settlement of Salt Lake City was not typical in many ways of the westward
movement of settlers and pioneers in the United States. The people who
founded the city in 1847 were Mormons, members of the Church of Jesus
Christ of Latter-day Saints. They did not come as individuals acting
on their own, but as a well-organized, centrally directed group; and
they came for a religious purpose, to establish a religious utopia in
the wilderness, which they called the Kingdom of God on Earth. Like
the Puritan founders of Massachusetts more than 200 years earlier, Mormons
considered themselves on a mission from God, having been sent into the
wilderness to establish a model society.
many ways the history of Salt Lake is the story of that effort: its
initial success; its movement away from the original ideas in the face
of intense political, economic, and social pressure from the outside;
and its increasing, but never complete, assimilation into the mainstream
of American life. Its history has been the story of many peoples and
of unsteady progress, and it was formed from a process of conflict--a
conflict of ideas and values, of economic and political systems, of
peoples with different cultural backgrounds, needs, and ambitions.
about a generation after its founding, Salt Lake City was very much
the kind of society its founders intended. A grand experiment in centralized
planning and cooperative imagination, it was a relatively self-sufficient,
egalitarian, and homogeneous society based mainly on irrigation agriculture
and village industry. Religion infused almost every impulse, making
it difficult to draw a line between religious and secular activities.
A counterculture that differed in fundamental ways from its contemporary
American society, it was close-knit, cohesive, and unified, a closely-woven
fabric with only a few broken threads. The hand of the Mormon Church
was ever present and ever active.