In downtown Salt Lake City sits a monument for the Lone Cedar Tree. The Lone Cedar was rumored to be the only tree in the valley at the time Mormon pioneers settled in the area. Its famous role in the story of Mormon settlement has led some to question the tale's veracity.
In 1847, Brigham Young and his party of Mormon settlers arrived in what would eventually become Utah. Mormons were escaping persecution in the East by the United States. No one had a clear idea of where their destination, and new home, would be, but many agreed that it would have to reside beyond the United States’ political border. Many initially thought that the territories of California or Oregon would be their last stop since it was as far west as one could get from the U.S. without crossing an ocean. However, John C. Fremont’s expeditions into Utah made the territory an attractive place to settle and it was eventually decided that the Utah area would be where the Mormons settled.
Utah was home to the Utes, Paiutes, Dine’, Goshutes, and Shoshone. At the time, some mountain men also lived in the area. These men largely served as road guides for wagoneers heading west and their numbers were generally scarce. Utah was certainly more of a desert than the Mormons envisioned their new home to be and had what many diligent journal writers described as a “dead sea” to accompany it. However, there was one tree, the "Lone Cedar Tree," in the Salt Lake Valley which provided coveted shade. Seemingly everyone used this iconic tree to rendezvous under—children, church officials, lovers, weary travelers. The tree’s significance to these early Mormons was commemorated with a monument in 1933 by the Daughters of Utah Pioneers. The monument initially encompassed the dying tree, but in 1958, the tree was cut down and stolen. A bounty for it was placed by the Daughters of Utah Pioneers. When the missing lumber never turned up, a modified monument was erected in 1960 to preserve what remained of the leveled stump. A bronze replica soon stood in place of the section of tree that was stolen. Unfortunately, the remaining stump of the original tree was later stolen. The monument today contains no traces of the original tree.
However, historians argue whether the tree ever existed in the sense that it is now remembered. Some claim that stories exaggerate the tree’s existence because journals at the time mention other trees in the valley. Some dispute whether the tree was a cedar at all. Moreover, some accounts mention a “Lone Cedar Post” in the proximity of where the tree was believed to have stood, leading a few to believe that it was the post rather than a tree which provided such needed shade. Nevetheless, the memorialization of the lone cedar tree still stands in downtown Salt Lake City to commemorate the pioneer memory that permeates much of early Utah history.