The State of Utah is north of Arizona, but also shares its borders with Colorado to the east, Nevada to the west and Idaho and Wyoming to the north, with New Mexico also just touching it too on its south east corner.
Utah lies on a plateau around 4000 feet in elevation, with rugged but also amazing desert landscapes, salt lakes and high snow-capped mountains rising to over 13000 feet.
Like Arizona and New Mexico, Utah also has ancient Puebloan ruins dating back thousands of years, and was home to a number of Native American tribes, including Navajo, Ute and others when the Spanish explorers travelled here in the late 1700’s and fur trappers who came after them.
Today people come to Utah not only to see the National Parks and some of the amazing topography, but also to see Salt Lake City – the capital, which has a distinctly different history to other cities in the USA, as it is home to the Mormon religion – “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints’.
The Mormon religion was founded in 1830 in New York State by Joseph Smith (1805-1844) who claimed to have received a vision from God and his heavenly messenger that directed him
to an ancient scripture hidden in a mountain. Joseph Smith through divine guidance was then able to transcribe it into English and he called it the “Book of Mormon”, publishing the book in 1830.
The book became the basis for Joseph Smith and a small group of believers to establish the “Church of Christ” that year, but while there were many believers, there were equally many cynics, non-believers and those who were openly hostile to Smith and his new teachings. This conflict forced Smith and his followers to flee from Palmyra New York State to Kirtland, Ohio, and then in 1837 to Missouri, by which time their numbers had grown enormously.
The Mormons who called themselves “Saints” had by this time become their own church, culture and economy to themselves, leading to more violent conflicts, looting, burnings and murders and to the Battle of Crooked River and Haun’s Mill Massacre when 3 children were shot and one only survived. Tensions were such that the Missouri Governor, Lilburn W. Boggs (1796-1860) issuing “Executive Order 44” which became known as the “Extermination Order” whereby any “Saints” had the choice of being exterminated or leaving the State. The Executive Order 44 was only formally rescinded in 1976 some 137 years after the law had been enacted.
The Mormons then in 1838-39 moved to Illinois, building their own city of Nauvoo on the banks of the Mississippi River with a Temple at its center. Today the now historic town of Nauwoo still exists with a population of just over 1000 people – a center for Mormon pilgrimage.
The most controversial teachings of the Mormon’s teachings at this time were their rights to what they called “plural marriage” where ‘Saints’ could have a number of wives, what is generally called “polygamy”. The Mormons were anti-slavery too, which caused more conflict. Mob violence erupted in Illinois too and Joseph Smith and his brother, Hyrum were jailed in Carthage on charges of treason, but on the 24th June 1844 both Joseph and Hyrum were murdered by the mob while they were still in jail. This was seen as symbolic of the death of Jesus at the hands of a mob, making the Mormons even more determined to find a new home in a “promised land”, and a new leader emerged, Brigham Young (1801-1877).
Under Brigham Young’s leadership, the Mormons moved west again in 1846-47 to the wilderness, what they called the ‘Promised land’ – establishing Salt Lake in the Territory of Utah on July 24th, 1847, with Brigham Young as President of the Quorum. He is said to have had 55 wives. Today, around 60% of Utah State’s population of around 2.7 million people are Mormons, and in 1890 the Mormon belief in “plural Marriages” was abandoned, and in 1896 Utah became the 45th State of the Union.
In Salt Lake City today, there are many statues and buildings that relate back to the time of Brigham Young, and the City has developed and prospered with a diverse economy and business activity.