Few people remember that Utah once extended from the crest of the Rocky Mountains to the foot of the Sierra Nevada. Even fewer recall the punishing political process that reduced the state to its present borders. As this past week's headline about ceding Wendover to Nevada indicates, the movement to reduce Utah to the size of Rhode Island isn't over.
When Brigham Young proposed creating a new state named Deseret in 1849, he was thinking big. Deseret's borders encompassed most of today's Utah, Nevada and Arizona, and portions of California, New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho and Oregon. Ignoring such wisdom, Congress created Utah Territory. Still, its 1850 boundaries included most of today's Nevada and tasty bits of Wyoming and Colorado.
By 1856, some residents of Carson Valley petitioned Congress to let them join California, complaining of the "gross persecutions" they suffered at the hands of the Mormon majority. Agitation grew after the Utah War and in July 1859, western Utahns called for the formation of a separate territory. Congress obliged and on March 2, 1861, created the Territory of Nevada. Utah lost some 73,574 square miles west of the 116th degree west longitude, near today's Carlin, Nevada. The law also took away all those prospective mines and ski resorts on Colorado's west slope.
Nevada's congressional delegate promptly sponsored a measure that cut Utah back to the 115th meridian, near present-day Wells, Nevada, in 1862. Nevada, now a state, took another bite in 1866 that put the line at present Wendover. In 1868, we lost Evanston, Wyoming, too.
By 1870, Congress had reduced Utah from 220,196 square miles to some 84,899 square miles, a mere shadow of its former self. All this was done largely at the insistence of politicians bitterly opposed to the political power of the LDS Church. Now, it's one of our own politicians who thinks Utah is too big. Most of the 1,500 citizens of Wendover are tired of living behind the Zion Curtain, with both Utah's artificial border and liquor laws separating them from their glitzy but fallen sister, West Wendover.
While the Nevada town's population is surging past 5,000 amidst the glitter of great architecture, Las Vegas-style, the Utah side looks like it was hit by one of the atomic bombs the Army Air Force once practiced dropping here. "Look at the Utah side," says one resident. "It's so dumpy." Congressman James Hansen is endorsing handing over the holy half of Wendover to the heathens. Not that Wendoveronians seem to mind: Die-hard Utahns are as scarce on the border as Democrats are inside it.
Harkening to his beleaguered constituents, Hansen is ready to hand them over to Nevada. "Let's do it," he says. While we are at it, let's move the entire border twenty-four miles east. That would give Mountain Meadows to Nevada and then it could deal with it. Heck, let's give away all of Tooele County. Imagine how much gas Salt Lakers would save if they only had to drive to the county line to have fun.
But isn't there something sinister in dismantling Deseret one border town at a time? What's next? Will St. George become North Mesquite? Don't these people appreciate our history? We've got Brigham Young. Who has Nevada got?Frank Sinatra? Elvis? Wayne Newton? Fine. If Wendover's Utahns can't appreciate our exorbitant taxes, over-crowded schools, potholes and high moral tone, let 'em go.
Historian Will Bagley deplores government-sponsored gambling.