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Utah in the 19th century


The mormons
The mormons

In 1846 the Mormons, who had been persecuted in Ohio, Missouri, and Illinois for their religious beliefs, decided to move west into what was then Mexico. In 1847 an advance party of Mormons, under the leadership of Brigham Young, crossed the Wasatch Range. The Mormons were seeking an isolated place to settle away from gentiles, or non-Mormons. Brigham Young had read many reports on possible sites, including Frémont’s report on the Great Basin. Young apparently decided to settle somewhere in the eastern part of the Great Basin, but precisely where is unknown. On July 24, 1847, Young and his party emerged from the Wasatch Range at Emigration Canyon. According to Wilford Woodruff, at the sight of the desolate plains before him, Young announced: “It is enough. This is the right place, drive on.” The Mormons established the first permanent white settlement in Utah at that site, between the Great Salt Lake and the Wasatch Range.

Within a matter of weeks the advance party was joined by more than 1,500 new settlers who had traveled westward by wagon train from western Iowa, where the main group of Mormons was camped. The Mormons immediately began planting and irrigating crops and laying out Great Salt Lake City (renamed Salt Lake City in 1868). Life was hard for the Mormon settlers at first, but, by a combination of hard work and good fortune, they survived. One instance of their luck was the so-called miracle of the gulls, the sudden arrival of sea gulls during the spring of 1848. The hungry gulls saved crops threatened by a cricket invasion by eating the crickets. Despite initial hardships, Mormon pioneers migrated to Utah in large numbers, and by 1850, Mormon communities were beginning to flourish.

By then about 10,000 settlers were living in Great Salt Lake City and in other Utah settlements such as Ogden, Bountiful, Provo, and Manti. Settlers continued to arrive in the following decade, either settling in established colonies or, at Young’s direction, establishing new ones. To encourage migration, Young had established the Perpetual Emigrating Fund in 1849. Money from the fund was loaned to immigrants with the understanding that it be returned when they were financially secure. About 6,000 of the newcomers during the 1850s were the remainder of the main body of Mormons previously camped in Iowa. Many others were recent converts, principally from New England, Britain, and Scandinavia. Year after year the Mormons traveled westward along a route that came to be known as the Mormon Trail.

Mormons temple in Utah
Mormons temple in Utah

The route followed the Platte, North Platte, and Sweetwater rivers across the Great Plains to South Pass, in Wyoming, and then turned southwest and crossed the Wasatch Range, passing through Echo and Emigration canyons. For the most part the Mormon pioneers traveled by wagon train. In addition, in 1856, Young instituted the cheaper and faster handcart method of transportation for poorer emigrants. Handcarts, two-wheeled carts that could be pushed or pulled, were distributed to the emigrants at Iowa City, who then reduced their belongings to what they could push or pull themselves the approximately 2,100 km (1,300 mi) to Great Salt Lake City. About 3,000 people crossed the plains by this method between 1856 and early 1861, when the “handcart migration” ended.

By 1860 about 40,000 Mormons had settled in colonies in the Utah region. These colonies formed the greater part of a vast arc of Mormon settlement extending from Idaho to San Diego, California. Altogether, more than 350 colonies had been established by the time Young died in 1877.

Mormon church
Mormon church

The Mormons did try to establish good relations with the Native American peoples, but as elsewhere white expansion often led eventually to violence. In the Walker War of 1853 and 1854, the Ute, led by chief Wakara (the whites called him Walker), attacked the Mormons who had taken the best land and were impeding Ute slave trading. About ten Mormon settlers died. After Mormons settled Cache Valley in 1860 and displaced the northwestern Shoshone, the Shoshone began attacking the settlers, who immediately asked United States colonel Patrick Connor and his federal troops to punish the Shoshone. On January 29, 1863, the troops entered a Shoshone village and killed approximately 250 people, including 90 women and children. Called the Bear River Massacre, Connor’s attack was one of the worst massacres of Native Americans in the history of the Far West. The last notable conflict in Utah was the Black Hawk War, which lasted from 1865 to 1868. Mormon settlers and territorial militia fought a loose alliance of Ute and some Paiute and Navajo who refused to settle on a recently created reservation. In the fighting an estimated 70 whites were killed. Eventually the original Utah inhabitants settled on reservations or were assimilated by the whites. "Utah" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia.

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