THE STATE OF UTAH was two years old and still settling into a comfortable niche among its sister states. But on the global state, events were occurring that would involve Utahns in their first international conflict since the Mexical War of the mid-1800s.
Although only an adolescent among the nations of the world, the United States was flexing its political muscles and eying possible acquistions to expand its influence around the globe.The immediate concern as the 19th century came to a close was Spain's handling of Cuba. Some Americans were unhappy with what they interpreted to be Spanish "misrule," while some others viewed the 90 miles of Atlantic Ocean between Florida and Cuba as an umbilical cord that tied the island naturally to the United States.
As Cuban/Spanish civil conflict escalated, the battleship Maine was sent to protect American interests on the island. On Feb. 15, 1898, the ship exploded in the harbor, killing about 260 Americans. The actual cause of the explosion was unclear. Many historians today believe it originated inside the ship, with no help from the Spanish. Regardless, "Remember the Maine" became the rallying cry for war.
April 19, the U.S. Congress declared Cuba free of Spanish rule, and on April 25 there was a formal declaration of war. On the same day, Utah Gov. Heber Wells issued a call to arms.
By mid-summer, the war in Cuba was virtually over as Spain was defeated both on land and on sea. The Treaty of Paris, signed Dec. 10, 1898, granted Cuba its freedom and ceded Guam, Puerto Rico and the Philippines to the United States.
The Philippines did not readily capitulate, and the islands became a second front as insurrectionists resisted American occupation, although the United States had paid Spain #20 million to acquire the islands. It was here that Utah's soldiers saw their heaviest action.