Happy birthday, Utah! 122 years old and still going strong

Posted at 10:23 AM, Jan 04, 2018
and last updated 2018-01-04 13:00:31-05

SALT LAKE CITY -- Utah looks good for 122.

The LDS Tabernacle organ in 1896 for Statehood Day celebrations (from Utah State History Archives)

It was on this day in 1896 that the Utah territory (also known as "Deseret") became the state of Utah.

According to a primer produced by the Utah Division of History, it only took 50 years of trying. The territory of Deseret had become a part of the United States in 1848, but could never achieve statehood.

Originally, the state of Deseret would have encompassed what is now Utah, but also parts of Nevada and Arizona, California, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, Oregon, and Idaho.

A map showing the original "state of Deseret" and subsequent reductions. (Image via Utah Historical Society, Utah History Collection)

"The Mormons also elected all-Mormon leaders for this 'state,' with Brigham Young as governor,"the Utah Division of History says in its primer on statehood. "They sent Almon Babbitt to Washington D.C. as their state representative. But the U.S. House of Representatives would not give him a seat."

At the time there was also fighting over whether slavery would be allowed in newly created states. The Utah territory was formed (much smaller than Deseret) and they could vote for themselves on whether to have slavery.

The presidential proclamation making Utah a state on Jan. 4, 1896 (from Utah State Archives)

"President Millard Fillmore appointed Brigham Young as territorial governor. He also appointed other Mormon and non-Mormon officials," the division states. "Mormons didn’t like some of these appointed officials. They wanted to be able to elect their own government. To do this, Utah would have to be a state, not a territory."

Another problem? Polygamy and women voting. Plural marriage pretty much kept Utah from gaining statehood until 1896, after Mormon church leaders officially abandoned the practice. It's in the proclamation issued by President Grover Cleveland granting Utah statehood: "polygamous and plural marriages are forever prohibited."

The streets of Salt Lake City in 1896, upon word of statehood (pic from Utah State Historical Society)

Historical accounts from the time show that once Utah was granted statehood, people took to the streets of Salt Lake City in celebration. (The original territorial capital was actually Fillmore, but the state capital became Salt Lake City).

To commemorate statehood, the Utah State Parks is planning a "Statehood Dance" on Saturday, Jan. 6 where you can wear a suit or dress or come in traditional pioneer garb.