Utah Territory

Within the first year of the arrival of the Mormons in the Great Basin, two events dramatically altered the new Mormon sanctuary. First, the discovery of gold in the Sierra Nevadas brought an unprecedented 300,000 people to California, turning the Mormon’s desert oasis into a thoroughfare for “Gentile” prospectors. Second, at the conclusion of the war with Mexico in 1848, the United States acquired parts of New Mexico, California, and the Salt Lake Valley. The Mormons, once again finding themselves within U.S. boundaries, acted quickly to establish a provisional government with its own legislative and court systems and applied for statehood, which Congress rejected due to their small population. Congress instead gave the Mormons territorial status, naming it the Utah Territory after the local Ute tribe. President Millard Fillmore judiciously appointed Brigham Young as Utah’s first territorial Governor, but selected non-Mormon territorial judges and officers who soon began to clash with a society that resented their presence and largely rejected their authority. Within a year, three territorial officers fled from Utah, claiming the Mormons to be uncivilized, unpatriotic, and immoral (referring to polygamy). The news of these “runaway judges” became a national media sensation.