The death certificate collection was first released online in December 2006, covering 1904-1956 through a partnership with FamilySearch. Since then, the Utah State Archives has added more years when they become public 50 years after the date of death. This may be done initially with browsing by county and date, similar to traditional research on microfilm. The final goal is always to be able to search by name and retrieve for free a digital copy of the death certificate record. The Archives updates the index continually based on comments and suggestions from users, ensuring that it is complete and accurate.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
SQUARING THE INVESTIGATIONS
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.
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).
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.
THE LEGACY OF LIVING DOWNWIND
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.
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.
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.
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.
Eight volumes from 1987 and 1989 of the Utah Administrative Code are now online. The Utah Administrative Code is the complete compilation of state administrative rules. Administrative rules are laws affecting the legal rights and privileges of the public or other governmental entities, and have all the effects of a statute enacted by the Legislature. Each compilation includes only those rules in effect at the time of publication: new rules are added and obsolete rules omitted as necessary.
The Utah Administrative Code was digitized under the direction of the Division of Administrative Rules by the University of Utah. Copies in PDF for downloading will also be available from the division’s web site, along with the most up-to-date current Administrative Code. If you find this resource useful, please be sure to let us know!
Thanks to a partnership with FamilySearch, the Utah State Archives has made available online the tax assessment roll books for Salt Lake City from 1856 to 1878. Additional books from 1879 to 1892, after which this function moved to county offices, will be added later. These volumes record the assessment of real and personal property Salt Lake City, Utah Territory. They were used for taxing purposes. Individual city assessors assessed and collected property taxes within municipal boundaries, often recording the details such as the number of horses owned.
A name index was previously compiled and published by Ronald Vern Jackson, a digitized copy is available from the Family History Library. However it only covers from 1854 to 1861 (volumes earlier than 1856 are not currently in the custody of the Utah State Archives). If you are interested in volunteering to help complete an index this collection, please contact Gina Strack.
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 April 2015:
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 January and February 2015:
The 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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
LEGISLATIVE RESOURCES TODAY
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.
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!
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 month of December 2014: