History of How Utah Was Settled

Have you ever wondered how each state got its shape? I remember taking my “I Know my States” test in the fifth grade and thinking that some states have the most peculiar shapes.

Since this is a blog about Utah, I figured there would be no better place than here to tell you about how Utah was settled and how it got its shape.

Before we go into the logistics of politics and how the state got its shape, we need to establish who was involved to begin with.

There have been many notable people who have passed through what is today known as Utah, from fur trappers, Catholic priests, to explorers like Francisco Vasquez de Coronado. Even the infamous Donner party made their way through the Salt Lake valley, even though they didn’t end up settling. With all of this traffic, it would seem that Salt Lake valley was a very popular place to form an settlement, but it wasn’t until the Mormons came around was there ever any real conversation about forming a settlement that would be recognized by the United States Government.

When the Mormons were making their way west from New York, they ended up in a place that was, at the time, outside of the United States. In fact, the place where they settled near Salt

Lake was actually a part of Mexican jurisdiction up until 1948 when the United States government was able to get Mexico to sign the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo. So let’s take a look at the land that once belonged to Mexico.

As we can see here, the land of what we now know as Utah was actually a part of Mexican Cession, which was the land that was given up by the Mexican government upon the signing of the treaty. So from there, the Mormons took a large chunk of the land and made an unofficial state called “Deseret”.


The orange border encompasses the entire State of Deseret, which was a name that was taken from the Book of Mormon. If the Mormons would have succeeded, Deseret would have been one of the largest states in the country today. Needless to say, the agreement fell through, which takes us to the Utah Territory in pink. The Utah we all know today got its name from the original inhabitants of the land, the Ute people. From here, it became a battle over silver and gold.

To the left of Utah, we see a large portion of the Utah Territory that is today known as most of Nevada. Utah lost this portion due to the fight over all of the silver that was discovered in that area. The same thing happened over to the right with Colorado and Wyoming over a dispute following the discovery of gold and mining rights.

After all that has been said and done, there is still one issue: Utah still has not been recognized as an official state, because the United States government had laws against polygamy, which contradicted was was believed to be practiced in the Utah Territory. It wasn’t until the president of the Latter-Day Saints church, Wilford Woodruff, came up with the 1890 Manifesto did the chances of Utah becoming a state started to look up.

This manifesto was incredibly crucial to the success of Utah’s application for statehood, because from here on after, all territories applying for statehood would need to abide by the same laws as the rest of the union. From here, Utah applied for statehood in 1895, and was officially granted the title of statehood on January 4, 1896.

For more information about how Utah became a state, visit our friends over at the History Channel and check out some of their videos that would give you a great visual of how Utah got its shape and much more!

For a brief summary of Utah’s geography and how it was settled, here is a video that would serve as a nice visual aid to the diverse geography of Utah.

We hope you enjoyed our post about Utah’s history encompassing its major trials and triumphs over the centuries. If you have anything you would like to share about what you have learned about Utah’s history over the years, please feel free to leave us a comment below. We would love to learn from you!


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