Utah History Encyclopedia


By William B. Smart
Utah settlement continued for half a century after 1847 as settlers called by Mormon Church authorities moved into outlying areas of the state. By the turn of the century, most of the state had been settled, but a vast area--the Uinta Basin--remained an Indian reservation largely closed to whites. The story of its settlement is connected with the story of William Henry Smart, who devoted his life and sacrificed his fortune to building the Uinta Basin.

Smart was a second-generation pioneer, born in 1862 in Franklin, Idaho, a year after his father, Thomas Sharratt Smart, led fifty families there to establish that state's first permanent white settlement. By the time he was in his mid-thirties, William had served three missions for the LDS Church, including a term as president of the Eastern States Mission, had built a thriving livestock business, was a founder or director of Beneficial Life Insurance Company, Utah National Bank, and several other companies, and was on his way to becoming a wealthy man.

A call in 1901 to preside over the LDS Wasatch Stake ended that. Even as he moved his home from Cache Valley to Heber, pressure was building to open the Uinta Basin Indian lands to white settlement. Smart saw the opportunities. In 1903, he spent much of the summer exploring the Uinta Basin on horseback, and sent an enthusiastic recommendation to Mormon Church President Joseph F. Smith that the church should be ready to move when the land rush began. The recommendation was approved, and Smart was named to prepare the way. He made more trips, inspecting soil, water, and timber resources, locating townsites, and outlining irrigation systems. With this information, he formed the Wasatch Development Corporation and sent word to wards and stakes throughout the church that the way was open to file on Uinta Basin lands.

His plans aroused criticism from non-Mormon, but they worked; the resulting land rush was largely Mormon. In 1906, following Smart's recommendation, the Church's First Presidency enlarged the Uintah Stake to include the entire basin, and made Smart president of it.

A quarter-century of unrelenting labor followed. From the Uinta Mountains to the Book Cliffs, from Strawberry Summit to the Colorado state line, he drove his whitetop buggy, visiting settlements and isolated ranchers, encouraging, cajoling, calling to repentance, baptizing. In 1910 he became the first president of Duchesne Stake and, in 1920, of Roosevelt Stake.

But Smart was far more than an ecclesiastical leader; he was an organizer and builder. In Vernal, he founded the Uintah Telephone Company in 1907 to bring the first phones into the basin. He built a flour mill, an electric power plant, the Vernal water works, the Vernal amusement hall, the agricultural experiment station, the Uintah Stake Academy, and the Uintah State Bank. He purchased the Vernal Express.

In other towns, it was the same. He founded or bought newspapers in Roosevelt, Duchesne, and Myton, and then consolidated them into the Duchesne Record. He built banks in Roosevelt and Duchesne. He donated the land for Wasatch High School in Roosevelt, campaigned for passage of the bond to build it, and, in the hard years of 1920 and 1921 went deeply into personal debt to keep it going.

His practice was always the same: build the enterprise, often at considerable financial sacrifice, and then turn it over to others to run. In that way, he exhausted his wealth, selling his stock in the Utah State Bank and the Beneficial Life Insurance Company, for example, to pay off stockholders in the failed Duchesne Bank. "Dollars," he wrote in his journal, "must not stand between me and my brethren."

Smart entered the Uinta Basin a wealthy man. He left it, twenty-eight years later, in poverty; but he also left behind a seldom equalled legacy of service and sacrifice. The last three years before his death in 1937 were spent as an ordinance worker in the Salt Lake LDS Temple.