The Salt Lake Valley was initially populated by the Paiute, Shoshone, Goshute, and Ute Native American tribes. At the time of the establishment of Salt Lake City, the valley was within the Northwestern Shoshone territory, which had its annual camps along streams within the canyon and in adjacent valleys. One of the regional Shoshone tribes, the Western Goshute tribe, is known to the Great Salt Lake as Pi’a-pa, which means “big water,” or Ti’tsa-pa, meaning “bad water.” The United States treated the land as public domain; no indigenous title by the Northwestern Shoshone was ever acknowledged by the United States or exterminated by treaty with the United States.
On July 24, 1847 CE, 143 men, a few women, and two kids established Great Salt Lake City several miles to the eastern end of the Great Salt Lake, snuggled in the northern stretches of the Salt Lake Valley. The first two in this group to enter the Salt Lake valley were Erastus Snow and Orson Pratt. These Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (“LDS Church”) members tried to set a self-governing religious community and were the first individuals of European voyagers to settle in the area now known as Utah permanently. Thousands of Mormon settlers would arrive in Salt Lake in the coming years.
In 1857 CE, when the Mormon tradition of polygamy came to national recognition, President James Buchanan replied to public outcry by sending 2500 soldiers, called the Utah Expedition, to study the LDS Church and place a non-LDS governor to replace Brigham Young. In reply, Brigham Young declared martial law, sending the Utah militia to attack the army, a conflict called the Utah War. Young ultimately surrendered to federal control when the new provincial governor, Alfred Cumming, arrived in Salt Lake City on April 12, 1858 CE. Most troops pulled out at the start of the American Civil War.
To defend the road to California during the American Civil War, more army teams arrived under the direction of Colonel Patrick Edward Connor in 1862 CE. They resided in the Fort Douglas area east of the city. Thoroughly anti-LDS, Connor saw the people with disdain, calling them “a community of murderers, traitors, whores, and fanatics.” To dilute their influence, he worked with bank owners and non-LDS businesses and also boosted mining. In 1863 CE, some of his troops discovered rich canals of silver and gold in the Wasatch Mountains.
Everyone started to arrive at Salt Lake City in 1869 CE to complete the First Transcontinental Railroad at Promontory Summit, north of the city. By 1870 CE Salt Lake had been connected to it via the Utah Central Rail Road. People began to move and invest in Salt Lake, seeking possibilities in mining and other industries.
The town ultimately adopted a non-partisan council in 1911 CE. As LDS/non-LDS tensions eased, people started to work together for the common good, enhancing utilities, improving roads, and public healthcare.
The Great Depression sadly hit Salt Lake City particularly hard. At its peak, the average unemployment rate reached 61,500 people, which was over 36%. Things recovered after the end of World War II.
In April 1999 CE, the Salt Lake City council finally voted 5 to 2 along LDS membership lines to sell to the LDS Church the Main Street segment that lay between LDS Church office buildings and the Temple Square for $8.1 million. The Church intended to establish a large plaza on the land as well as a parking structure below. There was much outcry about the sale of public lands to a separate organization. Still, a Church representative assured citizens that the plaza would be a “little bit of Paris,” a characterization used against the LDS Church later.
Matters also lay in plans to ban such activities as skateboarding, demonstrations, smoking, sunbathing, and other activities it considered “vulgar.” The Utah ACLU concluded that these restrictions were inconsistent with the pedestrian easement that the town retained over the plaza. ACLU lawyers claimed this made the square into a public free speech forum. Nonetheless, Church sold the property to become the Main Street Plaza.