Mormon Settlers

This farmhouse near Brigham City has some typical elements of a Mormon settlement, such as the solid construction of the house and the Lombardy poplars used as a windbreak. (USU Special Collections & Archives, Compton Photograph Collection, P0313 C Board 12)

Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or Mormons, fled to Utah in 1847 after being persecuted for their beliefs in the Eastern and Midwestern United States and other parts of the world. Utah’s relative isolation seemed like an ideal spot to found a new settlement where they could practice their religion in peace. In 1847, Utah was still part of Mexico, but the next year, following the Mexican-American War, the United States claimed the Great Basin and the Southwest from Mexico and formed the Utah Territory out of part of their newly acquired lands.

Under the leadership of Brigham Young, the Mormon pioneers created settlements throughout the Utah Territory. With the goal of being as independent as possible, they built an agricultural society based on small farms and developed community irrigation systems to bring water from the mountains to their crops. They attempted, at times, to either convert or conquer the Native Americans in the region.

Water was essential to Utah settlements, including Brigham City, both for agriculture and for powering mills. (USU Special Collections & Archives, Compton Photograph Collection, P0313 C Board 382)

Pioneers settled in Brigham City and neighboring Willard in 1851, plowing fields and building log cabins roofed with sod. In 1853, they constructed a fort for protection against Native American attacks. More settlers arrived in 1854, living in rough dugouts in the ground covered in branches and dirt until they could construct more permanent homes. The city slowly grew from that starting point.

With the influx of immigrants heading west during the California Gold Rush starting in 1848 and the coming of the transcontinental railroad in 1869, the Utah Territory did not remain isolated. Utah faced a great deal of prejudice from the federal government because polygamy was practiced by members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Utah was not admitted to the union until 1896, after they banned the practice of polygamy.

For further reading:

“Brigham City Settlement,” Brigham City History Project, https://brighamcityhistory.org/1850-1900/brigham-city-settlement/.
“The History of Brigham City,” Brigham City Corp, https://www.bcutah.org/history.htm.