Tag Archives: agriculture

From War to War

Thomas G. Alexander
Utah, the Right Place
Condensed by Brittany Nelson

Utah men, to prove their loyalty to the nation, were particularly active in volunteering for both World War I and World War II. When World War I started, Utah’s citizens responded to the call for men and more than 21,000 were enlisted in the land troops and almost 3,500 for the Navy and Marines. Utahns put to rest the old canard that they were disloyal—in fact, more than half of those serving in the war were volunteers rather than draftees. The citizens on the home front also proved their loyalty by oversubscribing to the Liberty Bond drives, five of which were held in the state.

As in other parts of the nation, Utah prospered economically during the war, since its copper, coal, and steel were needed, and the fruits, sugar, vegetables, and meat it produced were also important for sustaining both the armed forces and the civilian citizenry.

Utah’s cities enjoyed relative prosperity during the 1920s—the growth of manufacturing, administration, business service, and transportation caused people to feel prosperous times were here. The farmers and the miners were exceptions—farm prices bottomed out and prices for metals fluctuated. It was a difficult time for farm families who had invested in fruit trees or in sugar beets—both earlier considered “sure bets.” On the other hand, new areas of interest, such as dairying, became more important to the state’s economy. Products included various cheese and evaporated milk. By 1915, Utah had built a number of canneries and ranked fifth in the nation in producing canned fruits and vegetables. With Ogden leading the way, meat-dressing and packing facilities appeared before the end of the century and afterward in Salt Lake City, adding another industry to Utah’s roster.

During the 1920s, one of the major issues before Utahns was the question of public lands. Since the federal government owned almost 70 percent of the state, the issues were real for local citizens, who were irked that all of this land escaped local taxation. They were also concerned about the difficulty of raising matching funds for federal dollars to participate in the new federal highway-building program. One bright spot was the Jones Act of 1927, passed with the support of Governor George Dern, which declared the transfer of mineral rights to the states (opposed by federal bureaucrats) from federal lands as a matter of public policy. Thus the state recovered mineral rights in areas such as school and sections.

Unfortunately, Utah was not well positioned for the events of the 1930s. The national Depression adversely affected the state. Thousands of farm, mining, and manufacturing workers were put on furlough. One bright spot was that although farmers’ incomes were lower than in the 1920s, many Utahns kept farm animals, such as chickens, pigs, and cows, which helped families make ends meet. Thus it was no surprise that when presidential elections were held, this Republican state supported Franklin D. Roosevelt and turned out longtime Senator Reed Smoot, in spite of the fact that the Mormon hierarchy unofficially supported the GOP.

Utah, as many other western states, benefited from conservation programs enacted by the New Deal as well as public works projects of the WPA and other federal agencies. Conservation and irrigation projects received a boost and the highway program continued so hard surface roads linked Utah. The number of Utah farms peaked by 1935, at 35,000, showing that finally a maximum amount of land was in use and there was no room for further pension. After that date, a slow decline set in the state that has never been reversed, especially in light of the increasing urbanization of the state. Only by the end of the 1930s did the economy begin to swing upward. On the horizon was the coming to Utah of the federal government, in terms of air bases, supply depots, Army and Navy facilities, and related defense manufacturing, which would change the state forever in the next decade.


Strawberry Valley Was Utah’s First Federal Reclamation Project

Jeffrey D. Nichols
History Blazer, May 1995

From the earliest years of the nation, American public policy has generally recognized agriculture as the best possible use for land. Thomas Jefferson’s veneration of the independent, virtuous “yeoman farmer” was shared by most of his countrymen. Policies such as the Northwest Ordinances, which established the method for surveying and selling public land, and the Homestead Act, which granted lands to individual settlers, reflected the belief that public lands should be transferred rapidly into the hands of private, smallholding farmers. In the early part of the 20th century, the federal government took the lead in mammoth projects to irrigate Western farmlands. The first federal reclamation project in Utah was the Strawberry Valley project.

From approximately the 100th meridian of longitude West to the Pacific, the continental United States is relatively arid. American settlers, used to the plentiful rainfall and rich soil of the Ohio and Mississippi River valleys, discovered how difficult it could be to farm the Great Plains. Others passed quickly through the Great Basin on their way to rainy Oregon and northern California in the early 1840s.The Mormon farmers who came to Utah in the 1840s and 1850s immediately recognized the necessity for irrigation, and began the laborious process of diverting stream and river water onto their fields.The primacy of water among the West’s resources was recognized by its more astute explorers, most notably John Wesley Powell, who unsuccessfully proposed that state borders should follow drainage basins rather than arbitrary survey lines.

Western settlers petitioned the federal government to alter their public land policies to accommodate the realities of scant water. Washington responded slowly, eventually authorizing a survey of irrigation practices. In 1900, both national parties’ political platforms called for a national “reclamation” program to turn Western deserts into abundant farmland. Senator Francis Newlands of Nevada became reclamation’s most prominent champion, and the 1902 bill that created the Bureau of Reclamation bore his name.

Utahns quickly recognized the potential value of federal help for large-scale reclamation projects that were beyond the reach of local government or private means. State Senator Henry Gardner of Spanish Fork, among others, suggested that a reservoir in the Strawberry Valley could store Colorado basin water on the east side of the Wasatch Mountains, and transfer it across into the Great Basin. Utah Valley farmers enthusiastically joined the campaign to irrigate the southern end of the valley, and in December of 1905, the Department of the Interior authorized the project

The biggest and most difficult engineering feat, a nearly 20,000-foot long, concrete-lined tunnel from the reservoir to the head of the Diamond Fork of the Spanish Fork River, was begun in August of 1906. Crews from east and west met in June, 1912, and the first irrigation water began to flow in June, 1915.  The reservoir itself began to fill when dam construction began in 1911. Eventually, nearly 300,000 acre-feet of water were impounded by a 71-foot high rock structure with a concrete core wall. The Bureau of Reclamation sought local bids for both the tunnel and dam, but when none were received, Bureau work crews performed the labor.

Irrigation -- Canals. Highline Canal, Strawberry Valley. Digital Image © 2008 Utah State Historical Society.

Irrigation—Canals. Highline Canal, Strawberry Valley. Digital Image © 2008 Utah State Historical Society.

The project was declared complete on June 30, 1922, and its various water users assumed control and began gradual repayment of construction costs in 1926. The Strawberry Project proved highly beneficial to the economic growth of southern Utah County, as sugar beets, alfalfa, and truck farming increased their total acreage and seasonal yields. The project also provided employment for local workers, as well as incidental benefits such as electrical power, and improved roads. The success of the Strawberry Valley project led to a number of other Utah reclamation efforts, including the Glen Canyon Dam and the still-unfinished Central Utah Project.

Sources: It’s Your Misfortune and None of My Own: A New History of the American West, by Richard White. “An Investment in Progress: Utah’s First Federal Reclamation Project, the Strawberry Valley Project,” Utah Historical Quarterly summer 1971, vol. 39, #3.


Cliffside Apartments & Stunning Artifacts Show Anasazi Life

Three Fingers Ruin, Hammond Canyon

Three Fingers Ruin, Hammond Canyon

W. Paul Reeve
History Blazer, April 1995

The elaborate cliff dwellings and terraced apartment houses built of stone, mud, and wood that dot the Four Corners region of southeastern Utah stand as fitting monuments to Utah's earliest inhabitants. Evidence of hunter-gatherer bands occupying portions of present-day Utah date back to about 9,000 B.C., but the people who comprised this Desert Culture did not begin to settle into a sedentary agricultural lifestyle until around A.D. 400. It was during what archaeologists term the Pueblo Period (c. A.D. 500-1300) that Utah's early peoples reached their peak of development and produced a cultural flowering.

The key to this flourishing, and the resulting new way of life, was agriculture. The Anasazi (a Navajo word meaning "the ancient ones") of Utah were largely centered in the San Juan drainage basin and likely received corn and squash and the knowledge to raise them from their southern neighbors in Mexico. Domesticated plants offered a reliable food source that made an increase in population possible and also freed time for other activities such as religion, art, ritual, public works, and handicrafts. The Anasazi were also able to settle into a sedentary lifestyle; their first dwellings, or pit houses, generally contained central fireplaces and were often made of horizontal logs laid with mud mortar. The basket-making techniques of the Desert Culture evolved and began to include complicated color designs worked into the baskets. Anasazis also wove beautiful bags from vegetable fibers for storage and carrying supplies and created brightly colored sandals with exquisite craftsmanship.

Anasazi society continued to evolve and progress. During A.D. 500-700 they began to build circular pit houses of stone slabs with wooden roofs and grouped them in larger organized communities. The ancient ones also possessed beans, a prime source of protein, and new varieties of corn. Other innovations included the bow and arrow, clay pottery, turquoise jewelry, and crude clay figurines. By around A.D. 1050 the potter's art was highly developed with a variety of decorative styles, black paint on a white base being the most common. Cotton was introduced from the south, and blankets woven on looms from this fiber replaced the earlier fur robes. Above-ground houses made of stone with mud mortar became popular, and the old pit houses evolved into kivas or sacred rooms where Anasazi men performed a variety of religious ceremonies.

The cultural climax of the Anasazi came during A.D. 1050-1300. These early Utah inhabitants skillfully built cliff dwellings and apartment houses, some of which reached five stories in height and contained hundreds of rooms. A Pueblo house of this period might include such niceties as corrugated cooking and storage pots, decorated ladles, mugs, and bowls, necklaces, pendants, flint knives, feather robes, and belts or girdles. In addition, their irrigation efforts included dikes, dams, and terraces and ingenious methods of saving water. Even these techniques, however, proved ineffective against the terrible drought conditions that began in 1276 and persisted for several years. Thousands of Pueblo people likely died, and the rest abandoned their settlements and migrated south. Hostile nomadic incursions could have also contributed to this migration, but, whatever the reason, by 1300 the complex and highly developed culture of the Anasazi had disappeared from Utah. Fortunately, they left behind stunning evidence of their hard work and industry as testaments to their once proud society.

See Jesse D. Jennings, "Early Man in Utah," Utah Historical Quarterly 28 (1960): 3-27; Frank Waters, Book of the Hopi (New York: Viking Press, 1963); Richard D. Poll, et al., Utah's History (Provo: Brigham Young University Press, 1978), pp. 24-25.

Physical Geography of Utah

Fox Trail Pine in Dixie National Forest. Utah Writers' Project.

Fox Trail Pine in Dixie National Forest. Utah Writers' Project.

Albert L. Fisher
Utah History Encyclopedia, 1994


Centrally located in the Intermountain West, Utah is bordered by all of the mountain states except Montana and is often called the "Crossroads of the West."

The state's centrality is important to the prosperity of the Wasatch Front, Utah's core area, and particularly to the Salt Lake City metropolitan area. The term "Salt Lake Empire" refers to the large geographical area that comes under considerable economic and/or religious influence from Salt Lake. The empire penetrates significantly into Idaho, Wyoming, and Nevada, somewhat in Arizona, and is not of much consequence in either New Mexico or Colorado.


At 84,916 square miles or 54,340,240 acres, Utah is the thirteenth largest state in the United States. Approximately three percent of the surface is covered by water.


Albion Basin Little Cottonwood Canyon

Albion Basin Little Cottonwood Canyon

Rising to 13,528 feet, Kings Peak is the highest spot in Utah, and Beaver Dam Wash in the southwestern corner of the state is the lowest point at 2,350 feet. Only the Uinta Mountains have peaks that exceed 13,000 feet, and there are twenty-four of them that do. Three other mountains systems have peaks that exceed 12,000 feet--the La Sal, Tushar, and Deep Creek Mountains. The highest peak in the Wasatch Mountains, Mount Nebo, is 11,877 feet.

Utah's landform is divided among three major physiographic provinces: the Great Basin or Basin and Range province, the Colorado Plateau province, and the Rocky Mountain province.

The largest of the provinces in Utah is the Colorado Plateau. It has been described as a land of layered, flat-lying sedimentary rock. The story of the earth's movement and history can often be read in the tilt and erosion of the layered strata. Within Utah's portion of the Colorado Plateau are five national parks, six national monuments, a national recreation area, and several state parks. It has one of the largest deposits of hydrocarbons in the world--coal, oil, oil shale, tar sands, gilsonite, and natural gas. It also has significant amounts of uranium.

Water is the most important agent for change within the Colorado Plateau. The Utah section of the plateau is drained by the Colorado and Green rivers and their tributaries. The plateau's varied exposed surface materials can be spectacular in appearance. Utah's portion of the Colorado Plateau can be further divided into the Uinta Basin, Canyonlands, and High Plateaus subprovinces.

The Great Basin, located mainly in Utah and Nevada, is the northern part of the larger Basin and Range province. A large majority of Utah's portion of the Great Basin is called the Bonneville Basin because at one time it lay beneath ancient Lake Bonneville. The lowest part of the Bonneville Basin (and of the Great Basin) is covered by the Great Salt Lake, a remnant of the much larger ancient lake. The surface of the Great Salt Lake is about 4,200 feet above sea level; the Sevier Basin is around 4.700 feet in elevation; and the Escalante Basin is approximately 4,900 feet.

It is believed that the mountains of the Great Basin are fault-block in origin, the same as the Wasatch Mountains and the Sierra Nevada that border the Basin. The mountains have formed along a generally north-south axis and they have valleys or basins separating them. Both the mountains and the basins tend to be from about 25 to 50 miles long and from 15 to 20 miles wide. Many of the basins are self-contained, meaning that they drain internally and are areas of water and soil accumulation.

Of the three major provinces, the physiographic province that covers the smallest area in Utah is the Rocky Mountains, which is divided between the Wasatch and the Uinta Mountains. This province is particularly valuable to the state for the water, recreation, and minerals it provides.

The Wasatch Mountains follow a north-south axis from the Idaho border southward to Mount Nebo near Nephi. They are a fault-block range that is structurally similar to the mountains of the Great Basin. Water from Wasatch streams has been essential to the settlement along the base of the range throughout recorded history.

The Uinta Mountains are one of the few east-west ranges in the Rocky Mountains. Unlike the fault-block mountains of the Great Basin and the Wasatch, the Uinta Range is a folded anticline bordered by the Uinta Basin to the south and the Green River (or Wyoming) Basin to the north. The Uintas offer excellent recreational opportunities, but they are not as heavily used as the Wasatch Mountains because they are more distant from population centers.

Climate and Weather

While Utah is widely perceived to be a desert state, and statistically it is the second driest state in the nation, its climate, soils, and vegetation are as diverse as are its landforms.

Utah has three climatic regions--humid, sub-humid or semi-arid, and arid--and each region covers about one-third of the state. The high mountains and plateaus are humid; the lower basins, valleys, and flatlands are often arid; and the transitional places in between are sub-humid to semi-arid.

The arid region generally receives less than eight inches of precipitation annually and has an annual evapo-transpiration rate often 30 to 50 inches. The humid zone generally has eighteen inches or more of precipitation, and its precipitation by definition exceeds the evapo-transpiration rate.

While most of the moisture in Utah is associated with frontal systems from the Pacific Ocean, there is a period in mid- to late summer when convectional rainfall is very important, particularly in the southern and eastern parts of the state. During this time, moist air masses from the Gulf of California or the Gulf of Mexico periodically enter the state. The moist air is unstable and convectional processes frequently cause cloudbursts and flash flooding. The heavy convectional precipitation tends to be localized, but in the narrow canyons of southern Utah the danger of flash floods is high both from local cloudbursts and from heavy downpours that might fall many miles upstream.

Natural Hazards

Earthquakes and landslides are the two most serious landform-related natural hazards in Utah, whereas floods, wind, fire, and avalanches are the most prominent weather-related ones.

Earthquake danger in Utah is high because of the large number of faults located in the state. The most significant of them from a natural hazards perspective are whose slippage would affect the more densely populated areas of the state. This makes the Wasatch Fault easily the most dangerous of all because it is located near where the majority of the state's people live and work. The Sevier Fault has had more earthquakes of a higher intensity than the Wasatch Fault, but it affects fewer people.

An earthquake associated with a major movement of the Wasatch Fault would cause great damage along the fault line. However, it might create even more destruction in the valley below because of what is called "liquefaction" of the earth. Liquefaction would occur if the shock of a major earthquake caused the groundwater along the Wasatch Front to mix with the Lake Bonneville-deposited alluvial soils in such a way that the soils would lose their ability to support structures. This is what caused the devastating damage of the Mexico City earthquake of 1985. Both Mexico City and the valleys of the Wasatch Front are located on old lake beds.

Landslides and mudslides received much attention during the above-average precipitation period of the 1980s. There were many such slides, and a few of them were among the largest recorded in North America. It was reported that the Manti Canyon slide of the 1970s, and the Twelve Mile Canyon slide in Sanpete County and the Thistle slide, both in 1983, were respectively the fourth, fifth, and sixth largest landslides ever recorded in North America.

Avalanches, along with flash floods, are the primary weather-related killers in Utah. Almost every year snow avalanches claim several lives in the state, primarily in the Wasatch Mountains.

Possibly the worst possible scenario for a natural disaster in Utah would be a major earthquake when the ground in the valleys and on the slopes was wet. This might produce the maximum possible damage from shaking, liquefaction, and slides.

Economic Geography

Land Ownership. Federal ownership accounts for 67 percent of the land in Utah, with another four percent included in Indian reservations. The primary federal landlords are the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the Forest Service, the Department of Defense, and the National Park Service.

Private ownership claims 22 percent of the land, and the remaining seven percent is owned by the state.

Agriculture. Much of the naturally best agricultural land in Utah is along the Wasatch Front, but is not farmed. It is used for cities, suburbs, factories, shopping centers, roads, and highways. Agriculture cannot compete favorably with more lucrative land uses in this region.

Livestock dominates Utah agriculture because grazing is the best and sometimes the only reasonable agricultural use for huge areas of the state due to the climate, the landform, or both. Dry farming and growing fruit on benchlands are other ways farmers have accommodated to the natural environment.

The most important of the market-oriented agricultural activities is the dairy industry. There is some truck gardening to supply fresh produce to the local markets, but it is much less significant today than it was in the past. Turkey and mink growing are two prominent targets of opportunity products, while cotton and sugar beets were of historical importance.

Human Geography

People. Utah has one of the nation's youngest populations, lowest deathrates, and highest birthrates. In recent years, however, both the birth and the fertility rates have declined sharply. Still, the state's natural increase rate is among the highest in the nation and will probably continue to be so indefinitely.

The percentage of people classified as minority by the Census Bureau is low, at less than 10 percent, being well below the national average. People of Spanish origin comprise the largest of the census-enumerated minority groups, and blacks comprise the smallest. More than half of the state's population claim English ancestry, which is the highest of any state in the nation. Scandinavian and German-rooted people are the next most numerous.

Settlement Patterns. A few statistics highlight Utah's settlement patterns. In 1990 approximately 77 percent of the state's population resided along the Wasatch Front on 4.3 percent of the land area. Close to 42 percent of the state's inhabitants live in Salt Lake County on only 0.98 percent of the land. This means that 95.7 percent of the land is away from the Wasatch Front, but it holds only 23 percent of the people. Fifteen of the state's twenty-nine counties have a population density of less than five people per square mile, whereas the figure is close to 1,000 per square mile for Salt Lake County. Away from the Wasatch Front settlement is in small cities or towns. Residence on isolated farms or ranches is rare.

See: Atlas of Utah (1981); and A.L. Fisher, Geography of Utah (1987).