Utah gets its name from the nomadic Ute people who, along with the Paiute and Sho-shone, lived in the Great Basin desert more than 8000 years ago. Europeans arrived as early as 1776, but Native Americans inhabited the region freely until the mid-19th century. Led by Brigham Young, the Mormons fled to Utah to escape religious persecution, establishing Salt Lake City on July 24, 1847. They called their state Deseret, meaning ‘honeybee, ’ according to the Book of Mormon.
After the US acquired the Utah Territory from Mexico, the Mormons petitioned Congress for statehood six times. Their petitions were consistently rejected because of Mormon polygamy (the practice of having more than one spouse at the same time), which was outlawed by the US government. Tensions grew between the Mormons and the federal government until 1890, when Mormon Church President Wilford Woodruff announced that God had told him that Mormons should abide by US law. Polygamy was discontinued and, soon afterward, Utah became the 45th state in 1896. Today Mormons remain in the majority in Utah and continue to exert a powerful conservative influence on life in the state.