Two Franciscan friars, Francisco Dominguez and Silvestre de Escalante, were the first Spaniards to visit the area that makes up present-day Utah County. They arrived in the area from Santa Fe, New Mexico, in search of a direct route to Monterey, California. Arriving in 1776, Father Escalente described the Provo/Orem Valley as having comfortable weather both day and night. "This place is the most pleasant, beautiful, and fertile land in all New Spain," he wrote. The two priests instructed the native Americans in Christian teachings, and though they promised to return, no further record of them remains.
Etienne Provost, a French Canadian trapper, was the next recorded European visitor. He arrived in the area in 1825 with a band of men in search of fur-bearing animals. The trappers were visited by 20 or 30 natives, whose leader told them that they could not smoke peace pipes together because there was iron in the vicinity. Provost and his men moved their knives and guns further away, and subsequently the natives attacked them with hidden knives and tomahawks, killing 17 of the 22 men. Provost and four other men escaped and made their way to the mountains.
The Mormon pioneers, fleeing religious persecution in Illinois, were the next European visitors to the area. Brigham Young led his followers to Salt Lake Valley in 1847, where they immediately began planting crops and constructing houses. In 1849 a permanent settlement in Provo was established by Mormon pioneers.
Provo was founded in 1850 as Fort Utah, named after the Ute tribe that inhabited the region. Later, the name was changed to Fort Provo in honor of Provost, the French trapper.
A war between the settlers and the native tribes took place in 1850, and the Walker War followed in 1853. The Mormons built a fort that they called Fort Utah as a protection against their native enemies. Shortly after, settlers began building houses around the fort. By 1852 hotels and businesses had been established.
By 1861 all of the Utah Valley was being settled. Even though lack of water remained a problem, many of the earlier settlers from nearby valleys began living on the lands that now comprise the city of Orem. When railroad connections were built from Salt Lake City (1873) and Scofield (1878), Provo became a shipping point for the region's mines. Provo is the seat of Brigham Young University (founded in 1875) and Utah Valley State College. Nearby are the Uinta National Forest, with headquarters in Provo; a state fish hatchery; a wild bird refuge; and Provo Peak.
Today, Provo is one of the fastest growing metropolitan areas in the nation, with population gains of nearly 40 percent in the 1990s and into the new millennium. The area boasts a high quality of life due in part to its proximity to an abundance of recreational and leisure options in the nearby Wasatch Mountains and Utah Lake. Provo is also ranked as one of the Country's most "stress-free" cities.
Historical Information: Department of History, Brigham Young University, 2130 JFSB, Provo, UT 84602; telephone (801)422-4335