U.S. #950 pictures the arrival of Brigham Young and Utah’s first Mormon settlers.

Utah Becomes 45th State

On January 4, 1896, Utah became a U.S. state.

The first people to settle in Utah arrived thousands of years ago.  These Indians made their homes in pueblos and caves.  When the first Europeans arrived in 1776, there were four major Indian groups living in the area – the Gosiute, Paiute, Shoshone, and Ute.  The Navajo moved into the region in the 1860s.

U.S. #1677 – Utah’s flag includes a beehive symbolizing the hard work and self-reliance, needed to tame the harsh land.

Spanish explorers reached the Grand Canyon in today’s Arizona in 1540.  These explorers may have reached Utah.  For more than 235 years after this, no European explorer reached the area.  During the American Revolutionary War, in 1776, two Spanish Franciscan friars explored Utah, reaching Lake Utah.  A few other Spaniards came to Utah, but the Spanish were not interested in settlement because of the harsh environment.

U.S. #1996 – The Utah state bird and flower – California gull and sego lily.

The first Americans believed to have reached Utah were members of a fur-trading party.  They crossed present-day northern Utah in 1811-12.  Famous frontiersman and scout Jim Bridger is thought to be the first white person to see the Great Salt Lake.  Bridger tasted the salty water in the winter of 1824-25, and believed he had reached the Pacific Ocean.  Soon, more trappers and traders came to Utah.  A trail connecting Santa Fe, New Mexico, and Los Angeles, California, brought many travelers through the area.

U.S. #3024 pictures Delicate Arch in Arches National Park.

Following the death of Mormon leader Joseph Smith in 1844, Brigham Young took his place and traveled America searching for a place where his people wouldn’t be persecuted for their religious beliefs.  After moving from Ohio, Missouri, and Illinois, Young led the Mormons west.  In 1847, they reached the Great Salt Lake and settled the area.  Two years later, they established the Perpetual Emigrating Fund which helped about 50,000 Mormons move to Utah.  The Mormons established the State of Deseret in 1849, with a temporary government led by Young.  A constitution was adopted, and the settlers asked to be admitted to the Union.  However, Congress was embroiled in great debates about slavery at the time.  With the Compromise of 1850, the Utah Territory was established.

U.S. #4324 pictures the flag with a blooming cactus and arch formation.

Between 1849 and 1895, Utah tried to join the Union several times.  Congress refused because of an uncommon Mormon practice called polygamy – marriage to more than one spouse.  Few Mormons actually practiced polygamy, but as long as they allowed it Utah was denied statehood.  U.S. President James Buchanan wanted to take the government of Utah away from the Mormons, so he replaced governor Brigham Young with Alfred Cumming of Georgia.  Buchanan dispatched federal troops to back Cumming, sparking the Utah War.  The war was short lived, but the troops stayed for three tense years.

U.S. #3604 pictures the Wall of Windows arches in Bryce Canyon National Park as well as a mountain lion and sego lily.

In 1862, Congress outlawed polygamy and again sent troops to Utah.  These troops were ordered to prospect for minerals, in hopes that mining could attract non-Mormons to the area.  Gold and silver were discovered in 1863, but transportation difficulties reduced the profits from Utah’s mineral wealth.  Though many mining companies were established, few new settlers came to the area.

The Federal Government began enforcing the laws against polygamy during the 1880s.  About 1,000 Mormons were fined or sent to prison.  In 1887, a law was passed allowing the Federal Government to seize church property for use by public schools.  In 1890, the church began discouraging polygamy, and by 1904, it was prohibited.

Utah submitted a new constitution to Congress in 1895.  This constitution outlawed polygamy and protected the government from church domination.  As a result, Utah achieved statehood on January 4, 1896.

Click the images to add this history to your collection.

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  1. Mostly accurate account of the Mormons moving to Utah – similar to Moses leading the Israelites out of Egypt. However, Brigham Young did not travel the US looking for a place to lead his people, he was shown the place in a vision. Upon arriving on the east ridge of the Salt Lake Valley he looked out and declared “This is the Place” (I have been shown in a vision). He also predicted that the valley would blossom as a rose as it does today. Also the Perpetual Emigration Fund did enable many European members to come to the US and make their way to Salt Lake City and other areas in Utah and the west. Many pioneers traveled by wagon train, but many also traveled and pulled their belongings, meager as they were, in handcarts across the plains and mountains.

  2. Looking at the US stamps concerning Utah, I immediately see how beautiful the #950 three cent engraved stamp is. The worst in my opinion is #3024. “Greetings from Utah” looks like a sticker from a concession stand. Maybe I’m just biased from my age, but it seems that the BEP or contractors can’t make stamps as beautiful as the early issues. Thanks Mystic for the history and the stamp images. And thanks for encouraging stamp collecting as a hobby.

  3. Great information. My father’s side of the family were some of those hardy early settlers. I was born there in 1956, only 60 years after Utah became a state.

  4. Let us not forget that the Mormons established a settlement where originally no one else wanted to live. Also they treated the native Americans in Utah wayyyyy better than settlers in other parts of the west did. So even with their polygamy and other different ideas they were subject to less resistance from from the Native tribes than in much of the west. So Mormons were not that bad.

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