In his role as emigration leader, leader of the LDS church, and Utah Territorial governor, Brigham Young had a huge impact on the development of Utah. He chose the Salt Lake valley as the first site of Mormon settlement. He sent people to settle areas that he chose, and in some cases assigned them to certain work, like growing cotton. He also influenced the layout of communities and how people thought and acted.
A future leader.
When Brigham Young was born, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) didn’t exist. But although Young was not born into a Mormon family, he is most famous for being the prophet who led the Mormons west.
He joined the LDS church along with some of his close family members in 1832. His faith deepened after he met the church founder, Joseph Smith, and Brigham became a very active member of the young faith, both in America and on a mission in England.
Young takes control.
When a mob assassinated Smith in 1844, Brigham rose above several challengers to become the next president of the church. When it became apparent that the Mormons weren’t going to be able to stay in their community of Nauvoo, Illinois, he made the decision to head west in hopes of finding a place to establish the "Kingdom of God"--a place where the Mormons could worship and flourish in peace.
He led the first company west, and upon coming down Emigration Canyon on July 24, 1847, made the famous “This is the right place” proclamation (at least, he said those words according to one person remembering it many years later).
An early picture of Brigham Young's houses, the Lion House and Beehive House. He had his office here, and many of his wives and children lived here. Notice the dirt road and the irrigation ditch in front! Today that dirt road is busy South Temple Street.
Young had a huge influence on the establishment of the Mormon settlements in Utah. He created the Perpetual Emigration Fund to help poor people emigrate from Europe to Utah. He "called" Mormon settlers to colonize beyond Salt Lake City. And he tried to keep Utah an agricultural territory. He did not want his people trying to get rich by mining.
When the federal government officially created the Utah Territory in 1850, Young became the first territorial governor. However, his role as a religious leader, and the way most Mormons obeyed him absolutely, made the government nervous. The practice of polygamy among the Mormons didn’t help. So in 1857, the government sent a new territorial governor west, along with a battalion of troops to make sure Young would allow the new governor to take his position.
Young continued on as leader of the Mormon church until his death in 1877. In the last decades of life, he tried to make sure that non-Mormons entering the state, or the increasingly present federal government, would not destroy the Mormon way of life.
Because he believed the principle of polygamy came from God, Young had many wives—maybe as many as 55. He fathered as many as 57 children. Many of those children played a role in Utah after his death, including Brigham Young Jr. and Susa Young Gates.
Brigham Young—what were his motives, anyway?
Brigham Young is a controversial figure in many ways, maybe because he had so many roles in his life: Prophet, governor, de facto emigration agent, businessman, father.
Many authors have written books and articles about his life, some positive and some negative. Just like with every other history, these authors have chosen the primary sources they want to emphasize and have written from their own points of view. It’s up to you to read carefully and discerningly--and maybe even iinvestigate primary sources--to decide where you think authors are right and where they might have gone wrong.