The Social History of Zion National Park

Sep 5, 2018

The Social History of Zion National Park

The social history of Zion National Park includes great explorers, tribes of Native Americans, Mormon Pioneers, and a few name changes and interpretations of the names.

Native Americans

John Wesley Powell, circa 1872, is credited for giving this spectacular region the moniker of “Mukuntuweap,” allegedly honoring the Paiute Indians who had lived in southern Utah for centuries; however, the Paiute Indians don’t admit to influencing the name.  Some say that “Mukuntuweap” means “Straight Canyon” or “Straight River,” but other interpretations include “Place Where Great Spirit Dwells.”  One author wrote that the Paiutes of Southern Utah called the canyon, “Loogoon,” meaning “quiver of arrows.”

Religious Settlers

When Mormons began settling the area in 1857 to grow corn, Joseph Black rode his horse through the canyon and, after seeing the spectacular sights, galloped back to exclaim to his fellow Mormons how beautiful it was.   He described the cliffs and scenery in such glowing terms that some scoffed at him, calling the canyon, “Joseph’s Glory.”

An anecdote about Isaac Behunin adds to the park’s social history.  He settled in Zion Canyon in the late 19th Century to raise livestock and tobacco.  Behunin is known to have named the region, “Little Zion,” because he believed it was just as deserving of the religious title “Zion” as was Salt Lake City.

Brigham Young, the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormon church) put a stop to calling the area “Little Zion,” evidently because of the corrupt men living there.  He reportedly said, “No it’s not Zion.  Zion is a placed where the pure in heart dwell.”  Spring-boarding off Brigham Young’s comments, and adding a little humor to the social history of Zion National park, settlers in Southern Utah sometimes referred to the canyons as “Not Zion.”

Federal Government

The social history of Zion National park would not be complete without mentioning the federal government’s role.  In 1909, US President William Howard Taft used the Antiquities Act to proclaim the region as “Mukuntuweap National Monument,” honoring the Paiute word.

It was Park Service Director, Horace Albright, who stepped in to change the name and expand the Park’s visibility and accessibility.  In 1917, he visited Mukuntuweap and was smitten with its colors and majestic rock.  Hearing the Utahans referring to Mukuntuweap as Zion Park, he decided to lobby the White House to change the name.  He thought that Mukuntuweap was too hard to say and spell.  President Woodrow Wilson renamed the park “Zion National Monument” in 1918, and later Congress assigned “Zion National Park.”

From roughly 2,000 tourists in 1914 to over 4 million each year now, Zion has become the third most visited national park in the United States.  And this has brought growing pains.  Managing traffic, parking, and the numbers of visitors has been a challenge.  Federal funding has decreased, making it difficult to employ sufficient park rangers to police the area, and trampling of vegetation and occasional vandalism have resulted.  Park officials are proposing ways to limit the number of visitors during busy seasons.



The Social History of Zion National Park

Article By: Clear Content Marketing


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