Tag Archives: ogden

Law in the Utah Territory

UTAH’S FIRST LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY

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.

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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.

ASSEMBLY BUSINESS

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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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.


Archives Month: 25th Street Confidential by Val Holley

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Monday, October 21 at Noon

Val Holley - 25th Street

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25th Street Confidential traces Ogden’s transformation from quiet hamlet to chaotic transcontinental railroad junction as waves of non-Mormon fortune seekers swelled the city’s population. The street’s outsized role in Ogden annals illuminates larger themes in Utah and U.S. history. Most significantly, 25th Street was a crucible of Mormon-Gentile conflict, especially after the non-Mormon Liberal Party deprived its rival, the People’s Party, of long-standing control of Ogden’s municipal government in 1889. In the early twentieth-century the street was targeted in statewide Progressive Era reform efforts, and during Prohibition it would come to epitomize the futility of liquor abatement programs.

This first full-length treatment of Ogden’s rowdiest road spotlights larger-than-life figures whose careers were entwined with the street: Mayor Harman Ward Peery, who unabashedly filled the city treasury with fees and fines from vicious establishments; Belle London, the most successful madam in Utah history; and Rosetta Ducinnie Davie, the heiress to London’s legacy who became a celebrity on the street, in the courts, and in the press. Material from previously unexploited archives and more than one hundred historic photos enrich this narrative of a turbulent but unforgettable street.


Police Evidence of Extortion in Ogden

Letter to Mrs Eccles

Letter from J. H. Martin to Mrs. David Eccles demanding a "small donation of $1000". (Click on image to see full size)

Writing Sample

Sample of Martin's handwriting on Police Department letterhead. (Click on image to see full size)


Recently, as the Archives staff was working with Ogden City to review historic records from Ogden held in the Archives, we ran across some mysterious records. The records were in the format of 24 large glass negatives, 11” x 14”. They had been identified simply as documents from the Ogden City Police Department. In order to determine more exactly what the documents were on these glass negatives, the Archives staff made digital images of the negatives and transcribed the handwritten documents. It soon became clear that the documents were from a criminal investigation.

They date from 1911-1913 and include letters from a dark anonymous figure who signed one of them with the title “The Tall and Short Man”. The letters were addressed to members of some of Ogden’s leading families and included demands for money, arrangements for late-night meetings, and threats of harm. In addition to letters, there were handwriting samples comparing writing from the anonymous letters to known writing of a man named Joseph Henry Martin.

Further investigation into court records, prison records, and newspapers revealed the broader story. Joseph Henry Martin was the apparent ring leader of a gang that targeted wealthy Ogdenites (especially widows), stealing and ransoming expensive jewelry and eventually extorting money with threats of violence. At one point, when the gang felt their demands had not been met adequately, they planted explosives at the house of a member of the Eccles family.

Utah State Prison Photo of Joseph Henry Martin (Click on image to see full size)

At one of the late-night meetings, police and a Pinkerton detective showed up. A gun battle ensued and the detective and Martin were both shot. Martin escaped, but his injuries gave him away and he was arrested. The police gathered known examples of his writing to compare with the extortion letters. Handwriting experts from out-of-state were called in to testify. In the end, Martin was convicted of assault for the shooting of the Pinkerton detective and sentenced to 5 years in the State Prison. In a second trial he was convicted for robbery and given a life sentence. Despite the life sentence and having escaped from the prison for a time, Martin was paroled in 1920 and he eventually left the state for California.

While much of the story is revealed in newspaper reports of the time, the documents found on the glass negatives are perhaps the most interesting evidence of the events. The letters allow us to hear the voice of Joseph Henry Martin and give us the clearest window into his schemes and the workings of a criminal mind in the early 20th century.


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