In 2011 Utah state lawmakers voted to designate the Browning M1911 pistol as the official state firearm. The gun would be the latest addition to a surprising collection of historic state symbols.
You’ve probably heard of official Utah state symbols such as the beehive, the seagull, and the sego lily. But did you know that the Utah Legislature has provided its citizens with an official state cooking pot, a folk dance, a plaid tartan, and an historic state vegetable?
Utah’s official state cooking pot is the Dutch Oven, the cast iron three-legged kettle used by mountain men who explored the Intermountain West in the early 1800s. Trapper Osborne Russell writes in the 1830s that he liked to cook greasy grizzly bear meat because the cast-iron pots needed re-seasoning after so many days of boiling thistle roots for dinner. Although very heavy, the Dutch Oven was an essential piece of equipment for Mormon hand-cart pioneers making their way across the plains in the 1840s, and was used extensively in the mining camps of Bingham, Price, and Cedar City.
Square Dancing is Utah’s official folk dance, and honors the traditions of Mormon settlers who danced as a respite from harsh frontier life. Dancing was taught in every schoolhouse and countless outdoor dance pavilions were built throughout the state. Dancing the waltz was not permitted, as it was deemed too intimate, but square dancing was a way to bring people together in a wholesome social setting.
Utah’s official plaid tartan honors the state’s Scottish heritage. The first American of Scottish descent who left a lasting mark upon Utah was Ephraim Logan, a mountain man who visited Cache Valley in 1824, where he probably ate from a Dutch Oven. Logan named the river that ran through the valley after his ancestral Scottish clan, and the Mormons who later settled in Cache Valley named their town for the Logan River.
Finally, Utah’s historic state vegetable is the venerable sugar beet. Utah achieved prominence in 19th-century America for its efforts to produce sugar from beets, an industry that sustained Utah’s economy for nearly 100 years. Surely such a sweet feat is worthy of the beet’s designation as a state symbol.
Image: Sugar Beets. Utah sugar beets awaiting processing. The girl holds a cleaned beet in her right hand and a glass containing the amoung of sugar the beet will yield in her other hand. Courtesy of Utah State Historical Society.
See the “Symbols and Motto” entry at http://historytogo.utah.gov/facts/symbolsandmotto.html; Utah symbol entries on Cooking Pot, Folk Dance, Tartan, and Historic Vegetable on Pioneer: Utah’s Online Library at http://pioneer.utah.gov/research/utah_symbols/; Craig Miller, Social Dance in the Mormon West, Salt Lake City, Utah Arts Council, 2000; and Robert Gehrke, “Utah Senate Approves Official State Firearm,” The Salt Lake Tribune, 2/10/2011.