brigham Canyon and, above all, with the construction of the railway, since in Utah the two main lines were joined, (the one built by the Central Pacific Railroad and that of the Union Pacific Railroad), completed in 1869, resulting in the United States’ first transcontinental line.

After the Civil War, Mormons’ interest in joining the United States overcame the problem of polygamy that their religion admitted, but which the United States Congress had expressly prohibited since 1862. Pressure on Mormons to accept this law led to, in the 1880s, to the incarceration of more than a thousand Mormons. In 1904, the Church of Mormons banned polygamy and, in 1905, Utah was finally admitted as a state in the federation.

Trade, mining, (mainly the Brigham Canyon Mine, the Utah Copper Company and the world’s largest open pit copper mine), livestock farming, (which has favored the arrival of large numbers of Basque shepherds), and the steel industry from the beginning of the twentieth century, have become the economic pillars of the state.

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As a producer of raw materials, the world wars allowed a great development of the state, but this strong dependence on the primary sector explains why Utah particularly suffered the effects of the economic crisis that occurred after the crisis of 1929. Thus, in 1932 it is calculated that 21 percent of the state’s population received state aid, one of the largest percentages in the United States. During and after the Second World War, Utah was able to benefit from federal investments for its territory, such as those related to military installations, among them the missile production center, (during the war years, it is estimated that military industries employ nearly 50,000 people). In Utah, near the city of Delta, Internment camps were built to house some 8,000 Japanese and Japanese natives, residing until the attack on Pearl Harbor on the Pacific coast. In 1950, the state embarked on the reconversion of the economy through the construction of metallurgical industries, the production of uranium and the exploitation of oil and natural gas resources. The intensification of mining operations led Utah in 1958 to be the second largest producer of copper, gold, silver, molybdenum and uranium in the United States. In 1967, the Central Utah project was approved to supply water to this region and accelerate the occupation of this territory. During the 70s, Utah’s population grew enormously as a result of economic development and a 2.6 percent birth rate, double the national average, and also because Mormons made up 70 percent of the state’s population. Tourism has developed gradually and has become one of the pillars of the state’s economy.

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