Proclamations of everything from "Bird Day" to "Better Babies Week" to a $350 reward for a horse thief are hidden deep in a seldom-examined vault in the lieutenant governor's office.
Since Utah became a state in 1896, its governors have issued more than 1,200 executive orders and proclamations on a variety of topics. They begin with the appointment of a commission to revise the laws of the new state and end with Gov. Norm Bangerter's Jan. 1, 1989, order proclaiming portions of flooded Washington County a disaster area.Many are routine and dull. Some are serious and important to the state's history. A few are quaint and even laughable. All were filed as soon as they were issued, seldom to be examined again.
Until now, no one paid much attention. The state Department of Administrative Services, however, fears some of the orders may still be in effect and has decided it is time to research and catalog them.
If nothing else, the state wants to at least have a record for the archives and for historians.
"This is the one area of law that until now has not been at all explored," said state Administrative Rules Director William Callaghan.
The orders all had the same effect as state law, at least temporarily. They also reveal a colorful picture of many of the state's governors.
Many, especially in the state's infancy, issued proclamations offering cash rewards for the arrest of criminal suspects or for information on crimes. The documents show the state's early leaders to be anything but eloquent by today's standards.
For instance, on July 11, 1898, the state's first governor, Heber Wells, offered a $350 reward for the capture of Halbert McClure, who was wanted for cattle and horse stealing and for escaping from jail.
The order describes McClure as a "very illiterate" person who can read a little and sign his name. McClure, however, "talks good Mexican," the order said.
Some orders are puzzling. On Aug. 28, 1899, Wells offered a $500 reward for the capture of whoever was guilty of sending "an infernal machine" to two Salt Lake residents. The order does not describe what the phrase meant. State law allows Utah governors to proclaim holidays whenever they feel it necessary. Some have been peculiar.
Gov. William Spry designated April 3, 1915, as "Bird Day" in honor of naturalist John Burroughs. State residents were encouraged to look at birds that day. Spry also proclaimed "Good Roads Day" on April 28 that year and asked all able-bodied Utahns to take the day off and pitch in to help build the state's highway system.
A year later, Spry proclaimed "Better Babies Week," noting "the demands of our modern mode of life have multiplied manyfold the duties of the parent to the child and infinitely increased the responsibilities of the parent for the child's welfare."
State officials worry many of the orders may still technically be in effect, posing legal problems. For instance, martial law was declared in Carbon County in 1922, but there is no record of a proclamation returning things to normal.
However, state Attorney General Paul Van Dam said quick research by his office shows that state law puts a time limit on almost all proclamations and orders a governor may issue. Governors may remove martial law without issuing a new proclamation.
University of Utah intern Tina Gustin has spent the past month researching and listing the documents. When she is finished, copies will be given to Gov. Norm Bangerter and Van Dam.
Callaghan said he will ask the attorney general's office to review the list to make sure the orders have expired completely.
"We really don't know how many of them have any residual effects," he said. "It's better to be safe than sorry."