TRAVEL ALERT: Please follow local COVID-19 guidelines for safe, responsible travel. Read more.
Culture & History
browse allclose

Utah History Past

Utah's Ancient History
Utah history begins over 500 million years ago. Plant and animal fossils from Cambrian through Pleistocene eras tell a rich tale of evolving life forms from the crab-like trilobite to the huge mastodon. Notable in Utah's ancient history is the abundance of dinosaur that once roamed the region. Today the state is home to two of the largest dinosaur graveyards in North America: Dinosaur National Monument in the northern part of the state and the Cleveland-Lloyd Quarry in east central Utah. Fossils from these two quarries are on display and being studied in museums and universities around the world.

Perhaps the greatest influence on the state's topography is ancient Lake Bonneville. Hikers along Utah's Wasatch Front can still find fossilized shoreline evidence of the great lake that once covered most of Utah and portions of Idaho and Nevada. Geologists believe the lake originated during the last ice age. At its crest, Lake Bonneville was over 5,200 feet in elevation and 1,050 feet deep, 145 miles wide and 346 miles long. Its shores have yielded the remains of mammoth, musk ox, ancestral camel, horse, deer and mountain sheep that once roamed the area.

Earliest Inhabitants
Hundreds of years before the time of Christ small bands of hunters crossed the frozen Bering Strait and slowly wandered the length of what is now the western U.S. These people were most likely the first humans to traverse Utah. The first evidence of habitation in the state has been found in ancient caves in Utah's foothills. About two thousand years ago the Anasazi, or "Ancient Ones," were the first stationary residents in Utah. The Anasazi acquired increasingly sophisticated skills and prospered for almost 1,300 years. The abrupt abandonment of their farms was most likely caused by a severe drought. Early 19th century residents of Utah were hunter-gatherer Indians, divided into three main tribes: Ute, Paiute (Water Ute) and Shoshoni. These Indians were present when white settlers came to the region in the middle of the century.

Trails & Trailblazers
Utah's central location in the western United States has always meant a steady flow of traffic across its expanse, and has earned the state nickname "The Crossroads of the West". As early as the 18th century Spaniards and New Mexicans began exploring Utah in search of "short-cut" routes to the western coast. Their efforts resulted in a popular trade route known as "the "Old Spanish Trail". In the first half of the 19th century trappers and mountain men further explored the state, plotting and mapping routes as they went. Their trails were later used by thousands of pioneers.

The Mormons
On July 24, 1847, Brigham Young, in search of "a place nobody else wanted," first entered the Salt Lake Valley with a company of Mormon pioneers. The group was escaping religious persecution in the Midwest, and sought a life of peace and isolation from outside interference.

Early accounts of the Salt Lake Valley describe "a vast desert whose dry and parched soil seemed to bid defiance". Undaunted by the landscape, within days of their arrival the pioneers had established the work ethic and resourcefulness that would become their trademark. Crops were planted and an ingenious irrigation system implemented. A "tent school" educated the children. Homes and forts were built and the surrounding area explored.

Hundreds of Mormons from all over the world continued the migration to Utah, and within three years a newspaper was in circulation, a theatre was built, and a territorial government established. By 1900 the Mormons had founded nearly 500 settlements in Utah and surrounding states.