As evidenced by the petroglyphs and pictographs, the early history of Utah shows that the Native Americans were the first people to inhabit the area. When you visit the national state parks and museums, you will find many artifacts of this period of Utah history. While the Native American Utah culture can be seen in the parks and reservations, the Mormon’s impact on the history of Utah is highly evident to anyone who visits Temple Square in Salt Lake City. So that you can fully comprehend and appreciate the significance of Temple Square, let’s journey back in time to early Mormon influence on Utah history.
The story begins on July 24, 1847, when 143 men, three women and two children founded the area on the Eastern shore of the Great Salt Lake. These devoted members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints were escaping European religious persecution. When their leader, Brigham Young saw Salt Lake, he said “This is the place.” Today, many Salt Lake City tours may take you to a park that was named "This is the Place State Park.” The park was named in commemoration of this important event in the history of Utah.
Meanwhile, during this period of Utah history, the state was actually a Mexican territory. After the Mexican-American War, with the signing of the Guadalupe Hidalgo Treaty, Utah became a territory of the United States. The Utah Territory was created in 1850.
In 1849, the California Gold Rush brought more people to the area, in search of their fortunes. “The City of the Great Salt Lake,” as it was called at the time, was no longer a completely Mormon territory. This meant that there were plenty of folks who were apt to spy on the Mormon’s “unusual” lifestyle. In 1857, when President James Buchanan was informed of the Mormon’s polygamous practices, he sent an army of 2500 soldiers called the Utah Expedition to monitor Mormon activity. He installed a non-Mormon governor to replace Brigham Young, who in turn organized Mormon guerillas to harass the soldiers. This event was called the Utah War.
Unfortunately the United States Government was not the only group of people with whom the Mormons were in conflict. For years, tensions had been building between the Mormons and the Native American population. A benchmark event in the history of Utah occurred on April 9, 1865. Tensions between the Mormons and Native Americans had been mounting for years. A cattle dispute between the Mormons and a group of Native Americans at Manti, Sanpete County resulted in the Black Hawk Indian War. Eventually, the War ended in the 1870s.
In the 1880s, the Anti-Polygamy Edmunds-Tucker Act denied polygamous Mormons the right to vote or hold office, though it was eventually repealed in 1978. All the same, polygamy has been phased out of the mainstream Mormon church and beginning in 1910, those who practiced it were excommunicated, though it has persisted in fundamentalist groups. The Mormon culture still prevails in the state as a whole, and its fascinating history can be seen in such sites as the Mormon Tabernacle and Temple Square in Salt Lake City, and Brigham Young University in Provo.