The Supposedly Barren Salt Lake Valley--Another Mormon Lie Caught and Treed . . .

by steve benson Mar 2012

--A Barren Valley or a Legend Barren of Truth?

Persistently-propagandized Mormons have long claimed that when Brigham Young arrived in the Salt Lake Valley in 1847, he and his cohorts found the place to be devoid of trees--except, supposedly, for a single cedar, tenaciously clinging to life in a desolate wasteland that the Mormons boast to have (according to scriptural prophesy, of course) resurrected to resplendent glory.

Indeed, even today, Utah promotional shop-and-spend guides portray the Salt Lake Valley of invented 1847 fame to have been a veritable no-man's-land:

"Historically, the one-time desert wilderness [of Utah] was created by settlers seeking refuge from religious persecution, and neither barren land, nor drought or a plague of crickets could dissuade the Mormons from their purpose."

(“Salt Lake City Attracations,” at:

Uh-huh. And if you believe that, I've got thousands of cricket-gorged seagulls to sell ya.

--Actually, It's All Kid's Stuff

Here's a dose of reality from a Social Studies unit designed for Utah fourth-graders (which, apparently, is a learning level still far above that of many true-believing Mormons):

"There is a myth about the Salt Lake Valley. It says that the valley was a barren and lifeless desert with only one tree when the first Mormon pioneers arrived.

"Here is what the valley was really like when the Mormon pioneers first came. Much of it had rich, good soil. Wherever sagebrush grew, the soil was good, and sagebrush grew all over the valley. There were also tall grasses. Trees and bushes grew along all the streams and flowed from the mountains to the Jordan River and into the Great Salt Lake. On the mountains were forests of pine trees.”

(“Utah's Biomes: A Social StudiesUnit Created by Sarah Bennet, Fourth Grade,” at:

--Chopping Away at the Tall Tale

If a basic elementary school lesson isn't enough to convince brain-gutted, gullible Mormons of the facts on the ground, LDS historian Will Bagley put the silly "Lone Tree" fable to rest, once and for all, in an article for the Salt Lake Tribune, entitled "The Lone Tree Shrine: Fact And Fiction:"

"One of the most colorful fights over Utah's history--the Battle of the Cedar Tree Shrine--concerned what the Salt Lake Valley looked like when Brigham Young first saw it . . . .

"Salt Lake City schoolchildren used to be taught that the only tree growing in the valley when the Mormon pioneers arrived was a cedar (actually, a juniper) standing in the middle of what is now 600 East just below 300 South.

"Several 1847 journals reveal this simply wasn't so. The clerk of the Pioneer Camp, Thomas Bullock, wrote that the 'very extensive valley' was 'dotted in three or four places with Timber.'

"But facts seldom get in the way of a beloved legend, especially one that celebrated the belief that the Mormon pioneers found a wasteland and made the desert 'blossom as a rose.'

"True or not, the Lone Tree tale was enshrined in bronze on Pioneer Day in 1934 when the Daughters of Utah Pioneers erected a columned 'peristyle' shrine around what was left of the cedar on the median of 600 East.

"A plaque told how the pioneers of 1847 paused beneath the shade of the lone cedar to offer songs and prayers of gratitude.

"The 1847 Mormons actually missed the tree by a mile, since they followed the Donner Party trail to present-day 1700 South and took 'a strait road to a small Grove of Cotton Wood Trees' on City Creek at 300 South and State streets.

"[Also enshrined on the marker is the exaggeration that] the tree was a favorite 'trysting place' for lovers.

"But then, on the evening of September 21, 1958 . . . someone sawed off and absconded with the Lone Tree. The Daughters' president . . . noted how hard the society worked to preserve old relics and how discouraging it was when 'vandals come along and tear down our good work.'

"That might have been the end of the story had not an enterprising reporter phoned A.R. Mortensen, head of the [Utah] state historical society.

"'Kind of secretly,' the reporter asked the state's chief historian if he believed that the cedar was the only tree growing in the valley in 1847. Mortensen burst out laughing and asked, 'Hell no, do you?'

"That afternoon the front-page of the Deseret News claimed he had called the revered Lone Tree 'a historical fraud' and 'a dead stump with little historical value.'

"These offhand remarks ignited a firestorm and brought down the wrath of . . . 300,000 Daughters [of the Utah Pioneers] on Mortensen's unsuspecting head. The controversy nearly cost him his job and led the historical society's board to denounce the 'wanton destruction' of the Lone Tree and censure Mortensen's 'unfortunate comments.' Mortensen stuck to his guns. He was, after all, right. . . .

"The Lone Stump monument still stands, graced by a 1960 plaque that acknowledged there were other trees in the valley in 1847.

"But there's a part of this tale that has never been told in print--the solution to the mystery of the stolen cedar. Not long after the desecration, Salt Lake Tribune editor Art Deck got a call telling him to check a locker at the Greyhound Depot if he wanted to know the fate of the Lone Tree. Inside the locker was a sack containing the ashes of one of Utah's most beloved landmarks."

(Will Bagley, “The Lone Tree Shrine: Fact And Fiction<” in “The Salt Lake Tribune,” 23 July 2000, at:

--Getting to the Root of It All

As usual, inconvenient historical facts end up proving just how easily Mormons can be stumped.

I hate to to say this, but it's still a dustbowl.
I grew up in Indiana, and I found Utah to be oppressively brown when I went there to BYU. It's sunny there though. Mormons must have been disappointed after living in southern Illinois. I had a bishop in Indiana who used to welcome new elders from Utah and say he had the great pleasure to introduce them to the color GREEN.

Fetal Deity
The Mormon church can't even get the story straight in their own publications!
Official Mormon "Newsroom:"

"...[Brigham Young] took them into a harsh country, irrigated and cultivated it and established many successful settlements. As the first group of Mormon pioneers reached the Salt Lake Valley in 1847 after traveling 1,300 miles across the Great Plains, Brigham Young looked out over what was then a barren, dry desert and declared, 'This is the right place.'"

Mormon church-owned "Deseret News:"

"Pioneer legend paints a grim picture of the Salt Lake Valley — barren, harsh and a desert, save a lone cedar tree.

"In reality, say historians, the valley was well watered, with tall grasses and trees along the many stream banks.

"'One of the greatest myths of the church is that the valley was total desolation,' said the late Dr. Stanley Kimball, a Utah historian. No pioneer diary accounts he ever found supported the desolate valley idea."

(I guess this is what happens when one side of your mouth doesn't let the other know what it's saying.)

Re: The Supposedly Barren Salt Lake Valley--Another Mormon Lie Caught and Treed . . .
Having grown up in SLC, trust me when I say that anyone who arrived in the SL valley in July 1847 and saw no trees would not stay. The temperature there at the time in July is over 100 degrees usually. NO THANKS. There were trees there and water.

Re: The Supposedly Barren Salt Lake Valley--Another Mormon Lie Caught and Treed . . .
I saw a documentary once in a Geology Class that talked about chest high lush grasses in many parts of Utah that look like a desert now. The decline from good to bad was blamed on overgrazing by settlers.

At the time it was shocking, as I had grown up with those, "Make the desert blossom like a rose" stories. Then I found out the Mormon settlers actually made the rose turn into a desert in many cases.

I also had an association with a river conservation group in Utah. They hated those Mormon myths. Mormons had an ingrained belief that it all sucked before, and we've used the water to make it look decent when once it was a desert. So getting people to conserve is difficult, they all think that it's so much better than it was when it was on its own.

Speaking as some one who has green as their favorite color

Green has its own brand of oppression. In the green part of the country you mentioned they spend $ millions to constantly fight and cut back the encroaching dendrite onslaught that wants to over grow and then consume the roadways.

I have no doubt that there is some primeval tick in our brains that tells us that green spots are much better for survival than other places. Its also a fact that life is so complex now that such urges are basically meaningless in any practical sense. Its simply a grossly obsolete feeling that gets conjured up, even if it is still quite moving.

Re: The Supposedly Barren Salt Lake Valley--Another Mormon Lie Caught and Treed . . .
thanks for the post,

MORmONS are so full of crap that its comical..... if a person is far enough out of their MORmONIC influence to not have to suffer directly from their insane MORmON antics.

Re: The Supposedly Barren Salt Lake Valley--Another Mormon Lie Caught and Treed . . .
From "On This Day in Mormon History:"

July 24, 1847 - Brigham Young enters Salt Lake Valley with the rest of the pioneer company, and officially decrees this as the new Mormon headquarters. Among these pioneers are three plural wives and three Black slaves. William Clayton writes upon seeing the valley: "There appears to be a unanimous agreement in regard to the richness of the soil and the good prospect of sustaining and fatt[en]ing stock with little trouble." Wilford Woodruff writes of his impressions of the valley: "We gazed with wonder and admiration upon the vast rich fertile valley which lay for about 25 miles in length & 16 miles in width Clothed with the Heaviest garb of green vegitation in the midst of which lay a large lake of Salt water . . . After gazing awhile upon the seenery we travled across the table land into the valley 4 miles to the encampment of our Brethren who had arived 2 days before. [-] they had pitched there encampment upon the bank of two small streams of pure water & had commenced plowing. Had broke about 5 acres of ground & commenced planting Potatoes."

But listen to the same Wilford Woodruff a three of decades later --

July 3, 1880 - Apostle Wilford Woodruff preaches: "When we came here thirty-three years ago we found this place a barren desert. There was no mark of the white man here· It was a desert indeed, hardly a green thing to meet the eye." However his diary entry for July 24, 1847 describes the Salt Lake Valley: "We gazed with wonder and admiration upon the vast rich fertile valley which lay for about 25 miles in length & 16 miles in width Clothed with the Heaviest garb of green vegetation . . . [a] glorious valley abounding with the best fresh water springs rivlets creeks & Brooks & Rivers of various sizes all of which gave animation to the sporting trout & other fish while the waters were wending there way into the great Salt lake."

Some things that are true are not useful, and some things that are not true are useful.

Growing up in Utah I was told that I had desert in my blood
Yet I became an avid waterskier, snowskier, and I felled 80-foot timber snags and harvested Christmas trees (with a permit) in the Uintahs and Wasatch. I snowmobiled, tagged along on a deer hunt in deep snow and thick conifer timber, I sledded in SLC, I waded in City, Red Butte, Emigration, Parley's, and Mill Creeks throughout summer, and I built treehouses too high to be safe. I dug snowcaves in 4 ft high snowbanks left by a fleet of snowplows.
I was there for the 1983 El Nino when State Street was a sandbagged river and the GSL rose something like 10 feet. They had to built a dike to keep the airport dry.
The Utah I knew was well-watered, yet I bragged of having the desert in my blood.

Then I spent two summers in the Arabian Desert. 135 degrees for weeks at a time, no rain for years at a time, blasting sandstorms, population driven indoors July-August, an ocean of flatness to the horizon in all directions, sterile- not even weeds.

Utah's got nothing on southern AZ, and AZ's got nothing on the Sahara/Arabian. Arabs actually DO have desert in their blood, not so much Mormons.

Re: Speaking as some one who has green as their favorite color
It is a powerful force though. Try this experiment. Get a large stack of thin green papers, and start waving them around at a bar, and watch as several women notice the color, and are compelled to move towards you for sake of this survival mechanism.

Re: The Supposedly Barren Salt Lake Valley--Another Mormon Lie Caught and Treed . . .
This explains something that happened on my Mission. We were assigned to the El Calhoun area of San Diego, which my Utah companion kept insisting was desert, while I, being from lush and green Tennessee and who had never seen a real desert, kept insisting was not, since it was not how I imagined a desert to be.

We finally took the matter up with a local, who I believe had a geography background, who laughed and explained it was a matter of perspective, but that by the correct scientific definition it was not quit desert since it was naturally well irrigated.

Dave the Atheist
I would imagine that there were a lot of cottonwood trees growing along the streams. 

Dave the Atheist
I know with every fiber of my being that this is true. 

Mormon Observer
Re: The Supposedly Barren Salt Lake Valley--Another Mormon Lie Caught and Treed . . .
There were native grasses that grew chest high to the horses in Nevada too. I have friends who remember their Grand parents talking about it. Their Grandparents remembered the chest high grass from 1905-1910.
Then the Morons over grazed the land with cattle and the local ecology never recovered. The native grass that used to grow on the hills in secluded valleys of Nevada are gone.

The irrigated fields have the obnoxious "Johnson Grass" which has a self perpetuating root system that is very hard to get rid of. When you water your garden with the ditch water the Johnson grass joins your garden!!!

Yes, the Mormons had lush grass,cottonwoods and juniper trees which they used until they had a dry desert to live in.

"Recovery from Mormonism -"