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What life was like for the Mormon pioneers after entering the Salt Lake Valley

By Ben Tullis

For the Deseret News

Published: Thursday, July 24 2014 8:14 p.m. MDT

“They were very concerned about food,” Westover said. “Back in pioneer days, there was a saying: ‘If you want to have a harvest for winter, corn should be knee high by the Fourth of July.’ And, of course, arriving on the 24th and corn not even in the ground yet, they were very concerned about getting food crops into the fall and winter.”

As it was still summer when the pioneers arrived in the valley, building homes was not as much of a concern, according to Westover.

“One of the first buildings built was a bowery — just basically a shade structure," Westover said. "And they used it for school, for church, for public and civic meetings. … For the most part (the pioneers) just stayed in their tents in the beginning or the wagon boxes until they could start building the initial homes and dugouts. Initially there was a fort at Pioneer Park (now located at 300 South and 300 West), and it had a bunch of small cabins in it.”

The Mormon pioneers were between two American Indian tribes, and it was not clear at first how they would react to the presence of the Saints.

“The whole area had been occupied by a number of different Indian tribes — the Shoshones to the north and the Utes to the south — and the Salt Lake Valley … was kind of a no-man’s land," said Olsen. "It was a kind of shared space that neither claimed for their own. So the Mormons began settling here and it was somewhat fortuitous in that regard because it wasn’t challenging either of the (Native American) settlement areas. That’s one of the reasons why there was relative peace to begin with.”

By July 28, President Young designated the lot where the temple would stand. That spot would be the center point of the city, with every structure, road and private property laid out evenly, perfectly square and radiating from that point.

President Young and other leaders of the LDS Church remained in the Salt Lake Valley a little less than a month before heading back East on Aug. 16 to prepare their families to come to the valley the next year.

After President Young left, Charles C. Rich and John Young organized a municipal high council that directed the building of 450 log cabins and a fence to control the livestock. They also supervised the construction of an adobe wall around the fort as well as a number of roads and bridges, according to “Church History in the Fulness of Times.”

The Saints persevered through provision shortages and damaged crops their first year in the valley. President Young returned in September 1848, and by the end of the year, almost 3,000 Saints had arrived in the valley. President Young wrote to those still on the trail that the Saints had found “a haven of rest, a place for our souls, a place where we may dwell in safety,” according to "Church History in the Fulness of Times."

By 1850, houses and buildings had been constructed and a public works had been established.

“They (created) what we would call public utilities, that is, people who were responsible for damming the water and creating irrigation systems that would water the gardens and the orchards and the farms,” Olsen said. “They would soon create utilities for logging lumber so the access to lumber wasn’t just on a case-by-case basis or was favored to the rich. … Someone would have a use right to control and have access to these resources, but for the purpose of building up the community and not for the sake of becoming personally enriched.”

Two of the more important buildings for the Saints were constructed in the 1850s. The Great Salt Lake Social Hall, built in 1853, was a place where the Saints gathered for concerts and dances. The Deseret Dramatic Association was organized in 1853 and held many plays in the building. The Social Hall was also where the territorial legislature met for a few sessions, according to information on a marker at This Is the Place Heritage Park, where a replica of the Social Hall can be found. Remnants of the original foundation can be seen at the Social Hall Heritage Museum at 51 S. State St.in Salt Lake City.

The second building was the Deseret News building, constructed in 1850. The publication allowed LDS Church leaders to communicate with Saints who had settled other parts of Utah and the surrounding states.

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