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Utah's Facebook relationship status with the other 49 states would be "It's complicated." The state's history is heavily intertwined with that of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (popularly known as Mormons). It was founded as a literal Cult Colony (in the most academic sense of the word) in 1847 by Mormons fleeing religious persecution in New York, then Ohio, then Missouri (after the governor issued an extermination order), then finally Illinois where Church founder Joseph Smith, Jr. was assassinated. His eventual successor, Brigham Young, acting on a notion Smith had entertained of emigrating from the United States altogether, led the largest faction of Mormons out into the wilderness in a modern-day Exodus. Utah was Mexican territory at the time, and was known mostly for being an inhospitable desert where even the water could kill you by being four times saltier than the ocean -- a place most wagon trains avoided or passed through as quickly as possible on their way to richer, more fertile lands in California and Oregon. A place nobody wanted, and hundreds of miles from any place anyone would want.

Perfect for a religious movement with less than conventional beliefs.

As it turns out, Utah, dubbed "Deseret" (a term found in The Book of Mormon that means "honeybee") by its new inhabitants, was more hospitable than anyone expected, but not by much. The main settlement, called Great Salt Lake City at the foot of the Wasatch Mountains, was made viable with the irrigation and diversion of mountain streams and became the central command center for hundreds of settlements stretching from Sonora to Alberta. Mormon settlers from all over the United States, Canada, the British Isles and continental Europe, converted by zealous missionaries and told to come build an American Zion, would settle in places as diverse as cool green mountain valleys and redrock desert country and eke out a modest existence. A tug-of-war for power between the Mormons, the federal government, and non-Mormons would dominate the territory for the next 40 years, including the Utah War which was the result of a series of misunderstandings, aggravated federal employees annoyed at the unresponsive Mormon settlers, and the dispatch of a fifth of the US Army to put down a "rebellion." Unfortunately, this toxic atmosphere allowed the murder of 120 men and women in the Mountain Meadows Massacre by an isolated, paranoid Mormon militia.

Eventually, the federal government issued an ultimatum to the Mormons: discontinue polygamy or face disenfranchisement of the church and seizure of all its property. Wilford Woodruff, the president and prophet of the Church at the time, issued the 1890 Manifesto discontinuing polygamy and excommunicating any Mormon who practiced it after the Manifesto was issued. Some members disagreed with the new doctrine and struck out to remote settlements where they continue to practice forms of polygamy with varying degrees of legality, ranging from men with a single legal wife and one or more consenting adult "spirit wives", to dangerous and malevolent abusers of under-aged girls.

However, the rejection of polygamy was supported by the vast majority of the Mormon populace, and Utah would become a state six years later.

Since then, Utah has been a quiet place, although steadily growing and diversifying. Mormons have concentrated on both expanding their membership and emphasizing their "normalness" to outsiders, and Salt Lake City has long attracted non-Mormons with its relatively low crime and diverse economy. Outdoor enthusiasts have discovered Utah's vast array of natural wonders, ranging from Monument Valley (You've seen it. Trust me, you have) to flatter-than-flat salt flats to world-class ski resorts. There was quite a party for the 2002 Winter Olympics in SLC, of course, but local liquor laws make partying a bit more restrained. Every so often NASA shows up for Mars training or to watch a spaceprobe fall out of the sky, and Hollywood makes use of the state to shoot Westerns and sci-fi flicks.

As far as works are concerned, Utah has a highly active Mormon Cinema with culturally esoteric references and humor. Often parodied is the quirkiness and stiffness of its traditional culture, heavily tied to its Victorian English history.[1]


  1. Utah has more English ancestry than other state in the United States. Some of the ancestors were 19th century New Englanders like the families of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, but most were actually off-the-boat immigrants who had already become Mormons in England. An additional influx of already-Mormon immigrants from Scandinavia and Germany largely assimilated into the culture.
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