Thursday, September 30, 2010

Twenty-five Americans with Colors Flying

When was the first United States flag displayed in the territory that is now Utah? Many would guess that the pioneers of 1847 carried the first Stars and Stripes into the state. George A. Smith reported that the Pueblo Detachment of the Mormon battalion marched into the Salt Lake Valley on July twenty-ninth in 1847 "carrying the flag of the United States." Within days he continued, the pioneers hoisted the Stars and Stripes over their encampment. Other flag raisings followed. Nevertheless, the first documented display of the U.S. flag took place twenty-two years earlier.

What is now the boundary between Utah and Idaho, was once the border between Mexico and the Oregon territory. Peter Skene Ogden, a fur trapper with the British Hudson's Bay Company, wrote in his journal, "it was not determined between Great Britain and America to whom [the Oregon territory] belonged." In the 1820s both British and American fur companies competed in the area. Each group of trappers claimed the region a part of their country. The area that is now Utah, however, was clearly Mexican land.

During the spring of 1825, both British and American trappers traveled south of the Oregon territory entering Mexican lands. Ogden camped along the Weber River near what is now Mountain Green. On May twenty-third, while fourteen of Ogden's men were absent from camp, "a party of 25 Americans with Colours [sic.] flying" arrived and set up camp about one hundred yards distant from the Hudson's Bay encampment. Here wrote Frederick Merk, they "hoisted the American Flag and proclaimed to all that they were in United State Territories." Ogden recorded that the leader of the American trappers, Johnson Gardner "lost no time informing all hands that they were in United States Territories." Gardner went on to tell the British tappers that they could leave Ogden and join with the Americans. The Americans would pay "3 ½ dollars" per pound in cash for beaver pelts. Ogden's men had debts with the Hudson's Bay Company. Deserting to the American side would give them a fresh start with American companies. Some of Ogden's men deserted and joined with Gardner's group. Ogden had a license from the Mexican to trap in their territory, but Garner continued to insist that the area was U.S. territory. Outnumbered and having lost some of his men, Ogden withdrew.

From this incident, the location became known a "Deserter's Point." The story gives us the earliest document display of the United States flag in Utah. What did the flag look like that Garner and his party carried into camp and defiantly raised? The official United State flag from 1822 to 1836 displayed twenty-six stars. However, the American flag documented may have also been a "trade flag." Trappers often included trade flags in their stores. These flags often included an American eagle in the blue field.