Utah Lake sustained indigenous populations with fresh water and fishing for centuries. Beginning in the 1800s, Mormon pioneers settled the area; nowadays, heavy industry has polluted the once welcoming water source.

Utah Lake is a freshwater body situated in the Provo–Orem area of Utah County. The Lake has been utilized for hundreds of years by a variety of Native tribes, including but not limited to the Utes, Paiutes, and Shoshones. A variety of American Indian groups such as the Fremont people lived along the lake’s shores prior to these contemporary tribes, and they all had settlements and benefitted from the lake’s resources and fresh drinking water.

Excavation sites organized by archeologist Joel Janetski have yielded a variety of culture-rich native artifacts including arrowheads, beads, shells, cooking utensils, and ceramics like clay pots. The Dominguez and Escalante Expedition of 1776 visited Utah Valley from New Mexico and described the lake and valley in glowing terms. Fur traders also frequented the area in the 1820s and 1830s. In 1847, Euro-American members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints entered Utah Valley, and they eventually utilized Utah Lake as a source of food and water for agriculture. This marked the beginning of settler colonialism and Western encroachment into the region which ultimately led to numerous settler–native conflicts over the land around Utah Lake.

As one of the largest freshwater lakes west of the Mississippi River, Utah Lake historically was home to a wide variety of fish, bird, and plant species. The water now has high levels of phosphorus and calcium carbonate sediments, a result of pollution. Utah Lake remains an expansive sight for those living in the Provo–Orem area, and residents and visitors sometimes use the lake for watersports in the summer and ice fishing & skating in the winter.

Images

Utah Lake
Utah Lake Modern photo of Utah Lake taken in 2020. Source: “Utah Lake.” Sharon Kell Califano, last modified May 9, 2020. Via Pixabay (free Pixabay license). https://pixabay.com/photos/utah-panorama-antelope-island-5146545/.
Map
Map Map created by Spanish explorers Dominguez and Escalante, 1777. Source:
Map of Dominguez and Escalante expedition. Antonio Velez y Escalante, 1777. Via Artstor. https://library.artstor.org/#/asset/LOCEON_1039795021;prevRouteTS=1638399962803.
Ute
Ute Photo of a Ute Man wearing beads and traditional dress taken by C.R. Savage, 1870. Source:

“Indian Charley, a Ute Brave.” C.R. Savage, 1870. Via ArtStor, 1870, accessed on December 1, 2021. https://library-artstor-org.erl.lib.byu.edu/#/asset/AEASTMANIG_10313029069;prevRouteTS=1638400358940.

Location

Metadata

Devin Blake Sanders, Brigham Young University, “Utah Lake,” Intermountain Histories, accessed February 22, 2024, https://www.intermountainhistories.org/items/show/591.