Monday, May 14, 2012

Deseret, Land of the Honeybee

Part of my first book, Darlin’ Druid, is set in Utah, c. 1872. This required a lot of research, especially because I’ve never been able to visit the Beehive State in person. Today I’d like to share a smidgen of what I learned from books, internet sites and the Utah State Historical Society.

When Brigham Young first looked upon the Salt Lake Valley in 1847, he is supposed to have said “This is the place.” It’s hard to imagine why he chose such a dry, inhospitable spot for his people to settle, but history has proven him right. Within a few decades, the Mormons turned that dry valley into fruitful farm land and Salt Lake City into a thriving community. 

 The early pioneers had few material resources. Thus, they had to rely on their own ingenuity and hard work – their industry – to survive. Think of a colony of bees working together, building a new hive, and you’ll know why the beehive became the emblem for the provisional State of Deseret in 1848. The symbol was retained along with the word "industry" on the state seal and flag after Utah was granted statehood in 1896. “Deseret” is reportedly a word for honey bee in the Book of Mormon. The honey bee was named official state insect in 1983, thanks to the lobbying efforts of a fifth grade class.

Crofutt’s Trans-Continental Tourist Guide, 1872 edition, describes Salt Lake City: “This is one of the most beautiful and pleasantly located of cities.” Situated at the foot of a spur of the Wasatch Mountains to the east, and extending onto the uplands that unite valley and mountains, the city boasts a dramatic setting that impressed the writer of the tourist guide. “The lofty  range of the Wasatch forms the background, lifting its rugged peaks above the clouds. Piles of snow can be seen in the gorges where the warm sunlight has not the power to melt it.”

From those snowy gorges, the Mormons drew life-giving water via a clever irrigation system, allowing them to turn the desert valley into rich farm land. They brought water to Salt Lake City in the same way, laying out irrigation channels along the streets, which naturalist John Muir describes this way: "The streets are remarkably wide and the buildings low, making them appear yet wider than they really are. Trees are planted along the sidewalks -- elms, poplars, maples, and a few catalpus and hawthorn . . . ." Muir goes on to complain about the irregular size of trees and buildings, and disapproved the Latter Day Saints' stand on polygamy. Yet, from his description, it's plain to see the Saints planned their city with an eye for beauty as well as practicality.

The following is an excerpt from Darlin’ Druid in which my heroine, Jessie, marvels at her surroundings while out for a Sunday afternoon stroll.

A short while later, she paused beneath a leafy elm tree and fished a handkerchief from her reticule. As she had many times before, she blessed the city’s Mormon founders for planting so many trees along the broad streets. Their shade was a godsend in this heat.

Patting the dew from her forehead and upper lip, she smiled at a group of youngsters frolicking in a small peach orchard across the street. The city abounded with fruit trees – apple, plum, but most of all peach – and a variety of grapevines. Most every gray adobe or white clapboard house also displayed a vegetable plot and flower garden. All thanks to the Mormons’ ingenious irrigation system, a necessity in this hot, dry valley.

There were even lilac bushes. Although long since done blooming for the year, they still reminded Jessie of home. Her mother had loved lilacs, and she’d planted several bushes around their cottage. Every spring their radiant purple blooms had filled the air with a heavenly scent – before the fire had swept them away along with the house and everything else, leaving only destruction behind. And nightmares.

Salt Lake City in the old days (photos from Utah State Historical Society) 

First South, 1872, with Salt Lake Theatre on the left. Built in 1861, the theatre staged plays, hosted dances and concerts. Brigham Young often attended.   One guest said, "At the time of its erection, it was not surpassed in magnitude, completeness and equipment by any other existing house." Each event opened with prayer; no smoking or drinking allowed. *Notice trees lining the street.     

Temple Square, 1882, showing left to right, partially completed Temple, Assembly Hall, and the Tabernacle.

One of the city's largest hotels was the Salt Lake House, where Jessie dines with an admirer. Run by a Mr. Townsend, a Mormon convert from Maine, the hotel stood on Main Street. Notice the stagecoach out front.

Businesses and wagons loaded with goods. By 1870, a number of gentile (non-Mormon) businesses were in operation.

Most Mormon merchants belonged to Zion's Co-operatice Mercantile Institution (Z.C.M.I.) and displayed the sign of the all-seeing eye.

Modern Salt Lake City
                    The Great Salt Lake in daylight                   . . . . And at sunrise

Next month I will dig into mining and railroading in Utah. Hint: Nevada and Colorado weren’t the only western states to experience silver booms.
Mormons and Gentiles, a History of Salt Lake City by Thomas G. Alexander & James B. Allen
History of Utah,1540-1886 by Hubert Howe Bancroft
Utah, the Land of Blossoming Valleys by George Wharton James
Steep Trails  by John Muir


Devon Matthews said...

Thanks for the history, Lyn. It's pretty amazing that they turned such a barren region into an oasis given what they had to work with at the time.

Lyn Horner said...

My pleasure, Devon. Yes it is amazing. I can't imagine trying to live in such a place in the beginning, before the Mormons worked out their irrigation system. It took courage!

Paty Jager said...

Interesting history about an area I know little about. Thanks!

Meg said...

Awesome photos, Lyn!! I loooove looking at vintage pix. Great info on Utah and the Mormoms!

Peggy Henderson said...

We drive through Utah every year on Interstate 15 on our way from California to Montana, so pretty much the entire stretch up the state. I have to say, Utah has got to be THE cleanest state I have ever been in. And they have several national parks - Zion, which we go to every fall when it's cooler. Gorgeous! Canyonlands, Arches, very nice places to visit.
Thanks for the history, Lyn!

Ciara Gold said...

Excellent post and I thoroughly enjoyed Darlin' Druid, btw. Utah is a state I want to visit someday and this just tempted me more.

Maggie said...

Great post Lyn. We're in the Salt Lake Valley every couple months, it's the closest large city to shop in. It's far enough away that we usually make a 2 day trip out of it. After having read Darlin' Druid, I'd have never known that you hadn't been to SLC.

Ellen O’Connell said...

I have been to Utah a few times, but only to SLC (showing horses years ago). The city always struck me as like Denver, with mountains providing an impressive backdrop in one direction, but more so as the mountains are closer. However, I traveled straight west across Utah into Nevada once, and those mud flats have to be some of the most barren, frightening land in the world. Maybe that's why Brigham Young stopped where he did - if they went further west they might have sunk without a trace.

I don't flatter myself that if I'd lived in pioneer days I'd have been one of those with the courage to crawl across land like that on foot behind my covered wagon or even on horseback.

Lyn Horner said...

Thanks everyone for stopping by. I had a meeting tonight, explaining why I'm so late replying.

Paty, I knew nothing about Utah either, before I started researching. That's the neatest thing about writing historicals, learning about different places and time periods.

Meg, I'm glad you enjoyed the pics. I was very lucky to find them in one of the many books I begged, borrowed or bought.

Peggy, you lucky girl! Wish I could hitch a ride with you. BTW I just finished reading Yellowstone Heartsong. Loved it! I'm anxious to read the rest of the series. I really, really want to know where the you-know-what got stashed.

Ciara, I'm so glad you enjoyed Darlin' D. I hope you'll try Dashing Druid too.

Maggie, that's a real compliment. Thank you! I wanted badly to visit Utah while writing Darlin' Druid, but family health problems prevented us from traveling. Thank goodness for great history books and web sites.

Ellen, do you supposed Brigham Young had a dream or a vision warning him not to go any farther? If I remember correctly, he did have a dream showing him where his people were to settle. I never scoff at stories like that, having had dreams of future events myself.

Jacquie Rogers said...

I love it when authors place stories in under-utilized settings. There's so much history throughout the West, and this is a perfect example. SLC is a very pretty city--lots of shopping available and mountain recreation just a few hours away. The really cool thing about it is the city's history is so well documented, and Lyn, you did a wonderful job making history come alive in Darlin' Druid!

Lyn Horner said...

Jacquie, I agree it's fun to read a story set in an unusual setting, but I must confess I didn't pick Utah for that reason. I chose it out of necessity. I was looking for a place where a silver boom was underway in 1872, and Alta, Utah, filled that need. Also, It wouldn't be too difficult to get Jessie Devlin and her brother Tye to SLC, but I will go into that next month.

Much onliged for praising Darlin' Druid! I'm glad you enjoyed the read.

Alison E. Bruce said...

I've never thought much about Utah but it's on my list of places to visit now. The state tourist board should comp you a visit, Lyn.

Lyn Horner said...

LOL! Alison, that would be nice, but I won't hold my breath. One of these days maybe I'll get there.