Church History
Salt Lake Valley

“Salt Lake Valley,” Church History Topics

“Salt Lake Valley”

Salt Lake Valley

As tensions between Latter-day Saints and others in Illinois escalated during the spring of 1844, Joseph Smith and the Council of Fifty began looking for a place to relocate where the Saints could establish the kingdom of God in peace.1 Locations under consideration included the Republic of Texas, the disputed Oregon territory, and Mexican territories in the Rocky Mountains and California. This quest for a new gathering place intensified after the murders of Joseph and Hyrum Smith. The Council of Fifty ruled out Texas when it was annexed to the United States, but California was considered desirable for its ocean ports, as Church leaders anticipated a massive gathering of the Saints from the Church’s missions abroad.2

By the fall of 1845, however, Church leaders including Brigham Young, Parley Pratt, and George A. Smith had become interested in the Great Salt Lake region, land nominally under Mexican rule but perceived as largely uninhabited and naturally protected by the imposing Rocky Mountains. Planning to send an advance party to blaze the westward trail, Brigham Young told the Council, “It has been proved that there is not much difficulty in sending people beyond the [Rocky] mountains. We have designed sending them somewhere near the Great Salt Lake and after we get there, in a little time we can work our way to the head of the California Bay, or the Bay of the St Francisco.” The Great Salt Lake region was also considered a good location for establishing relationships with western American Indian nations.3

A vanguard company led by Brigham Young arrived in the Salt Lake Valley on July 24, 1847.4 Unlike other valleys in the area, which were inhabited by American Indians for much of the year, the Salt Lake Valley was only lightly used for hunting and gathering by the region’s Ute and Shoshone peoples. Instead of dispersing independently across the land, Brigham Young’s company camped in a fort while the city was surveyed and then selected lots upon which to settle. Inspired by Joseph Smith’s plat of the City of Zion, Brigham Young directed surveyors Orson Pratt and Henry Sherwood to mark out large city blocks on a grid of wide streets, leaving space for the future temple at the center.5 The residential lots were irrigated by City Creek, a mountain stream flowing through the valley, so that the pioneers could cultivate private gardens and orchards. The fertile farmland to the south of the city was reserved for large-scale food crops such as wheat, corn, oats, and flax. Unlike other settlers in the arid American West, who tended to live far apart from each other, these first Saints set a pattern of building their homes close together and farming crops outside the city proper. This pattern was later followed by Saints in settlements throughout the Great Basin region.6

depiction of Salt Lake City in 1853

Engraving depicting Salt Lake City in 1853, by Frederick Piercy.

As more Saints continued to arrive in subsequent years, Church leaders developed more residential land to the east, south, and west of the future temple site. In addition to the central Salt Lake City wards, Saints settled agricultural communities along other creeks in the valley. With the ongoing gathering of the Saints to Utah and the completion of the transcontinental railroad in 1869, Salt Lake City grew into a large city, became a permanent refuge for the Saints, and remains the home of the Church’s worldwide headquarters.7

Related Topics: Pioneer Settlements, Pioneer Trek, Emigration, Council of Fifty, Crickets and Seagulls, Salt Lake Temple