Meaning of the Symbols on the Utah State Flag

Big Flags at Colonial

The Utah State Flag flying proudly with the Stars and Stripes.

The design of the Utah State flag incorporates the emblems found on the Great Seal of the Utah which are placed on a blue field.    This is a common pattern used for many of our state flags, and while some critics complain that the design of state flags should be more distinctive—the Utah State flag has a long and rich history to recommend and its design reflects the state’s heritage.

Argus Pix

Original Utah State Seal adopted in 1896.

The Great Seal of Utah adopted in 1896 is a product of the time and tells us how Utahns of that day saw themselves, and perhaps more importantly, how they wanted the rest of the nation and the world to view them.  The design of the State Seal was later incorporated into the design of the Utah State flag.  Examination of the flag’s design can give us insight about Utah, its history and its peoples.

Early version

Correct design of the Utah State Flag produced in 2011 for the Utah State Legislature.

Correct Design withUtah Territory Second SealUtah Territory Second SealUtah State Flag Perry's versionUtah State Flag Perry's versionCorrect Design withCorrect Design with

Utah Territory Second SealCorrect Design withWhen creating a device for the Great Seal of Utah in 1896 designers took the seal of the Utah Territory, and placed its central device on a shield that they placed in the center of the flag.  The beehive is a symbol evoking the Provisional State of Deseret, which Congress rejected repeatedly.  Yet more importantly the beehive is a meaningful symbol of the pioneers’ early existence in the Great Basin.  These settlers were a self-sufficient community filling all their needs from the local sources as does a bee colony living in a hive. As if they were placing new hives, settlements were founded and placed up and down the corridor from Salt Lake north to Canada and south to Las Vegas.  The histories of the pioneer settlements, of the provisional State of Deseret and of Utah’s days as a U.S. territory are all reflected in the symbol of the Beehive which is—appropriately—at the center of the seal and the flag

Utah State Seal b-wThe sego lilies are native flowers from which the bees gathered their sustenance just as the Pioneers had to produce their cops locally.  The Ute Indians who lived in the area taught early Mormon settlers how to eat sego lily bulbs it times when food was scarce.

The motto industry, together with the hive, represented the hard work required to survive in what was then a harsh and unfriendly environment.  Not just to survive, but to make the desert “blossom as a rose” (Isaiah 35:1).  Today the word industry has narrowed in meaning to represent factories and manufacturing; however, in the nineteenth century industry was defined as the hard work needed to produce results.

The name Utah, forced on the settlers since Congress did not like the name Deseret because of its origin in the Book of Mormon, is a Ute Indian word roughly meaning “people who live higher up in the mountains.”

The six arrows piercing the shield remembered the six native tribes that inhabited Deseret before the coming of the pioneers.  Like the boundaries of the Provisional State of Deseret, the lands of these native peoples are not by the boundaries of the present day state.  Rather, the state lines are like a cookie cutter pressed into the rolled out dough of larger lands.   These boundaries were produced as Congress repeatedly cut off portions of the Provisional State of Deseret and later of Utah Territory to create neighboring states while ignoring petitions from the would be citizens of Deseret and Utah Territory.

While there were several reasons for Congress’ repeated refusals of petitions for statehood, the fact was also that these settlers were an unpopular minority that Congress did not want to admit on equal ground with the citizens of other states.

The years 1847 and 1896 define a period in Utah history known locally as the struggle for statehood.  So, in 1896 when Utah finally achieved statehood–the placement of the American Eagle and the crossed flags behind the shield announced to the nation and the world: “Despite all opposition, we made it, Utah is finally a state.”

Today a full color design adopted a century ago and based on the Utah’s state seal sits at the center of the Utah State flag.  The symbols on the flag will recount Utah’s history for those who examine it.

Utah State Flag Perry's versionCorrect Design with

July 21, 2014   No Comments

Mark Twain and Utah’s Grand Beehive

The central emblem on Utah’s state flag is the beehive, and this is more than appropriate since the likeness of the beehive permeates Utah’s history and culture.  The state’s nickname is the Beehive State and visitors to Utah will note that the image of the beehive abounds within the states boundaries.  Businesses and organizations picture beehives on their signs and logos, and even highway road markers take on the shape of the hive.  Perhaps no other state has an emblem which is so much on display.

Roughing It Missouri

Mark Twain’s illustration of the Missouri State Seal. He turned the shield held by the bears into the top of a whiskey barrel.

The beehive symbol had its origins in the early days of settlement by the Utah Pioneers who recognized that a hive populated with bees gave them an excellent example of a community united in their labors for the common good.  Isolated from eastern markets in the mid nineteenth century, the valleys of the Great Basin severely hampered the availability of manufactured goods and food stuffs.  The necessities of existence were necessarily produced locally rather than being shipped in by wagon.  So like a swarm of bees working together to produce from the environment everything needed for survival, the early Utah settlers worked to create a society where cooperation and hard work would provide the necessities of life.

Roughing It Beehive

Mark Twain’s drawing of Utah Territory’s Beehive.


Utah Territory Second SealIt was not only these Utah Pioneers who saw the appropriateness of the beehive symbol; novelist Mark Twain visited pioneer Utah in 1861 describing his experience in this book Roughing It.  Contemplating the seal of his own home state of Missouri, Twain described that seal as being, “always too figurative.”  Then he turned his attention to the emblem of Utah and noted, “… it was simple, unostentatious, and fitted like a glove. It was a representation of a GOLDEN BEEHIVE, with the bees all at work!”

Argus Pix

Drawing of original Utah State Seal adopted in 1896.

Utahns still work together to created a great community, and the grand Beehive beset with bees is still Utah’s paramount symbol at home and around the world.

July 16, 2014   No Comments

Our Flag Declares that We are United

Looking at the Family of American Flags, we can see the resemblance between the United States flag and the banner we call the Grand Union flag.  They both display the colors red, white and blue.  They both have a field of thirteen stripes with a symbol of union in the upper hoist next to the flag pole.  However, one has a look distinctly British and the other one does not.

Colonial Colors

Known today as the Grand Union Flag, this banner was our unofficial national flag in the early days of the American Revolution. The Colonists were fighting for their rights as Englishmen, but still felt allegiance to the King.

Originally known as the Continental Colors or more simply just as the Union flag, the Grand Union flag was born early in the conflict between the British Mother Country and her American Colonies.  Even after the first volley of muskets sounded at Lexington and Concord, the colonists thought of themselves as English men and women who shared the same rights as their fellow subjects of the Crown who lived on British soil.  These British colonists felt, at the beginning of the struggle, that they merely wanted to secure the rights that were guaranteed to all of King George’s subjects.  They believed their grievance was with Parliament not with Great Britain or with their king.  The Grand Union Flag reflected these feelings.

Paul Revere, when he made his famous ride to warn the countryside of troop movements, is often quoted as saying, “The British are coming!”  Although he did “ride to spread the alarm”, he most certainly did not use those words as he rode through “every Middlesex village and farm, for the country folk to up and to arm.”  Why not?  Well, he and the “country folk” all considered themselves to be British.  To say  “the British are coming,” he might as well have said, “We are coming.”  What would he have said?  “The regulars are coming”—meaning British troops of the regular regiments sent to Boston by the British Government.  Since these troops wore red uniforms, they were also called Lobster Backs or simply Red Coats.  So, he could have said, “The Red Coats are coming” or “The Lobster Backs are coming.”

Red Ensign

The Red Ensign was flown by British Merchant Shipping and furnished the pattern for Colonial militia colors. The Union Jack in the upper corner was and is an emblem of the Union of England with Scotland.

If the Grand Union is the U.S. Flag’s father, the Red Ensign is the flag’s English grandfather.  The Red Ensign, traditionally flown at sea by British commercial shipping, which was and is still fondly known as the Red Duster or the Meteor Flag, is a red flag with the British Union Flag in the upper corner next to the halyards or ship’s rigging—Red Duster because of it primarily red color, and Meteor because it red field flowed from the Union Jack in its canton corner like the tail of a meteor.

When the Colonists fashioned the Grand Union flag to reflect their attitudes of 1775, they took the British Red Ensign and simply added six white stripes to the flag’s red field, which created a field of thirteen red and white stripes.  Striped flags were sometimes known as “our rebellious stripes” and showed the defiance the British Colonists felt toward the “Intolerable Acts” of Parliament, but the Union Flag in the upper corner portrayed their loyalty to George III, Great Britain’s king.  Since there were thirteen stripes that denoted that there were thirteen Colonies of British North America united in the fight to preserve their rights as British subjects of the King.  Notice the word Union, the British Union was in the upper corner of the flag, but the American Union or thirteen stripes was displayed over the rest of the flag’s field.  The Union Jack symbolized the political union of England and Scotland while the thirteen red and white stripes announced a new American political union.  So, the new striped flag was referred to as a Union Flag or, often more simply, as the Continental Flag since the thirteen colonials where spread along the eastern seaboard of the North American Continent.   Years after the American Revolution’s end, historians—remembering the Grand American Revolution called the striped Red Ensign the Grand Union flag and the name stuck.

13-Star Flag

A new “Union” of 13 stars replace the British Union Jack when the United Colonies declared their independence, and like a constellation rising in the evening sky, the new Union of Colonies would rise to take its place among the nations of the earth.

As time passed, the chasm between the British king and his American subjects grew wider and deeper.  Finally on July 2nd in 1776, a resolution proposed by Richard Henry Lee passed in the Continental Congress declaring:

Resolved, That these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved.

The name “United Colonies” was still symbolized by the thirteen stripes of the Grand Union flag, but the British Union Jack would be replace by a new Union, one of thirteen stars, representing a new constellation.  Like a constellation rising in the nighttime sky to takes its place with the other stars in the firmament, this new constellation symbolized a new union of independent states  joined together in a union rising to take its places among the nations and empires of the world.

The three flags share colors, appearance and, most importantly, the concept of political union.  The idea of American union would be tested decades later in the American Civil War, and today the Union remains strong.  Today we see with some newly independent nations that union, despite strong desire, is not always easy to achieve or maintain.  As a nation, the United States is blessed to be able to proclaim our Latin national motto, “E pluribus unum” which translates one out of many.  Our flag, it design and its history all declare that the United States is “One Nation, Indivisible.”

June 30, 2014   No Comments