July 24th 1847: Mormons arrive in Salt Lake Valley

On this day in 1847, Mormon leader Brigham Young and his followers arrived in Salt Lake Valley. Mormonism was founded in 1830 when Joseph Smith published the Book of Mormon, which he claimed was a translation of sacred texts he had found written on golden plates after receiving a vision from an angel. The Church of Latter Day Saints, as they were known, faced persecution in the east for their views, which were regarded as blasphemous. Smith thus led his followers west, hoping to find a Mormon ‘promised land’. However, Smith was murdered by a mob in Illinois in 1844, and Brigham Young was chosen as President of the church. After being exiled from Illinois, Young continued the arduous journey west, which has earned him the nickname ‘American Moses’. In 1847, they arrived in the valley which, partly for the way its geography mirrored that of the Promised Land, was chosen as the site of settlement. Supposedly Young, who was ill and riding in the back of a wagon, saw the arid valley and declared “this is the place”, words that have become famous in the Mormon lexicon. Here, Young founded Salt Lake City, and served as governor of the Utah territory. Mormon settlers frequently clashed with the United States government, other settlers, and Native Americans; eastern Americans were particularly distrustful of the Mormon practice of polygamy, and the government attempted to ban it. The Mormon settlement in Utah expanded greatly after 1847, and within ten years of arrival had settled over 800,000 square miles. By the time of Young’s death in 1877, the Mormon church had over 115,000 members. This day, commemorating the arrival of Mormon settlers to the Salt Lake Valley, is celebrated as Pioneer Day in Utah.