Category Archives: History

Downwind in Utah


The spring of 1953 brought with it unusually large losses in sheep herds that had spent that winter grazing in the mountains of southern Nevada and southern Utah. The winter and spring of 1952/1953 had been unusually dry, and most livestock owners had provided their herds with supplemental feed and water to make it through to summer. Of the approximately 11,710 sheep that had wintered within 40 miles north and 160 miles east of the Nevada Test Site (NTS) in 1953, 1420 lambing ewes and 2970 new lambs would ultimately succumb to a painful and mysterious death in the ensuing year.

Horses with Radiation Burns (series 11571).

Horses with Radiation Burns (series 11571).

In addition to the disturbing number of deaths, sheep owners also observed that many of their animals appeared to suffer from unusual burns on their faces and bodies. These burns were reminiscent of those documented in cattle that had been near the Trinity nuclear test site in New Mexico, when the world’s first atomic weapon was detonated on July 16, 1945. The burns were also similar to the beta burns found on horses living near the NTS, where above-ground nuclear testing had been taking place since 1951. Speculation quickly focused on two NTS nuclear test series, Operation Tumbler-Snapper conducted in 1952 and Operation Upshot-Knothole conducted in 1953, as the source of death and injury witnessed among the Cedar City sheep herds.


Map of the area effected by tests at the NTS in 1953 and 1954 (series 11571).

Map of the area effected by tests at the NTS in 1952 and 1953 (series 11571).

The first veterinarians outside of the Cedar City region to investigate the mysterious sheep deaths were John Curtis and F.H. Melvin, who were assisted by the Bureau of Animal Industry (under the Department of Agriculture). Both men were concerned with the possibility that radiation had played a primary role in the sheep deaths, and what that could mean for the human populations of southern Nevada and Utah. After their investigation, Curtis and Melvin returned to Salt Lake City and voiced their concerns to the director of the Utah Department of Health, Dr. George A. Spendlove. Based on that report, Spendlove immediately requested epidemic aid from the U.S. Public Health Service (USPHS) for further study.

In early June the USPHS sent three of their own investigators to Cedar City. These representatives included Monroe A. Holmes (a veterinarian for the Public Health Service Communicable Disease Center), Arthur H. Wolff (a veterinary radiologist at the Environmental Health Center), and William G. Hadlow (a veterinary pathologist at the Public Health Service Rocky Mountain Lab). When the USPHS representatives arrived in Cedar City they were joined by two investigators from the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), the agency responsible for administering nuclear tests at the NTS. These AEC representatives included Major R.J. Veenstra (an Army veterinarian attached to the Naval Radiological Defense Lab in San Francisco), and R.E. Thompsett (a veterinarian on contract with the AEC who ran a private practice in Los Alamos, New Mexico).

Sheep Necropsy Report from W.J. Hadlow (series 11571).

Sheep Necropsy Report from W.J. Hadlow (series 11571).

The team of USPHS and AEC investigators observed sick lambs in Cedar City and initially concluded that radiation and malnutrition were the most likely candidates for problems afflicting the herds. Melvin A. Holmes drafted a report that brought together the investigative work from the seven different agencies initially involved with analyzing the sheep losses in Cedar City. In addition to the main report, individual reports were filed by Wolff, Veenstra, and Thompsett, each of which mentioned radiation more prominently than Holmes as the likely cause of the sheep deaths. These reports were immediately classified by the AEC and not provided to Cedar City sheep owners or local Iron County authorities.


Statement from Douglas Corry on his Cedar City Sheep Operation (series 11571).

Statement from Douglas Corry on his Cedar City Sheep Operation (series 11571).

The AEC was loathe to compensate for livestock losses based on harmful radiation due to the precedent it would have set for future claims of loss from exposure to fallout from tests at the NTS. This led to the AEC organizing a second investigation of the sheep herd losses in Cedar City in the summer of 1953. The investigators used in the second investigation had much closer ties to the AEC than those members of the first investigation team. They included Dr. Paul B. Pearson (chief of the AEC Division of Biology and Medicine), Lieutenant Colonel Bernard F. Trum (an Army veterinarian assigned tot he AEC agricultural research program at Oak Ridge, Tennessee), and Lieutenant Colonel John Rust (also of the AEC agricultural research program at Oak Ridge). This second investigatory group focused exclusively on malnutrition as the primary cause of sheep herd loss, and maintained zero contact with members from the first investigation. In a later court case, Iron County extension agent, Stephen Brower recalled a conversation with Paul Pearson in which the latter claimed that the AEC couldn’t expose itself to the risks of setting a precedent in paying sheep owners for their losses. Instead he suggested that the AEC might help fund a range study, again reinforcing the malnutrition narrative as the sole reason for losses and damages to the sheep herds around Cedar City. The AEC did subsequently provide $25,000 for a range study in the Cedar City and Nevada areas used by the sheepmen.


In August of 1953 all participants from the first and second sheep death investigations met in Salt Lake City to review the evidence from both studies. At this meeting there was concerted effort placed on the first group of investigators to abandon their position that radiation was a primary contributing cause to the sheep deaths.

Report from October 1953 Los Alamos Conference on Livestock Losses (series 11571).

Report from October 1953 Los Alamos Conference on Livestock Losses (series 11571).

On August 9, 1953, Paul Pearson met with livestock owners in Cedar City to discuss the second group of investigators findings. At that time malnutrition and disease in the herd were cited as the likely culprits. It was also at this time that AEC officials began advancing the premise that radiation levels from the NTS tests were too low to cause radiation poisoning in the sheep herds. In order to validate this claim separate radiation studies were conducted on sheep herds living near heavily irradiated sites in Los Alamos, New Mexico and Hanford, Washington. Sheep in these studies were exposed to varying levels of radiation and the effects were documented.

On October 27, 1953 members of both studies and AEC officials met in Los Alamos to again review evidence from the studies, as well as the evidence from the sheep radiation tests from Los Alamos and Hanford. The secretary for the meeting was AEC official Charles Dunning, who subsequently drafted a short report stating that the expert opinion held that there was a preponderance of evidence against fallout as a contributing cause in the sheep deaths. This report was signed by those in attendance, but the strong dissenting opinions from outside the AEC (primarily from Veenstra, Holmes, and Thompsett) remained.


With the resumption of atmospheric atomic tests as part of the Operation Teapot test series at the NTS in 1955, Cedar City sheep owners who had suffered heavy losses in 1953 filed suit against the AEC for $177,000 in damages. This led to AEC and Justice Department lawyers placing heavy pressure on members of the first investigation to officially change their position that radiation had served as a primary cause of the Cedar City sheep deaths (in order for the government to put up a unified front as defendant).

Statement from Parowan sheep owner T. Randall Adams on sheep loss (series 11571).

Statement from Parowan sheep owner T. Randall Adams on sheep loss (series 11571).

R.E. Thompsett (of the first investigation team) was heavily dependent on AEC money to fund a private animal hospital in Los Alamos, and eventually went on the record as abandoning his belief that radiation was a contributing cause. At the same time both Monroe A. Holmes and R.J. Veenstra (also of the first investigation team) agreed to disqualify themselves as expert witnesses if called upon to testify.

The trial took place in federal court in September of 1956 and lasted fourteen days. The government was represented by John Finn of the Justice Department’s Torts section, while the sheep owners were represented by Dan S. Bushnell. The judge presiding over the case was A. Sherman Christensen. The government’s defense (backed by expert witnesses and unclassified records) maintained that fallout levels from the Upshot-Knothole Test Series were too low to cause the sheep deaths, and that the timing between the atomic tests and subsequent sheep deaths was purely a coincidence. Judge Christensen sided with the expert testimony provided by the AEC, stating that the government was negligent in not warning sheep owners of potential fallout in the area, but nothing more.


In 1979 a second case was brought to federal court, this time arguing that fallout from the Nevada Test Site was responsible for the death and suffering of human inhabitants of the downwind area south and east of the NTS. At this time records that had formerly been classified became public and the extent of the AEC cover-up with the 1952-1953 sheep case came to light.

Original records from the sheep studies revealed that the radiation dose levels in the thyroids of the affected Cedar City sheep were nearly 1000 times the permissible dose for humans. Records also revealed the extent to which AEC officials went to get members of the first investigation team to change their opinion of radiation as a primary cause in the sheep herd losses.

Schedule of nuclear tests at the Nevada Test Site during 1953 (series 11571).

Schedule of nuclear tests at the Nevada Test Site during 1953 (series 11571).

In February of 1981 six of the original plaintiffs from the 1955 lawsuit brought a new suit to federal court asking for a new trial. They claimed that fraud had been committed upon the court by AEC and Justice Department officials. Judge A. Sherman Christensen heard the case again and the plaintiffs were again represented by Dan S. Bushnell. A settlement offer was extended to the government of three million dollars for damages, but government representatives refused the offer. Evidence was heard over four days in May of 1982 and Christensen delivered his decision in August, ruling that at the time of the sheep radiation studies the AEC held monopoly on information and that government experts and attorneys had deliberately acted to withhold certain pieces of that information from the court.

Judge Christensen ordered that a new trial was to be held, but that decision was overturned on appeal by the Tenth Circuit Appeals Court in Denver. Eventually the case made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court where the Tenth Circuit decision was sustained by a 5-3 vote in January of 1986. Chief Justice Warren Burger (who had served as head of the Justice Departments Civil Division at the time of the original sheep case in 1955) disqualified himself from making a formal decision in the case.

Another court case was brought against the U.S. government in the early 1980’s and included residents from Iron County. The suit sought damages from the federal government, and was initially successful on a ruling from Judge Bruce Jenkins that awarded some damages to downwind cancer victims, and their families. However, the case was appealed, and the decision was also overturned by the federal Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Correspondence on pending Mackelprang lawsuit for injuries suffered from above-ground nuclear testing (series 11571).

Correspondence on pending Mackelprang lawsuit for injuries suffered from above-ground nuclear testing (series 11571).

To date, the most tangible action taken to address the legacy of atmospheric nuclear testing in Nevada, and the impact it had on nearby populations, was passage of the 1990 federal Radiation Exposure Compensation Act, which created a trust-fund to award individuals who suffered from radiation-related injuries that occurred before adequate safety warnings were given, or safety protocols enacted in an effected area.

The story of the 1953 sheep deaths in Cedar City can be traced through sheep radiation study records created by the Utah Department of Health, and now maintained by the Utah State Archives.

Other related records include radiological surveillance reports and radiation study reports from the Utah Department of Health, administrative records and occupational health hazard records from the Utah Department of Environmental Quality, and Environmental Coordinating Committee minutes and agendas from the Utah Division of Environmental Health.

A final valuable resource held by the Utah State Archives is various radiation study records gathered by the office of Utah Governor Scott Matheson. This collection, in particular, pulls together a variety of materials from a broad range of state and federal government agencies regarding tests conducted at the Nevada Test Site and their impacts on local southern Utah communities. These records once served as the backbone for policy decisions and stances on the issue of downwinder recompensation made by Governor Matheson, who himself grew up in the southern Utah town of Parowan during the era of above-ground atmospheric testing, and would later pass away from a rare multiple myloma cancer in 1990.


Fradkin, Philip L. Fallout: An American Nuclear Tragedy. Boulder: Johnson Books, 2004.

Fuller, John G. The Day We Bombed Utah: America’s Most Lethal Secret. New York: New American Library, 1984.

The Law of the River: The Central Utah Project


This is the third (and final) in a series of blog posts that will explore records held by the Utah State Archives that help illuminate the story of Utah’s role in the larger western movement to tame and develop the Colorado River as a vital resource in the arid west.


Due to circumstances of geology and demographics, the bulk of Utah’s population lives on the eastern edge of the Great Basin, hundreds of miles (and thousands of feet of elevation) removed from the Colorado River water promised to the state by the Colorado River Compact. In 1946 the first scheme for addressing this disconnect was conceived. Modeled on successes by the Bureau of Reclamation in the early 20th century at Utah’s Strawberry Reservoir and nearby Heber Valley, local planners developed the concept of the Central Utah Project (CUP).

According to its proponents, the CUP would guarantee full use of Utah’s allotted share of the Colorado River by implementing a series of aqueducts, diversion and storage dams, and tunnels that would effectively move water from the eastern Colorado River Basin to other areas of the state, including the growing population centers along the Wasatch Front.

1947 conception of the Central Utah Project (series 200).

1947 conception of the Central Utah Project (series 200).

The first attempt to create the CUP came in 1946 when federal legislation was proposed by Utah senator, Abe Murdock. This legislation was met with defeat, as it was determined that any attempt at such a massive project in Utah needed to be bound up with larger planning in the Upper Colorado River Basin as a whole. Up to that point, the states of the Upper Basin hadn’t even determined how the Upper Basin allotment would be divided between them. This, in turn, spurred negotiations that would lead to the 1948 Upper Colorado Basin Compact, an agreement that granted Utah 23% of the 7,500,000 acre feet of water apportioned to the Upper Basin by the Colorado River Compact.

In that same year (1948), the Colorado River Storage Project Act (CRSPA) was also proposed. This legislative action proposed a comprehensive plan for developing the Upper Colorado River Basin. However, a variety of delay’s prevented the Congress from authorizing it until 1956. Upon its authorization, the Central Utah Project was born, effectively serving as the largest single participating unit in the CRSPA plan.

This early history of the CUP’s origination and initial planning is reflected in records held by the Utah State Archives, which includes correspondence records from the office of Utah Governor J. Bracken Lee (1946-1956), as well as Colorado River Commission case files created by the Utah Attorney General.


In simplest terms, the CUP serves to build the infrastructure needed to impound and transport water from the eastern Utah river basin to other water-starved regions in America’s second most arid state. The organizational apparatus for developing the CUP water delivery systems was born in 1964, with the legal organization of the Central Utah Water Conservancy District (CUWCD). The original seven-member board of the CUWCD was composed of one representative from each county in Utah impacted by CUP projects. This original board included members from the counties of Salt Lake, Summit, Wasatch, Utah, Juab, Uintah, and Duchesne. Later the board would expand to include representation from Garfield, Piute, and Sanpete counties. The CUWCD was established to both oversee the management of water projects associated with the CUP, as well as manage Utah’s repayment of federal funds that had been allocated for CUP projects by the Colorado River Storage Project Act.

1968 Central Utah Water Conservancy District Ribbon Cutting event (series 200).

1968 Central Utah Water Conservancy District Ribbon Cutting event (series 200).

The CUWCD set to work by first organizing water development projects around the state into seven distinct geographic units: Vernal, Upalco, Jensen, Bonneville, Uinta, and Ute Indian. Setting project priorities and allocating resources has often proved contentious, particularly as projects went over time and budget throughout the latter 20th century. For example, in 1965 the Bonneville Unit (the single largest unit of the CUP) was allotted $302 million in funds to complete its associated water projects. Construction delays and the passage of time meant that, by 1985, over $2 billion in funds had actually been spent developing the Bonneville Unit.

The early history of work done for the CUP, as well as ongoing debates of how to fund the project appear throughout several record series held by the Utah State Archives. These include Upper Colorado River project files from the office of Governor George D. Clyde (1957-1965), correspondence records from the office of Governor Calvin Rampton (1965-1977), natural resource working files from the office of Utah Governor Scott Matheson (1977-1985), and correspondence records from Governor Matheson’s office.


Over time it became increasingly clear that the broad, ambitious goals of the CUP would be bogged down by both slow construction, as well as a lack of adequate ongoing funding and support from the federal government. Funding for the CUP (through the Bureau of Reclamation) was often a contentious point of debate among federal lawmakers, and the entire project was nearly defunded completely during the term of President Jimmy Carter (1977-1981).

1968 CUP News Report (series 200).

1968 CUP News Report (series 200).

The tendency to stall or delay water projects ultimately led to an unprecedented action in 1992, when Utah’s state and local officials asked the federal government to turn over authority to complete all unfinished CUP work to the CUWCD. This request was granted with passage of the 1992 Central Utah Project Completion Act (CUPCA). This legislation authorizes the CUWCD to oversee completion of CUP projects, particularly those in the Bonneville unit which includes areas of exploding population growth along the Wasatch Front. In addition, the legislation provides a means for over-site and environmental mitigation of CUP work to be overseen by the U.S. Department of the Interior through a newly created CUPCA office.

This climactic moment in the CUP’s history, as well as the negotiations that took place to secure passage of the CUPCA, can be traced in records held by the Utah State Archives, including Governor Norman Bangerter’s Washington Office records, as well as Governor Bangerter’s Chief of Staff correspondence records.


The future of the Colorado River, and its millions of users, is a hazy one. How reliable will the river’s flow remain, particularly in the face of changing environmental conditions and exploding population centers in the western United States? Water allocations from the Colorado River have been re-calibrated at points in the past, based on lower flows and the fact that the original numbers agreed to in the 1922 Colorado River Compact were based on unusually (and unsustainable) high years of river flow.

A similarly unknown future faces the major water storage projects along the river, including those that compose the Central Utah Project. Consider, for example, the unknown fate of the Hoover Dam, an aging structure holding back a dwindling water supply that is currently being drawn on by more people than at any other point in its history.

Major questions concerning the Colorado River, and its use, face each of the western states that rely heavily on its water. Will the answer be a doubling down on the types of costly reclamation efforts that were meant to help the arid southwest “bloom like a rose?” Or will the answers increasingly take the shape of users learning how to more efficiently utilize the regions most critical resource? Whatever way the future flows, it is clear that the Law of the River is still, very much, a work in progress.

The Law of the River: Developing the Upper Basin

This is the second in a series of blog posts that will explore records held by the Utah State Archives that help illuminate the story of Utah’s role in the larger western movement to tame and develop the Colorado River as a vital resource in the arid west.


Map of the Upper and Lower Colorado River Basin's (series 200).

Map of the Upper and Lower Colorado River Basin’s (series 200).

With the passage of the Colorado River Compact of 1922, the Colorado River Basin was divided into a Lower Basin unit (comprised of Arizona, California, and Nevada), and an Upper Basin unit (composed of Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming). For the first twenty-five years after the compact was ratified, the bulk of development that took place on the river occurred in the Lower Basin. The construction of Hoover Dam, and other projects in the Lower Basin, had a direct impact on growing the human populations of the southwest. This, in turn, fueled the need for ever-more water in the region.

With the lower basin’s voracious hunger for water, a movement to begin developing the Upper Basin’s water allotment gained real momentum. This movement was fueled, in part, by concerns among leaders in the Upper Basin that unclaimed water in the north could be forever captured and taken by the unquenchable thirst of agriculture and populations sprouting up in California, Arizona, and southern Nevada.

Negotiations for how to divide the Upper Basin share of the river began when representatives from each Upper Basin state met to discuss the issue in 1946. Utah’s interests in this ongoing negotiation were represented by both Governor Henry Hooper Blood, as well as Utah State Engineer, Ed H. Watson.  Records from Watson’s office, in particular, reveal how prominently involved the State Engineer was in ensuring Utah received an equitable portion of the Upper Basin river allotment.

Two years of negotiation and planning ultimately culminated in the Upper Colorado River Basin Compact of 1948. This new accord added another chapter to the expanding Law of the River by guaranteeing a fixed percentage of water from the Colorado River to each Upper Basin state on an ongoing annual basis. Under the terms of this agreement, Colorado would 52% of the Upper Basin share, Utah 23%, Wyoming 14%, and New Mexico 11%. In addition, Arizona wasr allotted a 50,000 acre foot share for the small portion of the state that lies north of the division boundary line at Lee’s Ferry.

With agreement between the Upper Basin states on how to share their allotment of the Colorado River, the stage was set for the emergence of a massive, federally backed plan that would usher in an era of unprecedented change in the Intermountain West.


With a compact among the Upper Basin states in place, a plan begin to take shape that would coordinate and guide development in Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming.  Over the course of eight years, planning and negotiations took place that finally culminated with passage of the Colorado River Storage Project Act (CRSPA) of 1956.

President Eisenhower triggering construction of dams at Flaming Gorge and Glen Canyon (series 200).

President Eisenhower triggering construction of dams at Flaming Gorge and Glen Canyon (series 200).

The provisions of this plan were broad and complex. At its heart the CRSPA sought to set in motion the construction of major water storage projects in the Upper Basin, as well as devise the means for transporting water across vast areas for the benefit of municipalities in the Colorado River Basin. CRSPA also marked a moment of important transition for the Bureau of Reclamation, and how it approached dam construction in the arid west. Prior development in the Lower Basin was done for the primary purpose of impounding a water supply that could be used for irrigation. Hoover Dam allowed for the generation of electrical power, but power generated by the dam was sold to growing populations in Los Angeles and Las Vegas, with the cash generated from that sale being used to pay off the original construction costs for the dam.

With CRSPA, a new model employed by the Bureau of Reclamation in its dam construction and management. Under this new method, the preeminent use of impounded water in the Upper Basin was no longer for irrigation, but rather for hydroelectric power generation that could be sold cheaply to the public. Revenues generated by these “cash register” dams were then used to subsidize farmers in the Upper Basin who, due to environmental constraints inherent to the Intermountain West, were generally unable to grow the wide variety of agricultural commodities routinely produced by their counterparts in the Lower Basin. This thorny issue of balancing a public utility produced by a government agency against the interests of private public utility companies became one of extreme importance to the administration of Utah Governor George D. Clyde in the early 1960’s.

Pamphlet advertising the economic benefits of Upper Basin development (series 200).

Pamphlet advertising the economic benefits of Upper Basin development (series 200).

In the ensuing decades after the passage of the CRSPA, its ambitious goals began to take tangible shape on the western landscape. One of its faces became the dams associated with the Curecanti Project in Colorado. Another was the Navajo Dam constructed in northwestern New Mexico. Along the Utah and Wyoming border CRSPA took shape in the form of the Flaming Gorge Dam. And, perhaps most famously, CRSPA led directly to the controversial construction of the Glen Canyon Dam along the Utah and Arizona border.


The story of Glen Canyon Dam remains a contentious moment in U.S. environmental history, as it squarely pitted the interests of the Bureau of Reclamation and western developers against those of a burgeoning American environmental movement.

Pamphlet promoting reclamation efforts at Echo Park (series 200).

Pamphlet promoting reclamation efforts at Echo Park (series 200).

When planning first began on the Upper Basin developments that would culminate with dams at Flaming Gorge and Glen Canyon, planners first cast their eyes east towards Utah’s Uinta Basin. In the mid-1950’s planners and promoters pushed for the construction of two dam sites in Dinosaur National Monument, one at Echo Park (at the confluence of the Yampa and Green rivers), and one at Split Mountain.

An unexpected push against placing the dams in Dinosaur National Monument by an organized environmental movement ultimately led planners to abandon the effort, and the U.S. Congress to enact laws that better spelled out the types of development that could occur in National Park Service areas. The complex legal discussions pertaining to Echo Park and Glen Canyon can be traced through records created by Utah’s Attorney General, and held at the Utah State Archives. With the Echo Park development off the table, and a promise from the Sierra Club not to oppose a dam site at Glen Canyon, the Bureau of Reclamation moved forward with development along the border of Utah and Arizona.

With passage of CRSPA, and allocation of $760 million in federal funds for Flaming Gorge and Glen Canyon, construction on Glen Canyon Dam began in late 1956. Upon its completion in 1966 its impounded waters (named Lake Powell after General John Wesley Powell who had first navigated the whole of the Colorado River in 1869) could reach a full capacity of 26, 214,900 acre feet, making it the second largest development along the Colorado after Lake Mead. The construction of the Glen Canyon Dam has long served as a significant moment of loss for many who were able to witness Glen Canyon before it was flooded by the dam.

Construction of the Glen Canyon Dam (series 25473).

Construction of the Glen Canyon Dam (series 25473).

CRSPA was a crucial moment in both the river’s history, as well as Utah’s relationship to it. In addition to providing the mandate and funds to build the dam sites at Flaming Gorge and Glen Canyon, this legislation also authorized the creation of the Central Utah Project (CUP), a federal water project specifically tasked with overseeing Utah’s use and development of its allotted share from the river.

The story of federal efforts to establish and manage the Central Utah Water Project, which has proven to be among the most complex and costly provisions of CRSPA, will serve as the subject for the final blog post in this series.


Reisner, Marc. Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water. New York: Penguin Books, 1993.

Worster, Donald.  Rivers of Empire: Water, Aridity, and the Growth of the American West. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992.

The Law of the River: Compact and Development

This is the first in a series of blog posts that will explore records held by the Utah State Archives that help illuminate the story of Utah’s role in the larger western movement to tame and develop the Colorado River as a vital resource in the arid west.


The Colorado River originates in the high Rocky Mountains of Colorado, before making its 1,750-mile journey to the Pacific Ocean, emptying at the Bay of California. Along the way it gathers run-off from a drainage basin 244,000 square miles in length, carves out the dramatic cliffs and canyons of southeastern Utah and Arizona’s Grand Canyon, and carries a silt load higher than any other river of comparable size.

Map of the Colorado River Basin made by the Bureau of Reclamation in 1922 (series 13912).

Map of the Colorado River Basin made by the Bureau of Reclamation in 1922 (series 13912).

The Colorado is an international river, draining water from seven western states, (Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, and California) as well as Mexico. Moving from the highest peaks of the Continental Divide down to the low, arid deserts of the Sonoran and Mojave, the Colorado River is a vital artery running throughout some of the American southwest’s most spectacular (and unforgiving) landscapes.

For much of human history, the Colorado River, and its tributaries, have served a vital role in providing life-giving water to the region’s inhabitants. Many Indian tribes of the southwest practiced dry farming and simple irrigation techniques using scant available water resources. This model was later expanded on by white settlers in the region, particularly the early Mormon settlers of Utah.

The Colorado gained some measure of national celebrity from the famed expeditions taken down it by John Wesley Powell, first in 1869 and again in 1871-1872. These scientific trips gave Americans a better sense of the canyon country frontier, as described vividly by Powell, as well as providing Major Powell with some sense of the harsh environmental realities imposed by the arid deserts of the southwest.


The story of the Colorado River in the 20th century, a period when it would become the most legally regulated river on Earth, begins with the explosive population growth witnessed in Southern California at the turn of the century. Water projects that carried water from California’s Owens Valley helped fuel tremendous growth in Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley.

Fields in California's Imperial Valley irrigated with Colorado River Water (EPA photograph from Wikimedia Commons).

Fields in California’s Imperial Valley irrigated with Colorado River Water (EPA photograph from National Archives and Records Service).

Similar efforts to carry (and control) Colorado River water to the famously dry Imperial Valley for irrigation and flood control raised serious questions among all of the western states in the Colorado River Basin. The legal history of water in the west had placed water rights under the provision of prior appropriation. Simply put, the first to develop a water right was the first to own it: “first in time, first in right.”

What if California’s rapacious, and seemingly unending, thirst lay claim to the bulk of available Colorado River water, and blocked anyone upstream from making later use of it? What if earthworks built by California to tame unpredictable floods from the Colorado locked in place an inequitable infrastructure, forever in favor of the Golden State?

With these fundamental questions in mind, representatives from the seven basin states (as well as U.S. Commerce Secretary, Herbert Hoover) met on January 26, 1922 and began work on an expansive interstate compact to regulate and share the Colorado River among all of its interested parties.


In the eleven months between January and November, 1922 multiple meetings were held that would culminate in the Colorado River Compact. Over the course of its legal history, the various compacts, agreements, and legal decisions that have been placed on the Colorado River have come to be known as “the Law of the River.” In this regard, the Colorado River Compact is the backbone that serves to connect everything else together.

Utah’s representative to the 1922 negotiations was State Engineer, R.E. Caldwell, having been appointed by Utah Governor Charles Mabey. Records from the State Engineer documenting Caldwell’s work on the Colorado River Compact (as well as other river-related records from the office) are held by the Utah State Archives in series 13912.

Utah's copy of the Colorado River Compact (series 20221).

Utah’s copy of the Colorado River Compact (series 20221).

The major provisions ultimately agreed to in the Colorado River Compact were unique, and critical in dictating all future development made on the river.

The first of these provisions was the decision to effectively create two separate artificial basins within the larger Colorado River Basin. The Upper Basin was to consist of the mountain states of Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, and New Mexico (the states that provide the bulk of the flow to the river). The Lower Basin was formed from Nevada, Arizona, and California. The line of demarcation separating these two units was designated at Lee’s Ferry in northern Arizona.

A second consequential provision of the compact stipulated how much flow from the river each basin was eligible to claim. Calculations for the Colorado’s annual flow were taken from dubious readings maintained by the Bureau of Reclamation during a multi-year period that saw the river rage higher than at any other point in its recorded history.

Based on these flawed Bureau estimates, the flow of the Colorado River averaged 17.5 million acre-feet of water annually. The Colorado River Compact stipulated that 15 million acre feet of this share was to be divided equally between the Upper Basin and the Lower Basin. The Lower Basin was awarded an additional 1 million acre feet under the threat that its representatives would walk away from the negotiations without that bonus allotment. The final 1.5 million acre-feet of flow was reserved for Mexico, a number that was cemented into law by an international treaty in 1944. It was left for the states within each basin to determine the percentage of their allotted flow that would go to each state.



Water allotment map showing the Upper and Lower Basin’s (series 200).

Each member representative from the compact negotiations signed the accord and returned to their respective state, leaving final ratification of the compact to state legislatures or voters. In Utah, the Colorado River Compact was ratified immediately by the Utah state legislature during its 1923 session, and the compact was filed with the lieutenant governor, where it is currently found in series 20221.

The process of ratifying the agreement did not come easily for other states, however, as interstate squabbles arose over a host of issues. The most divisive of these occurred between Arizona and California, who couldn’t agree on how to divide the 8,500,000 acre-feet granted to the lower basin.

For six years the Colorado River Compact languished until the U.S. Congress intervened with passage of a bill that simultaneously provided a path for formal ratification of the Colorado River Compact, as well as authorized the Bureau of Reclamation to begin work on what would become the largest dam project on Earth, up to that point.


The Boulder Canyon Project Act of 1928 paved the way for nearly a century of reclamation activity on the Colorado River that has left a decidedly mixed legacy. One major provision of this piece of legislation was to make the Colorado River Compact legally binding. It sought to do this by settling the feud between California and Arizona over their shared water allocation. Accordingly, California was limited in its annual diversion to 4.4 million acre-feet per year, while Arizona was granted 2.8 million acre-feet (leaving the remaining 300,000 acre feet in the lower basin to Nevada). The Boulder Canyon Project Act went on to say that the Compact would become legally binding upon ratification by six of the states, one of those states needing to be the compact’s biggest player, California. This was accomplished, in spite of the fact that Arizona (out of protest) refused to formally ratify the compact until 1944.

In 1927, the year before the Boulder Canyon Project Act was passed, the Utah legislature formally repealed their original 1923 ratification of the compact. This was followed, in 1929, by a second ratification of the Colorado River Compact by the state of Utah, as well as the creation of a Utah Colorado River Commission. This commission, whose records can be found in series 165, was made up of three members appointed by Governor George Dern, and tasked with representing Utah’s interest on all matters related to the Colorado River.

The second major provision of the Boulder Canyon Project Act, was a mandate to build the first major dam site on the Colorado River. The location chosen for this was in the Black Canyon near Las Vegas. Construction on the Boulder Dam (later renamed Hoover) commenced during the heart of the Great Depression, in 1931. Over the course of six years thousands of workers built massive diversion tunnels, rerouted the Colorado River from its bed, sunk the foundations for the dam at bedrock, and ultimately constructed a 726′ plug in the Black Canyon that could hold back up to 28,537,000 acre-feet of Colorado River water in the impounded area named Lake Mead.

Photograph of the Boulder Canyon Dam site before construction (series 13912).

Photograph of the Boulder Canyon Dam site before construction (series 13912).

The water held at Hoover Dam has served a variety of purposes in the ensuing decades. A canal built downstream (named the All-American Canal) carries water from the Boulder project west, into California’s Imperial Valley. The water of Lake Mead has been used for recreation, irrigation, industrial use, and municipal use in both Las Vegas and the cities that mushroomed in southern California throughout the 20th century. Hydroelectric power derived from the dam has played a pivotal role in growing the populations in one of North America’s most inhospitable environments. Electricity generated at Hoover Dam has helped build industry, attract tourism, and provide critical hydration and conditioned air in a region often devoid of both.


The Hoover Dam served as the first vivid example of what a massive, federally backed water project on the Colorado River could look like. Upstream, leaders of the Upper Basin states kept a keen eye on the tremendous growth in the Lower Basin spurred by the Boulder Canyon Project. In many ways, the dam provided a template for future projects in the Upper Basin, as well as providing incentive for the Upper Basin states to organize into a coalition, lest they eventually lose their allotted water share to future projects in the Lower Basin.

Evidence that developing the state’s Colorado River share was a pressing issue for Utah leaders is found in records kept by two different governor’s of that era. Governor George Dern (1925-1933) maintained a subject file on the Colorado River Compact (series 206) that reflect Utah’s interaction with other western states on Colorado River issues, as well as the negotiations and discussions that went on with the 1928 Boulder Canyon Project.

Dern’s successor, Governor Henry Blood (1933-1941), in turn, maintained a Colorado River correspondence files (series 22918), which contains legislative bills, resolutions, general correspondence, minutes and reports related to Utah’s earliest attempts to help devise an Upper Basin reclamation plans to assure its share of water as designated in the Colorado River Compact of 1922.

The Colorado River Compact and the Boulder Canyon Project Act provided the thread upon which all of the states in the Colorado River Basin would ultimately go about drawing on their share of the Colorado River’s seemingly vast potential.

The story of Utah’s participation in developing a reclamation plan for the Upper Basin, and the implementation of projects based on that plan, will serve as the story for the next blog in this series.


Reisner, Marc. Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water. New York: Penguin Books, 1993.

Worster, Donald.  Rivers of Empire: Water, Aridity, and the Growth of the American West. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992.

Top Baby Names in Utah 1908 Edition

Birth certificates issued by the Utah Office of Vital Records and Statistics in 1908 are now online and freely available to the public. The searchable index and digital images may be accessed from

Two little babies sitting on the grass, each wearing caps and warm jumpers

Photo: State Library Queensland

And that means it’s time to see the most popular baby names that were given in 1908 (see 1905, 1906, and 1907).

1908 Girls

All girl names with larger sizes for most popular.


  1. Mary
  2. Ruth
  3. Helen
  4. Alice
  5. Margaret
  6. Edna
  7. Florence
  8. Thelma
  9. Dorothy
  10. Grace
1908 Boys

All boy names with larger sizes for most popular.


  1. John
  2. William
  3. George
  4. James
  5. Joseph
  6. Charles
  7. Robert
  8. Thomas
  9. Harold
  10. Arthur

Also, it is interesting to consider the names of the mothers and fathers bestowing these names. Many seem similar, though the popularity shifts over generations. Perhaps reflecting that the parents could have been born in a range of years, the variety of names is larger and the most popular are much more popular (for example, 844 for mothers named Mary compared to 183 daughters).

Mothers of babies born in 1908

  1. Mary
  2. Alice
  3. Margaret
  4. Florence
  5. Anna
  6. Sarah
  7. Edith
  8. Elizabeth
  9. Annie
  10. Emma

Fathers of babies born in 1908

  1. John
  2. William
  3. Joseph
  4. James
  5. George
  6. Charles
  7. Thomas
  8. Frank
  9. Henry
  10. David



Law in the Utah Territory


The first legislative assembly in Utah’s history was convened in Salt Lake City on September 22, 1851. Over the course of six months, 13 members of the Territorial Council and 26 members of the Territorial House of Representatives passed a series of acts and bills that formally codified the first laws of the Utah Territory.

The Utah Territory had been established by an act of the U.S. Congress on September 09, 1850, after a failed March 08, 1849 petition by Utah leaders to create a new state named Deseret. When the petition for the state of Deseret was submitted, the first Mormon settlers had been in region for nearly two years (having arrived in the Salt Lake Valley in July 1847). At the time of Mormon settlement in Salt Lake, the U.S. government was in the midst of the Mexican American War. U.S. Victory in this conflict would eventually lead to Mexico ceding large chunks of western North America over to federal control.


Utah Territory with Deseret Border by Matthew Trump licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0


The designation of the Utah Territory by Congress was part of a much larger set of bills passed that would come to be known as the Compromise of 1850. This “compromise” attempted to maintain a balance of power between free states and territories and slave states and territories in the Union. As part of complex package of legislation, California was admitted into the Union as a free state, while the territories of Utah and New Mexico were admitted under the provision that slavery in each territory would be decided by the popular sovereignty of its citizens.

With the designation of the Utah Territory, the size of Deseret was dramatically scaled back. Mormon leaders had originally called for a state that would have encompassed all of the Great Basin, the entire Colorado River Drainage Basin, and an outlet to the Pacific Ocean running through San Diego. Instead, the new territory was scaled back to include much of modern-day Utah, Nevada, and parts of Wyoming and Colorado. In addition, legislation creating the territory called for the designation of territorial officials, the formation of a territorial legislative assembly responsible for enacting laws and a civil code for the territory, and the creation of a territorial judiciary.

On February 03, 1851, Mormon church president, Brigham Young was designated as the first Territorial Governor of the Utah Territory, and by September of that year, the 13 members of the Territorial Council (with Willard Richards as president) and 26 members of the Territorial House of Representatives (with William W. Phelps as speaker) had been chosen and met to conduct the business of Utah’s first legislative session.


Between September 1851 and March 1852, the first legislative assembly in Utah’s history met in Salt Lake City and enacted Utah’s first set of formally recognized laws. Much of the work done by this legislative body came out of efforts that had already been made in drafting a proposed legal code for the failed State of Deseret. The Utah State Archives holds the records from this first legislative session. Examples from this series reveal the scope and variety of laws debated and passed by Utah’s first Territorial Legislative Assembly.


An act affirming Salt Lake City’s Charter (series 3150).

Among the most important pieces of legislation passed was an act approving charters for the cities of Salt Lake, Ogden, Provo, Manti, and Parowan. A portion of this record reads:

“Be it enacted by the Counsel and House of Representatives of Utah Territory Assembly that we reenact the following ordinances, passed by the Legislature of the State of Deseret, January the 9th and February the 6th A.D. 1851 granting the several petitions for the above named charters…And be it further enacted that we do grant unto the City Counsel of Ogden City the entire control of all the timber lying west of the Corporation to the Great Salt Lake.”

Much of the Territorial Legislative Assembly’s initial business sought to spell out property rights and resource regulation, as evidenced by the passage of another act granting access to water rights from Mill Creek Canyon to Brigham Young. In this record the assembly states:

“Be it enacted by the Governor and the Legislative Assembly of the Territory of Utah, that the privilege is hereby granted unto President Brigham Young to take the waters from the channel of Millcreek, immediately below Neff’s Mill, and to convey the same to the channel of Big Kanyon creek agreeably to the provisions of the act passed in the Legislative Council of the State of Deseret, January 15, 1850.”


An act granting Mill Creek water rights to Brigham Young (series 3150).

A third act demonstrates the lengths the Territorial Legislative Assembly went to provide social order in the new territory. This, “act in relation to the inspection of Spirituous Liquors,” serves as the first piece of liquor control legislation in Utah’s history. It established an office of Territorial Liquor Inspector, mandated the methods for determining alcohol levels, and establishes fines for anyone caught selling contraband liquor in the territory.


An act establishing Utah’s first Liquor Inspector (series 3150).

These examples, all signed by powerful Mormon leaders acting in a secular government capacity, show just how intertwined church and state were in the early history of the Utah Territory. In the coming years this dynamic would shift as outside, non-Mormon populations began to settle in the territory and call it home. With increased federal influence, national westward expansion, mining booms, and eventually the birth of an intercontinental railroad system, the hold over government held by Brigham Young and other Mormon leaders would incrementally lessen over the years, though the influence the Mormon Church would wield over local affairs remained very much in tact. The legislative records of Utah tell the story of this growth and the profound changes that would come to the Utah Territory as it evolved towards eventual statehood in 1896.


Today the Utah State Archives preserves and provides access to a vast collection of historic records documenting Utah’s legislative history. In addition, the Utah State Legislature has made many of the records related to contemporary legislation freely accessible to the public through the Legislative website.

The Utah Legislature and Utah State Archives have also made a variety of useful guides available online that help explain the complexity of the legislative process, as well as how researchers can draw on historic legislative records to conduct important research, such as the discovery of legislative intent.

An effective democracy relies on the checks and balances placed upon its representatives by informed citizens. The Utah State Archives and the Office of Legislative Research and General Council serve as important government agencies in terms of promoting this ideal and ensuring that transparency remains an unassailable part of Utah’s annual legislative process.

Top Baby Names in Utah 1907 Edition

It’s time to update and compare the most popular baby names, as found in birth certificates that are now public.


  1. Mary
  2. Alice
  3. Helen
  4. Edna
  5. Florence
  6. Thelma
  7. Ruth
  8. Margaret
  9. Grace
  10. Mildred


  1. John
  2. William
  3. James
  4. George
  5. Joseph
  6. Charles
  7. Arthur
  8. Thomas
  9. Clarence
  10. Robert

Portraits of the SLC Fire Department


Salt Lake City’s first professional fire department was born in October 1883 out of the ashes of a devastating fire that occurred in the heart of the city during the summer that same year. Prior to 1883, the city had relied on volunteer fire fighting services that were organized into local brigades around the city. The first voluntary fire protection service for the city was organized in 1853 with the passage of a city ordinance that allowed for the creation of a volunteer city fire brigade. Four years later, in 1856, the Salt Lake City Volunteer Fire Department was organized and placed under the direction of Chief Engineer Jesse C. Little. This volunteer service served the city’s needs for over two decades until June 21, 1883 when a massive fire broke out at the H.B. Clawson Wagon Depot on the city block immediately south of Temple Square.

Unidentified Boy in Fire Fighter Uniform (series 23526).

Unidentified Boy in Fire Fighter Uniform (series 23526).

As the June 1883 fire raged, the resources of the city’s volunteer fire department proved unequal to the task of effectively managing it. The situation was compounded by the fact that Clawson had illegally stored a cache of gunpowder on his property. When the fire reached this powder it exploded, simultaneously spreading the fire, and breaking much of the glass in buildings surrounding the downtown area. Once the fire was effectively contained, the losses were catastrophic. Clawson’s property was a total loss, as were the neighboring Savage Art Bazaar, the Council House, and several businesses in the vicinity of Temple Square.

In response to the devastation of the June fire, the Salt Lake City Council voted and approved an ordinance in October, 1883 that established the city’s first full-time, paid fire department. George Ottinger, who had served as the Volunteer Fire Department chief since 1876, was named the first chief of the Salt Lake City Fire Department, a position he would hold until his retirement in 1890.


With his retirement as chief of the Salt Lake City Fire Department in 1890, George Ottinger stayed active in the local fire fighting community by moving quickly to establish the Veteran’s Volunteer Fireman Association (VVFA). This fraternal organization provided a means for veterans of the city’s former volunteer brigades to remain in contact, and fraternize with members of the city’s new professional fire department.

Portrait of Ed J. Thompson (series 23526).

Portrait of Ed J. Thompson (series 23526).

In 1904 the VVFA met for the first time in Ottinger Hall, located at 233 Canyon Road in Memory Grove, which was built for the express purpose of serving as a meeting place for the VVFA and the fire department’s Ladies Auxiliary. In addition to serving as a social space for fire fighters, the building contained one of the city’s first non-academic libraries. Over time it would also become the place where many of the artifacts and records documenting the Salt Lake City Fire Department’s history would find a home.


Upon its completion, Ottinger Hall was donated to the Salt Lake City Corporation, and leased back to the the VVFA (and later the Fireman’s Relief Association) at the cost of $1.00 per year. As the artifacts and records documenting the Salt Lake City Fire Department’s history began accumulating in the building, important questions arose of who owned these collections, and who was responsible for ensuring their long-term preservation. Was this a role for the Fireman’s Relief Association, or state government?

In 1999, Salt Lake City took control of Ottinger Hall, and began the process of renovating the space for commercial use. At that time, prominent Utahn, Larry H. Miller (a descendant of the first volunteer fire chief, Jesse C. Little) was approached about the possibility of donating funds to construct a replica of Ottinger Hall at This Is the Place Heritage Park. The purpose of this new building was to house the historic artifacts and collections that had gathered in the original Ottinger Hall over time, effectively making the Utah Division of State Parks the permanent custodian of this history?

Because many of the collections that had found a home in Ottinger Hall were created as a function of government activity, the Utah State Archives was asked to conduct an inventory of the historic record collections in the building. This inventory led to the transfer of several record series into State Archives custody. These records include record books, reports, bulletins, and photographs that document some of the earliest activities of the Salt Lake City Fire Department.

Portrait of  W.S. Higham (series 23526).

Portrait of W.S. Higham (series 23526).


Among the record series transferred to the Utah State Archives during the renovation of Ottinger Hall, is a collection of photographs that provide a rich visual history of the Salt Lake Fire Department from its inception in 1883 up to 1975. This collection includes portrait photographs from the late 19th century taken by the Shipler Commercial Photography Studio that capture the images of some of the first professional fire fighters in the city’s history.

Portrait of A. Slaight (series 23526).

Portrait of A. Slaight (series 23526).

The collection also includes a photograph book that was presented to the Salt Lake City Fire Department by famed photographer C.R. Savage in 1888. Much like the Shipler photographs, these portraits provide a visual record of the first professional fire fighters to serve in the Salt Lake City Fire Department.

In an attempt to enhance the preservation of these historically fragile photographs, the Utah State Archives has digitized all of the earliest photographs from this collection. These images will soon be made available through the Utah State Digital Archives, providing a tremendous resource to anyone interested in the rich history of Salt Lake City’s Fire Department.


A Brief History of the Salt Lake City Fire Department. (n.d.). Retrieved January 6, 2015, from history.pdf

Harp, M. (2007, August 1). Salt Lake City’s Ottinger Hall Holds Important Place In Utah’s Fire Service History. Retrieved January 6, 2015, from

Nichols, J. (1995, May 1). 1883 Blaze Spurred Creation of Salt Lake City’s Professional Fire Department. Retrieved January 6, 2015, from

The Life and Crimes of Frank Treseder


There are few collections in the Utah State Archives as rich and colorful as those associated with law enforcement. Through these records the escapades of both cop and criminal play out, providing dramatic snapshots of historical moments that are often tinged with high drama, emotion, and periodic violence.

In 2011, Salt Lake Tribune columnist, Robert Kirby approached the Utah State Archives with the idea for a project that would promote the importance of historic law enforcement records to the various communities responsible for creating them. As an ex-police officer, Kirby has made countless contacts with various law enforcement professionals throughout Utah during his career, many of whom have long acted as the lone custodians over their individual agency histories. After a successful presentation on the value of law enforcement records in October 2011, phone calls began to roll in from far-flung offices asking how the Utah State Archives might help in ensuring the long-term preservation of Utah’s law enforcement history.

One such call came from the Utah Board of Pardons, asking if the Utah State Archives would be interested in taking over the permanent care of an extremely unusual artifact: an 1887 painting of the Utah Territorial Prison that once stood in modern-day Sugar House Park. This painting had hung on the office walls of the Board of Pardons for decades, before getting reconciled to an office closet. The historic importance of this object was clear at once, and it was immediately transferred into State Archives custody for safekeeping. Using the small clues available on the painting itself, Archives staff conducted research for a finding aid, which soon revealed a back story of the artist every bit as interesting as the painting itself.

1887 painting by Frank Treseder of the Utah Territorial Prison in Sugar House.

1887 painting by Frank Treseder of the Utah Territorial Prison in Sugar House (series 27827).


Frank M. Treseder was born in 1853 in Jersey Island, England, and by the 1880s he had become well known to law enforcement officials in the Utah Territory. The first documented case of Frank Treseder running afoul of the law came in 1877 when he was brought up for trial in Salt Lake (along with Charles Howard) on the charge of robbery. According to Third District Court records, the pair had assaulted John Hepworth, robbing him of a gold watch valued at $180. Tresder was found guilty, and sentenced to three years in the Utah Territorial Penitentiary.

1877 charging document against Frank Treseder and Charles Howard (series 9802).

1877 charging document against Frank Treseder and Charles Howard (series 9802).

It wasn’t long after his release from prison before Treseder once again found himself in court, this time in  Ogden’s First District Court. According to court records, Treseder had been arrested (along with Meyer Seekel) for the November 24, 1881 theft of $1000 in gold coin and $500 in sundry checks from the home of Ambrose Greenwell. The pair was convicted on the charge of burglary on May 09, 1882, and Treseder would spend another three years in the Sugar House prison before his release on May 01, 1885.

Not even a year passed before Treseder’s next brush with the law. On January 22, 1886 Treseder and County Collector N.V. Jones were arrested by Federal officials in the Utah Territory and charged with bribery. According to officials, Treseder had made an attempt to bribe U.S. Marshals into giving up information on raids that the government was planning on making on polygamists and unlawful cohabitants in the Utah Territory. With the impending 1887 Edmunds-Tucker Act banning the practice of polygamy in the territory, Treseder was effectively charged with acting as an agent in gathering information that might be used to help protect LDS members who would soon fall under the legal reach of the federal government for their ongoing practice of plural marriage.

1886 demur from Frank Treseder on charges of attempted murder (series 6836).

1886 demur from Frank Treseder on charges of attempted murder (series 6836).

An interesting twist to the case came in March when Treseder (who was free on bail) was arrested again and brought before the Third District Court on charges of attempted murder. The March 02, 1886 Salt Lake Democrat reports that Treseder had approached Thomas Murray and discussed with him the potential murders of U.S. Marshal’s W.H. Dickson, E.A. Ireland, and E.A. Franks. Treseder’s attorney made a demur on this indictment, claiming that it didn’t conform to sections of the Territorial criminal code, and ultimately the charge of attempted murder against Treseder was dropped. However, on September 28, 1886 he and Jones were convicted on the original charge of bribery, and Treseder once again found himself facing a three year sentence in the state penitentiary.


It was this final stay in the Utah Territorial Prison where Treseder would turn to painting and create a series of works that have marked him as an important 19th century artist in Utah’s history. An inkling of this creative turn is described in the September 28, 1886 Salt Lake Democrat. Reporting on the bribery trial that would ultimately lead him to another stint at the Sugar House prison, the newspaper states:

“Frank Treseder spend the great part of his time while in court drawing pictures on paper. He is quite an artist in his way and seems to take as much pleasure in it as a school boy.”

This artistic talent seemingly blossomed during his three years in the state penitentiary. Another newspaper report from the April 13, 1888 Salt Lake Herald, describes the construction of a new penitentiary building on the prison grounds and states: “Frank Treseder, who has become quite an artist, has his studio [in the basement of the new penitentiary building].”

The view of the prison that is now held by the Utah State Archives is one of several that have survived to the modern day. The Springville Museum of Art is known to have two Treseder Sugar House prison paintings as well, one looking to the east, and the other looking to the west.


Frank Treseder was released from the Utah Territorial Prison in the late 1880s, and promptly married a woman named Mary Bennett, whom he had met while she was visiting the prison. Domestic bliss wouldn’t last however, as Bennett would appear before the Third District Court in 1892 asking for a decree of divorce from Treseder. According to her statement he had left her, and was last known to have been seen somewhere in the Black Hills of South Dakota. The court granted her divorce from Treseder and also sole custody over their child.

Information on Treseder after he left Utah is scant, but his story has an unhappy ending. According to a 1923 Texas death certificate, Treseder died alone on February 21, 1923 from paresis, with drug addiction listed as a contributing cause.

Whether Treseder remained an active painter after leaving Utah isn’t known either, as no other paintings attributed to him have been identified (leaving the Sugar House prison paintings the extent of his known work at this time). However, as this story demonstrates, you never know when another unexpected discovery might be made!

SOURCES Texas, Death Certificates, 1903–1982 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2013.

Salt Lake Democrat, “Before the Grand Jury.” Jan. 26, 1886. From Utah Digital Newspapers. (accessed Dec. 01, 2014).

Salt Lake Democrat, “Conspiracy to Murder.” Mar. 02, 1886. From Utah Digital Newspapers. (accessed Dec. 01, 2014).

Salt Lake Democrat, “Local Jots.” May 02, 1886. From Utah Digital Newspapers. (accessed Dec. 01, 2014).

Salt Lake Democrat, “Local Jots.” Sep. 28, 1886. From Utah Digital Newspapers. (accessed Dec. 01, 2014).

Salt Lake Herald, “Out on the Hill.” Apr. 13, 1886. From Utah Digital Newspapers. (accessed Dec. 01, 2014).

Salt Lake Herald, “Her Romance Ended.” Apr. 30, 1892. From Utah Digital Newspapers. (accessed Dec. 01, 2014).

Swanson, Vern G. Utah Art, Utah Artist – 150 Years Survey. Layton: Gibbs Smith, 2001. Print.

Utah State Archives and Records Service. Board of Pardons. Utah Territorial Prison Painting. Series 27827.

Utah State Archives and Records Service, District Court (First District), Northern division civil and criminal case files, Series 1529.

Utah State Archives and Records Service, District Court (Third District), Territorial criminal case files, Series 6836.

Utah State Archives and Records Service, District Court (Third District), Case files, Series 9802.

A Monumental Controversy

In September 1996, President Bill Clinton made the controversial decision to draw on powers reserved to him by the 1906 Antiquities Act, and designate 1,880,461 aces of land in southern Utah as the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. But did you know that sixty years earlier federal officials were pondering the designation of a similar monument that would have dwarfed the area covered by today’s Grand Staircase?

1936 Letter from Ray B. West to Governor Henry Blood (series 22028).

1936 Letter from Ray B. West to Governor Henry Blood (series 22028).

The story begins in 1936 when Utah State Planning Board Director, Ray B. West contacted assistant director of the National Park Service (NPS), A.E. Demaray about the possibility of the service building a federal park-to-park highway linking the remote southern Utah towns of Hanksville and Blanding. West’s contention was that this highway would serve a vital role in connecting Mesa Verde National Park to the proposed Wayne Wonderland area in central Utah (an area that would later become Capitol Reef National Park).

A response to West’s letter came from NPS director Arno Cammerer, who stated that the agency was considering making a recommendation to President Franklin Roosevelt to designate an enormous section of the state as a new “Escalante National Monument.” Cammerer further intimated to West that the Hanksville-to-Blanding road he had requested would face better odds of being completed if Utah government officials were willing to support the NPS proposal.

The 1936 NPS proposal was staggering in its scope, taking in 6,968 square miles of southern Utah land (approximately 8% of the state). Almost immediately the State Planning Board undertook a study, at the request of Utah Governor Henry Blood, to determine how monument designation might impact Utah’s grazing, mineral, and water rights along the Colorado River.

1936 map of the proposed Escalante National Monument.

1936 map of the proposed Escalante National Monument (series 22028).

Debate over the proposed monument became a hot topic in the state in the ensuing years. A December 1938 article in the Iron County Record spells out the concerns voiced by both sides, stating:

“The opposition maintains that the establishment of the monument would infringe on grazing rights, and would close the door to possible Colorado river developments for irrigation, flood control, and power development, etc., while those favoring the project maintain that the area has no grazing value, that irrigation would not only be impracticable, but impossible, and that the upper stretches of the Colorado and Green rivers afford much better flood control, irrigation, and power development possibilities.”

Opposition to the monument proposal grew in Utah, and in 1938 the parks service put out a second proposal for the monument, scaling dramatically back on its original size. This new monument would claim approximately 2,450 square miles of land along the Colorado River.

When the second park proposal was met with resistance from Utah officials, NPS administrators and Secretary of the Interior, Harold Ickes, changed course. Federal agents backed off the idea of having President Roosevelt unilaterally claim the region as a national monument, and instead proposed that the U.S. Congress designate it a national recreation area. Under such a designation, the state of Utah would have maintained many of the development rights over natural resources, which had served as the greatest source of concern for state officials. Ultimately, however, the bill to create the Escalante National Recreation Area never made it out of congressional committee.

Map of the modern day Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

Map of the modern day Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

This episode is played out in records held by the Utah State Archives from both the Utah Planning Board, as well as Utah Governor Henry Blood. As historian Sam Schmieding points out in his administrative history of Canyonlands National Park, “the failed Escalante proposals and conservationism’s discovery of canyon country dramatically altered the historical context and dynamics of scarcity that would influence how the National Park Service and American society classified and valued canyon country in the future.” In effect, this moment in Utah’s history reflects many of the ongoing issues between state and federal officials over federally held land in the state. It also helps us better understand the difficult nature of balancing the twin interests of preservation and resource development in Utah’s spectacular canyon country.


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