History, Pioneers, Provo History

Provo Noting 136th Birthday

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How did April 3 come to be designated as Provo’s birthday? That’s a logical question as the city commemorates its 136th anniversary.

In a nutshell, the first colony of Mormon settlers sent to Utah Valley by Brigham Young reached Provo River April 1, 1949. After a day of exploring, they started to built Fort Utah (original name of the settlement) on the 3rd – and that’s the day we observe as the city’s birthday.

There’s more to the story, of course.

For many years March 12 had been celebrated as the date the pioneer colonizers arrived. Reviewing historical accounts early in 1968, this writer realized that the date had to be incorrect.

Church records show that two of the LDS Council meetings to plan the Utah Valley colonization were held in Great Salt Lake City AFTER March 12.

A meeting March 13 at Brigham Young’s office resulted in the appointment of John S. Higbee as bishop of the Fort Utah Branch and leader of the colony. And on March 17 the names of 33 men “who were going to settle in Utah Valley” were read.

Before they could embark on the mission, the colonizers still had to outfit their wagons and assemble livestock, farm implements, seeds, and provisions. Obviously, they could not have traveled to Utah Valley until about the first of the month.

Indeed, George Washington Bean, of the original Party, wrote in his journal that the settlers arrived at Provo River on his 18th birthday, which happened to be April 1.

Since I was Herald editor at the time, I published these findings in a Page 1 article Jan. 21, 1968, along with varying statements by a number of historians.

On Feb. 4, I wrote Mayor Verl G. Dixon and Commissioners Leo Allen and Ray Murdock suggesting a study by an officially appointed committee of historians to clarify the founding date.

The commissioners agreed such an important date in local history needed to be “firmed up.” They appointed Dr. Gustive O. Larson, chairman, Dr. and Mrs. LeRoy Hafen and Theron H. Luke as a panel to make the study.

The committee’s report, submitted to the commission early in March 1969, outlined considerable data pertaining to the settlement of Provo, and affirmed the April 1 and April 3 dates.

Accordingly, the city commission adopted an ordinance March 19 designating April 3 – the date work started on a permanent settlement – as “Provo City’s Official Birthday.”

The original Fort Utah was built south of Provo River somewhere in the vicinity of the present Geneva road. A monument erected by the Daughters of Pioneers in 1937 marks the general location, but isn’t intended to designate the exact site.

Because of cold and wetness at the original location, a new fort was built in the spring of 1850 on higher ground at the site of the present North (Sowiette) Park at Fifth North and Fifth West.

By 1851, and 1852, settlers were building on lots outside the forts. There still were Indian troubles, of course, and in 1854 during the “Walker War” (named for a hostile Ute chief) Provo’s pioneers proceeded to build a 12-foot mud-and-rock wall around a segment of the city.

The project, never finished, was suspended when the Indian threat eased and the scene became more peaceful.

In 1968, the Utah Lake Lions Club in cooperation with Brigham Young University archaeologists and Provo City sought to prove out the exact location of the original For Utah, but were unable to find remnants considered to be conclusive evidence.