Category Archives: News

RootsTech 2015

RootsTech banner 72x24 webThe combined RootsTech and Federation of Genealogical Societies conferences in Salt Lake City was a great experience for the Utah State Archives. We were able to meet many old friends and some new ones we hope to see again soon.

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.

Join Us at RootsTech 2015


Military Records at Utah State Archives.

Military Records at Utah State Archives.

The Utah State Archives is proud to announce that we will be an exhibitor at one of the largest genealogical conferences in the world, a combined meeting for RootsTech and the Federation of Genealogical Societies in Salt Lake City, Utah from February 12-14, 2015. We’re excited to connect with both those who know of our extensive resources available for family history and those who may not (yet). Look for us in the Expo Hall of the Salt Palace in booth #1226!

Newly Processed: December 2014

Juab Co. LetterheadAll public records at the Utah State Archives are accessible through the Research Center. However, once processed the records are easier to use with proper storage and fuller descriptions, including online series inventories. The following list includes record series that were processed during the month of December 2014:

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

Enemy Lines


Alien Enemy Registration Form (series 22990).


When Japanese forces attacked the U.S. naval base in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii on December 7, 1941, a chain of events was set in motion that would permanently alter the directions of each country and its citizenry. Pearl Harbor led to direct U.S. involvement in World War II, drawing millions of U.S. soldiers and citizens into the war effort. Involvement on the war front had the dramatic effect of reorienting the American economy, which in turn set the stage for the industrial and commercial development that would help the United States achieve the level of global superpower in ensuing post-war decades. U.S. involvement in World War II would fuel the atomic fires of the Manhattan Project and result in the first (and only) use of nuclear weapons against Japanese citizens at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. And for many Americans, the bombing of Pearl Harbor served as the catalyst for a cascade of executive actions that would pit the federal government in unfortunate opposition with a segment of its citizenry.

In the wake of Pearl Harbor, President Franklin Roosevelt signed Presidential Proclamations 2525, 2526, and 2527, which created the legal apparatus that U.S. government officials would utilize to forcibly register suspected alien enemies and eventually displace and intern 120,000 human beings by war’s end. Between 1942 and 1945, individuals of Japanese, German, and Italian descent faced the prospect of sitting before local alien resident hearing boards, forcible registration as alien enemies, and potential internment in far flung camps across the western landscape.


On the heels of his December, 1941, Presidential Proclamations on Alien Enemies, Franklin Roosevelt took a decisive step, when on February 19, 1942, he issued Executive Order 9066. This order called for the immediate evacuation from the West Coast of individuals who had been deemed an immediate threat to national security. Over the following six months over 100,000 individuals of Japanese descent were forcibly removed from their homes in Washington, Oregon, and California and relocated to hastily constructed internment camps scattered throughout California, Idaho, Montana, Utah, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Tennessee, and Texas.


Correspondence on Suspected Japanese Enemy Alien Activity (series 22990).

The U.S. federal government’s move to open relocation camps across the country was felt directly in Utah’s Millard County, at the Topaz War Relocation Center. Opened on September 11, 1942 the camp would eventually become the home for 8,300 detainees (mostly from California). Between 1942 and 1945 the residents of Topaz attempted to carve out a sense of normalcy in the dry desert, through work, the cultivation of garden plots, and attending school classes offered in the camp.

The Topaz War Relocation was formally closed on October 31, 1945, and its inhabitants allowed to return to their homes. In the ensuing post-war decades, the treatment suffered by camp detainees became an increasingly difficult matter for the federal government to reconcile. This would eventually lead to the passage of the Civil Liberties Act that was signed into law by President Ronald Reagan on August 10, 1988. In addition to issuing a formal apology to innocent individuals who had faced detainment, the bill also provided a means for those who had suffered the indignities of internment to apply for monetary compensation from the federal government.


Often internment in a relocation camp was based on contentious hearings before local alien registration boards, where local prejudices and weak (often unsubstantiated) evidence and accusations might be leveled at the accused. A common occurrence often entailed an older, non-U.S. citizen alien being relocated and voluntarily joined in their internment by family members who did hold valid U.S. citizenship. This dark moment also put the onus squarely on Japanese-Americans to demonstrate their citizenship and loyalty to a country that had become deeply suspicious of them. Evidence of this exists in the form of records held by the Utah State Archives that were created by the Davis County Sheriff.


Correspondence from Registered Aliens Living in Davis County (series 22990).

Even before the attack on Pearl Harbor, the federal government was concerned with the idea of enemy aliens living on U.S. soil during wartime. This led passage of the Alien Registration Act of 1940, which set penalties for aliens acting against the U.S. and required adult non-citizens to register with the office of Immigration and Naturalization Services (INS). With the bombing of Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt issued Presidential Proclamation 2537 which enhanced parameters of the 1940 Alien Registration Act by demanding that all adult non-citizens register with government officials a second time. However, this registration process did not go through the INS, but was instead coordinated through the Department of Justice’s Enemy Alien Unit.

In order to obtain this second registration, Justice Department officials often relied on local law enforcement officers to obtain registration data on suspected aliens, as well as forward along suspicions to members of the federal intelligence community. The records found in series 22990 contain the registration data collected by the Davis County Sheriff, as well as periodic correspondence from the sheriff to federal authorities. Most often the data captured in these registration forms includes the name of the individual being registered, information on family members living within one residence, and an inventory of all guns and ammunition owned by the registrant.

The Alien Enemy Registration Forms from Davis County reveal one level of the war effort that has gone largely forgotten. In addition to providing valuable genealogical information on residents of Davis County during the World War II era, these records help illuminate the pervasive contours of one of the darker moments in U.S. history, serving as a powerful reminder that blind fear and paranoia are antithetical to quality governance.


Beckwith, J. (n.d.). Topaz Relocation Center. Retrieved December 16, 2014, from

Brief Overview of the World War II Enemy Alien Control Program. (n.d.). Retrieved December 16, 2014, from

Utah State Archives and Records Service. Davis County Sheriff. Alien Enemy Registration Forms. Series 22990.

Newly Processed: October and November 2014

All public records at the Utah State Archives are accessible through the Research Center. However, once processed the records are easier to use with proper storage and fuller descriptions, including online series inventories. The following list includes record series that were processed during the months of October-November 2014:

Bringing Science to the Desert


The history of human activity in Utah’s Great Salt Lake Desert suggests that it is a place where the biggest of human ideas can take root. During the 1980’s this tendency took the shape of a detailed proposal to turn a section of Great Basin desert into the world’s most cutting edge science and research destination.

Diagram of how the SSC would operate (series 83904).

Diagram of how the SSC would operate (series 83904).

The story begins in 1987 when the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced plans to undertake a site-selection process that would find a home for the world’s largest superconducting super collider (SSC). The design of a super collider called for two proton beams to be aimed at one another. In a super collider, particles moving at near the speed of light smash into one another and are broken down to their most basic subatomic particle units. In this way conditions that appeared moments after the Big Bang are replicated and scientists are able to learn more about the most basic forces that govern our universe.


For Utah leaders the SSC appeared to have the more tangible benefits of potentially spurring massive social and economic growth along the Wasatch Front. With Governor Norman Bangerter acting as Utah’s principle agent, state planners determined that Utah would make a formal proposal to the DOE for construction of the SSC in Utah’s Great Basin Desert. Early estimates pegged the project’s construction cost at $600 million per year over a six or seven year period. This included an influx of approximately 4,000 construction jobs and an annual operating budget for the SSC upon completion that would have totaled $270 million per year.

Photograph of Utah's SSC Task Force (series 83904).

Photograph of Utah’s SSC Task Force (series 83904).

The consulting firm of Dames and Moore was hired by the state to conduct a site review and help draft the formal proposal that fit the site specific qualification criteria demanded by the DOE. Dames and Moore was assisted in the process by the Ralph M. Parsons Company, Roger Foott Associates, Inc., Bear West Consulting, the Wasatch Front Regional Council, and the Data Resources Section of the Utah Office of Planning and Budget.

The qualification criteria for the SSC that was issued by the DOE reveal the massive energy and resource needs of the project. The design of the SSC called for a tube 10 feet in diameter to be buried 20 feet below the ground surface, in order to shield above ground monitoring areas from radiation. This tube would have run 52 miles in an oval raceway measuring 17.4 miles by 14.6 miles. The above ground monitoring and campus facilities were to be connected to the underground testing areas. The DOE estimated that 4,000 acres was needed for above ground operations, with additional rights to another 4,000 to 5,000 acres for future tunneling. The power and water demands for the SSC and its off-site support facilities would have been equivalent to a town of 30,000 people.


Two initial reports were created by Dames and Moore in February and March of 1987 that laid out the specifications of the SSC, as well as an initial assessment of areas in Utah that could prove feasible for construction. Based on these reports, two areas in Utah’s west desert were chosen for a more thorough assessment and review.

Ultimately two separate multi-volume proposals were created for the sites in question. The first, entitled the “Cedar Mountains Siting Proposal” focused on a region 52 miles west of Salt Lake City, near Skull Valley. The second proposal, entitled the “Ripple Valley Siting Proposal” focused on an area 69 miles west of Salt Lake City, near the Knolls exit on Interstate 80. The reports generated for each site proposal focused on geology, local environment, public land availability, regional conditions, and available utilities and infrastructure. They also laid out concessions the state of Utah was willing to make to the DOE to ensure site selection. The formal siting reports were submitted to the DOE for review on September 02, 1987.

SSC siting proposal for the Cedar Mountains area near Skull Valley (series 83904).

SSC siting proposal for the Cedar Mountains area near Skull Valley (series 83904).

Due to the immensity of the SSC proposal, multiple government agencies were involved in its planning. The records created from this process are now held by the Utah State Archives. They include SSC proposal records from the Utah Energy Office, SSC Task Force records from the Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget, special project files from the Utah Department of Natural Resources Geological Survey, economic development records from the office of Governor Norman Bangerter, and SSC records from the Utah Office of Economic Business and Research.

Letter on DOE's decision to not select Utah for the SSC (series 10263).

Letter on DOE’s decision to not select Utah for the SSC (series 10263).


In December 1987, the National Academy of Science, and the National Academy of Engineering made a recommendation to the U.S. Department of Energy that Utah not be included on the shortlist of sites for the SSC. Instead, the project was ultimately awarded to Texas in November 1988. Construction on the SSC (now nicknamed “Desertron”) began in 1991 near the central-Texas town of Waxahachie.

During construction seventeen shafts were sunk and 14.6 miles of tunnel were bored (out of an estimated 54.1 miles needed) before claims of government mismanagement, sky-rocketing costs, an oncoming recession, and shifts in federal political power combined to end construction on the project for good in 1993. By the time construction was halted the federal government had spent $2 billion dollars on the SSC (with an estimated price tag of an additional $12 billion needed to successfully finish it).

Some of the massive costs associated with the project can be pinned on the extreme difficulties workers encountered with tunneling through bedrock and creating the needed infrastructure deep underground. Had the SSC project been completed, its two 20 TeV per proton energy beams would have made it the largest super collider on Earth (even larger than the Large Hadron Collider that was built near Geneva, Switzerland that became operational in 2009).

The DOE ultimately deeded the SSC site in Waxahachie to Ellis County, Texas after construction was halted. In 2006 the site was sold to a private company which began marketing it as a data center. The site was sold again in 2012 to chemical company, Magnablend.

In retrospect, it is interesting to consider the fate of the SSC had the site selection process landed on Utah, making this one of the better “what if” stories in recent Utah history!


Utah State Archives and Records Service, Utah Energy Office, Superconducting Super Collider Proposal, Series 353.

Utah State Archives and Records Service, Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget, Superconducting Super Collider Task Force Records, Series 10263.

Utah State Archives and Records Service, Department of Natural Resources Geological Survey, Special Report Files, Series 25708.

Utah State Archives and Records Service, Economic Business Research, Superconducting Super Collider Records, Series 83904.

Kevles, Daniel J. “Good-bye to the SSC: On the Life and Death of the Superconducting Super Collider.” Engineering and Science Winter, Vol. 2  (1995): 15-26. Web. 17 Nov. 2014.

Holiday Closure: Veterans Day

John Walter Holbrook

The Research Center will be closed Tuesday, November 11, 2014 in honor of Veterans Day. It will open again at the usual time of 9 a.m. on Wednesday, November 12, 2014.

Did you know the Utah State Archives has many resources on military service records? Check out these Research Guides:

The U.S. National Archives also have a lot of information on records generated by all the military branches, including how to obtain individual service records.

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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