The Founding Of Salt Lake City

The first white men to enter what is now Utah were a part of the

force of Coronado, under Captain Garcia Lopez de Cardinas, if the

reader of the evidence decides that their journey from Zuni took

them, in 1540, across the present Utah border line.* A more

definite account has been preserved of a second exploration,

which left Santa Fe in 1776, led by two priests, Dominguez and

Escalate, in search of a route to the California coast. A two

months' march brought them to a lake, called Timpanogos by the

natives--now Utah Lake on the map--where they were told of

another lake, many leagues in extent, whose waters were so salt

that they made the body itch when wet with them; but they turned

to the southwest without visiting it. Lahontan's report of the

discovery of a body of bad-tasting water on the western side of

the continent in 1689 is not accepted as more than a part of an

imaginary narrative. S. A. Ruddock asserted that, in 1821, he

with a trading party made a journey from Council Bluffs to Oregon

by way of Santa Fe and Great Salt Lake.**

* See Bancroft's "History of Utah," Chap. I.

** House Report, No. 213, 1st Session, 19th Congress.

Bancroft mentions this claim "for what it is worth," but awards

the honor of the discovery of the lake, as the earliest

authenticated, to James Bridger, the noted frontiersman who, some

twelve years later, built his well-known trading fort on Green

River. Bridger, with a party of trappers who had journeyed west

from the Missouri with Henry and Ashley in 1824, got into a

discussion that winter with his fellows, while they were camped

on Bear River, about the course of that stream, and, to decide a

bet, Bridger followed it southward until he came to Great Salt

Lake. In the following spring four of the party explored the lake

in boats made of skins, hoping to find beavers, and they, it is

believed, were the first white men to float upon its waters.

Fremont saw the lake from the summit of a butte on September 6,

1843. "It was," he says, "one of the great objects of the

exploration, and, as we looked eagerly over the lake in the first

emotions of excited pleasure, I am doubtful if the followers of

Balboa felt more enthusiasm when, from the heights of the Andes,

they saw for the first time the great Western Ocean." This

practical claim of discovery was not well founded, nor was his

sail on the lake in an India-rubber boat "the first ever

attempted on this interior sea."

Dating from 1825, the lake region of Utah became more and more

familiar to American trappers and explorers. In 1833 Captain

Bonneville, of the United States army, obtained leave of absence,

and with a company of 110 trappers set out for the Far West by

the Platte route. Crossing the Rockies through the South Pass, he

made a fortified camp on Green River, whence he for three years

explored the country. One of his parties, under Joseph Walker,

was sent to trap beavers on Great Salt Lake and to explore it

thoroughly, making notes and maps. Bonneville, in his description

of the lake to Irving, declared that lofty mountains rose from

its bosom, and greatly magnified its extent to the south.*

Walker's party got within sight of the lake, but found themselves

in a desert, and accordingly changed their course and crossed the

Sierras into California. In Bonneville's map the lake is called

"Lake Bonneville or Great Salt Lake," and Irving calls it Lake

Bonneville in his "Astoria."

* Bonneville's "Adventures," p. 184.

The day after the first arrival of Brigham Young in Salt Lake

Valley (Sunday, July 25), church services were held and the

sacrament was administered. Young addressed his followers,

indicating at the start his idea of his leadership and of the

ownership of the land, which was then Mexican territory. "He said

that no man should buy any land who came here," says Woodruff;

"that he had none to sell; but every man should have his land

measured out to him for city and farming purposes. He might till

it as he pleased, but he must be industrious and take care of

it." *

* "After the assignments were made, persona commenced the usual

speculations of selling according to eligibility of situation.

This called out anathemas from the spiritual powers, and no one

was permitted to traffic for fancy profit; if any sales were

made, the first cost and actual value of improvements were all

that was to be allowed. All speculative sales were made sub rosa.

Exchanges are made and the records kept by the

register."--Gunnison, "The Mormons" (1852), p. 145.

The next day a party, including all the Twelve who were in the

valley, set out to explore the neighborhood. They visited and

bathed in Great Salt Lake, climbed and named Ensign Peak, and met

a party of Utah Indians, who made signs that they wanted to

trade. On their return Young explained to the people his ideas of

an exploration of the country to the west and north.

Meanwhile, those left in the valley had been busy staking off

fields, irrigating them, and planting vegetables and grain. Some

buildings, among them a blacksmith shop, were begun. The members

of the Battalion, about four hundred of whom had now arrived,

constructed a "bowery." Camps of Utah Indians were visited, and

the white men witnessed their method of securing for food the

abundant black crickets, by driving them into an enclosure fenced

with brush which they set on fire.

On July 28, after a council of the Quorum had been held, the site

of the Temple was selected by Brigham Young, who waved his hand

and said: "Here is the 40 acres for the Temple. The city can be

laid out perfectly square, east and west."* The 40 acres were a

few days later reduced to 10, but the site then chosen is that on

which the big Temple now stands. It was also decided that the

city should be laid out in lots measuring to by 20 rods each, 8

lots to a block, with streets 8 rods wide, and sidewalks 20 feet

wide; each house to be erected in the centre of a lot, and 20

feet from the front line. Land was also reserved for four parks

of to acres each.

* Tullidge's "Life of Brigham Young," p. 178.

Men were at once sent into the mountains to secure logs for

cabins, and work on adobe huts was also begun. On August y those

of the Twelve present selected their "inheritances," each taking

a block near the Temple. A week later the Twelve in council

selected the blocks on which the companies under each should

settle. The city as then laid out covered a space nearly four

miles long and three broad.*

* Tullidge says: "The land portion of each family, as a rule, was

the acre-and-a-quarter lot designated in the plan of the city;

but the chief men of the pioneers, who had a plurality of wives

and numerous children, received larger portions of the city lots.

The giving of farms, as shown is the General Epistle, was upon

the same principle as the apportioning of city lots. The farm of

five, ten, or twenty acres was not for the mechanic, nor the

manufacturer, nor even for the farmer, as a mere personal

property, but for the good of the community at large, to give the

substance of the earth to feed the population . . . . While the

farmer was planting and cultivating his farm, the mechanic and

tradesman produced his supplies and wrought his daily work for

the community." He adds,"It can be easily understood how some

departures were made from this original plan." This understanding

can be gained in no better way than by inspecting the list of

real estate left by Brigham Young in his will as his individual


On August 22 a General Conference decided that the city should be

called City of the Great Salt Lake. When the city was

incorporated, in 1851, the name was changed to Salt Lake City. In

view of the approaching return of Young and his fellow officers

to the Missouri River, the company in the valley were placed in

charge of the prophet's uncle, John Smith, as Patriarch, with a

high council and other officers of a Stake.

When P. P. Pratt and the following companies reached the valley

in September, they found a fort partly built, and every one busy,

preparing for the winter. The crops of that year had been a

disappointment, having been planted too late. The potatoes raised

varied in size from that of a pea to half an inch in diameter,

but they were saved and used successfully for seed the next year.

A great deal of grain was sown during the autumn and winter,

considerable wheat having been brought from California by members

of the Battalion. Pratt says that the snow was several inches

deep when they did some of their ploughing, but that the ground

was clear early in March. A census taken in March, 1848, gave the

city a population of 1671, with 423 houses erected.

The Saints in the valley spent a good deal of that winter working

on their cabins, making furniture, and carting fuel. They

discovered that the warning about the lack of timber was well

founded, all the logs and firewood being hauled from a point

eight miles distant, over bad roads, and with teams that had not

recovered from the effect of the overland trip. Many settlers

therefore built huts of adobe bricks, some with cloth roofs. Lack

of experience in handling adobe clay for building purposes led to

some sad results, the rains and frosts causing the bricks to

crumble or burst, and more than one of these houses tumbled down

around their owners. Even the best of the houses had very flat

roofs, the newcomers believing that the climate was always dry;

and when the rains and melted snow came, those who had umbrellas

frequently raised them indoors to protect their beds or their


Two years later, when Captain Stansbury of the United States

Topographical Engineers, with his surveying party, spent the

winter in Salt Lake City, in "a small, unfurnished house of

unburnt brick or adobe, unplastered, and roofed with boards

loosely nailed on," which let in the rains in streams, he says

they were better lodged than many of their neighbors. "Very many

families," he explains, "were obliged still to lodge wholly or in

part in their wagons, which, being covered, served, when taken

off from the wheels and set upon the ground, to make bedrooms, of

limited dimensions, it is true, but exceedingly comfortable. In

the very next enclosure to that of our party, a whole family of

children had no other shelter than one of these wagons, where

they slept all winter."

The furniture of the early houses was of the rudest kind, since

only the most necessary articles could be brought in the wagons.

A chest or a barrel would do for a table, a bunk built against

the side logs would be called a bed, and such rude stools as

could be most easily put together served for chairs.

The letters sent for publication in England to attract emigrants

spoke of a mild and pleasant winter, not telling of the

privations of these pioneers. The greatest actual suffering was

caused by a lack of food as spring advanced. A party had been

sent to California, in November, for cattle, seeds, etc., but

they lost forty of a herd of two hundred on the way back. The

cattle that had been brought across the plains were in poor

condition on their arrival, and could find very little winter

pasturage. Many of the milk cows driven all the way from the

Missouri had died by midsummer. By spring parched grain was

substituted for coffee, a kind of molasses was made from beets,

and what little flour could be obtained was home-ground and

unbolted. Even so high an officer of the church as P. P. Pratt,

thus describes the privations of his family: "In this labor

[ploughing, cultivating, and sowing] every woman and child in my

family, so far as they were of sufficient age and strength, had

joined to help me, and had toiled incessantly in the field,

suffering every hardship which human nature could well endure.

Myself and most of them were compelled to go with bare feet for

several months, reserving our Indian moccasins for extra

occasions. We toiled hard, and lived on a few greens, and on

thistle and other roots."

This was the year of the great visitation of crickets, the

destruction of which has given the Mormons material for the story

of one of their miracles. The crickets appeared in May, and they

ate the country clear before them. In a wheat-field they would

average two or three to a head of grain. Even ditches filled with

water would not stop them. Kane described them as "wingless,

dumpy, black, swollen-headed, with bulging eyes in cases like

goggles, mounted upon legs of steel wire and clock spring, and

with a general personal appearance that justified the Mormons in

comparing them to a cross of a spider and the buffalo." When this

plague was at its worst, the Mormons saw flocks of gulls descend

and devour the crickets so greedily that they would often

disgorge the food undigested. Day after day did the gulls appear

until the plague was removed. Utah guide-books of to-day refer to

this as a divine interposition of Heaven in behalf of the Saints.

But writers of that date, like P. P. Pratt, ignore the miraculous

feature, and the white gulls dot the fields between Salt Lake

City and Ogden in 1901 just as they did in the summer of 1848,

and as Fremont found them there in September, 1843. Gulls are

abundant all over the plains, and are found with the snipe and

geese as far north as North Dakota. Heaven's interposition, if

exercised, was not thorough, for, after the crickets, came

grasshoppers in such numbers that one writer says, "On one

occasion a quarter of one cloudy dropped into the lake and were

blown on shore by the wind, in rows sometimes two feet deep, for

a distance of two miles."

But the crops, with all the drawbacks, did better than had been

deemed possible, and on August 10 the people held a kind of

harvest festival in the "bowery" in the centre of their fort,

when "large sheaves of wheat, rye, barley, oats, and other

productions were hoisted on poles for public exhibition."* Still,

the outlook was so alarming that word was sent to Winter Quarters

advising against increasing their population at that time, and

Brigham Young's son urged that a message be sent to his father

giving similar advice.** Nevertheless P. P. Pratt did not

hesitate in a letter addressed to the Saints in England, on

September 5, to say that they had had ears of corn to boil for a

month, that he had secured "a good harvest of wheat and rye

without irrigation," and that there would be from ten thousand to

twenty thousand bushels of grain in the valley more than was

needed for home consumption.

* Pratt's "Autobiography," p. 406.

** Bancroft's "History of Utah;' p. 281.

The Foreign Immigration To Utah The Hand-cart Tragedy facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail