Organization tames new frontier

Brigham Young had brought discipline, order and inspiration to the pioneers all along the arduous trek from Nauvoo to the Salt Lake Valley and now that devotion to "the good of the whole" would open a new page in Great Basin history. That same, much-heralded, organization that was a part of the trail would now be the root of success in the valley.

Not all, at first, would see the opportunity in just the same light. "No waving fields, no swaying forests, no verdant meadows to rest and to refresh the weary eye, but on all sides a seemingly interminable waste of sagebrush, bespangled with sunflowers - the paradise of lizards, the crickets, and rattlesnake," scribed Orson Whitney.1Yet, among the few who feigned disenchantment there was a simultaneous swell of raw excitement at the prospect of carving their prophetic place "in the tops of the mountains."2

When Brigham Young selected a site for the Salt Lake Temple July 28, he set in motion the systematic layout of the valley floor with the temple taking center position. One hundred-thirty-five blocks of 10 acres each were then uniformly divided into one and one-forth acre home lots. The streets were eight rods wide and ran north-south and east-west.3

Land was assigned at no charge and yet came with a clear call for stewardship. "Each man must keep this lot whole, for the Lord has given it to us without price. . . . He might till as he pleased, but he should be industrious and take care of it."4


John Smith presided over the Saints in the Valley after Brigham Young returned to Winter Quarters. A high council was also selected, establishing the roots of religious, political and economic governance needed to thrive in this new frontier.5

Other official appointments included a clerk, water master, surveyor and marshal.6 During the first year in the valley the high council drafted laws, collected taxes, regulated prices, apportioned land, issued water and timber rights, established a cemetery, and imposed fines and punishments for criminal offenses.7

In January 1849 the Council of Fifty assumed the civic responsibilities for the growing community. These leading priesthood holders, presided over by the First Presidency, met weekly at the home of Heber C. Kimball. There was no separation of church and state at the time because the Saints considered all affairs of the kingdom of God to be one, whether spiritual, economic or political.8

As Brigham Young stated "We cannot talk about spiritual things without connecting with them temporal things, neither can we talk about temporal things without connecting spiritual things with them. They are inseparably connected."9

This government was known as the Provisional State of Deseret and continued for two years to lay out the expanding city into 19 wards each nine blocks in size. Bishops were placed in charge of each ward and among such duties as supervising fence building and irrigation ditch construction they also played a significant role in adjudicating differences between members and generally operating their units as miniature villages under the stake umbrella.

This provisional government was the civil governing authority in the entire Great Basin, charged with organizing counties, granting rights to natural resources, regulated trade and commerce, established the Nauvoo Legion as the official state militia and fulfilled all the functions of a regular government. Brigham Young and his counselors were elected, respectively, governor, chief justice and secretary.

This government functioned admirably and effectively until the U.S. Congress formally established the Territory of Utah in September 1850.


Brigham was determined from the very onset of colonization that the Saints would grow to be economically independent and self-reliant. The thrust of all enterprise was, through well-orchestrated interdependence, to build the valley up quickly with solid commerce.

Each person was to be involved in contributing effort toward strengthening the community and not necessarily exploiting others for personal gain in the process. An example was the assignment of stewardships over natural resources. "There shall be no private ownership of the streams that come out to the canyons, nor the timber that grows on the hills. These belong to the people: all the people."10

A plan for distribution of farming lands worked out in the fall of 1848 was consistent with President Young's philosophy that the land should not be monopolized by the first settlers, but should be put to its most productive use for the good of the community.11

The high council also allocated and regulated economic rights and privileges. Charles Crismon was asked to build immediately a small gristmill on City Creek. He was also "sustained" with "labor, good pay and as much grain as the people could be persuaded to spare."12

Heber C. Kimball was given stewardship over the timber in the Bountiful forest area. He was asked to construct a sawmill that would create jobs and provide much needed logs for building and commerce. A boat was made for use in the creeks, a blacksmith shop was set up, corrals were built, and a community storehouse was erected. Others were assigned to hunt for wild game, try their luck at fishing, and extract salt from Great Salt Lake.13

To accommodate the rapid influx of converts and therefore surplus labor in the territory, the Church inaugurated a Public Works Department in 1850. This department had the dual advantage of being able to provide employment for immigrants as well as needed laborers for public building projects. Supported by tithing funds, it kept between 200 and 500 men on its rolls. Workers built a wall around Temple Square and helped build the temple itself.

The Church also set up a number of experimental manufacturing operations in hopes of stimulating job growth and furthering their goal of independence. Most of these did not succeed and yet some eventually inspired private interests to establish their own operations.

Education had always been an important tenet of the Church and although the early efforts in the valley were limited, they did establish a pattern for generations to come. During the first winter in Salt Lake a single school class for children was taught in a tent; by 1854 schools had been established in every ward. Usually the first building erected in a new community was a combination school and meetinghouse, but before these buildings were ready, some classes were conducted in the homes of the teachers.

The University of Deseret, later renamed the University of Utah, was created by the Legislature of the State of Deseret in 1850. This was the first university west of the Mississippi River. The parent school of the university opened in the home of John Pack in the Seventeenth Ward. The tuition was $8 per quarter, payable in advance in cash or in produce.14

The Deseret Agricultural and Manufacturing Society was formed in 1856 to instruct farmers in better farming techniques.

Captain Stansbury, a government surveyor, gave this comment in his official report, giving his views of Brigham Young that he was ". . . indefatigable in devising ways and means for their moral, mental, and physical education."15


All was not work and worry for the Saints in Pioneer Utah. On the contrary, visitors were often impressed by the good humor and enjoyment of life that marked every community. Singing, dancing, drama and other wholesome recreation characterized Latter-day Saint life. The Nauvoo Brass Band, under William Pitt, was reinstituted in Salt Lake City, and later Domenico Ballo, an Italian immigrant, organized and conducted an even more famous band.

In 1852 the Deseret Dramatic Association was organized, and the following year the Social Hall in Salt Lake City was dedicated and was the center for dramatic productions.

The underpinnings of this remarkable culture established in Great Basin were dominated by the themes of working for the common good, watchful stewardship and self reliance.

Gary J. Dixon, a member of the Church Pioneer Sesquicentennial Committee, is a vice president of Bonneville Communications. He is also the high priests group leader in the Kaysville 22nd Ward, Kaysville Utah East Stake.


1History of Utah 1:325.

2Isaiah 2:2.

3Great Basin Kingdom, Leonard Arrington 1970 p. 45.

4William Clayton's Journal, p.326.

5History of Salt Lake Stake, 1997.

6Great Basin Kingdom, Arrington, 1970.

7Church History in the Fullness of Times, p. 340, 1993, LDS Archives.

8Ibid p. 341.

9Journal of Discourses, 1864, 329.

10History of the Church 1:58.

11Church History in the Fullness of Times, 1993, LDS Archives.

12Great Basin Kingdom, Arrington.

13History of the Church 1:365-367.

14Gwendolyn Bryner Schmutz, Outline of the History of Salt Lake Stake, LDS Archives p. 12.

15History of Salt Lake City, Tullige, 1886.

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