Agency History #2645


When Congress created Utah Territory in 1850, it also divided the territory into three judicial districts with federally appointed judges to preside over each. The act further provided that the jurisdiction of the several courts, including probate courts, should be limited by law (An Act to Establish a Territorial Government for Utah, reprinted in Compiled Laws of Utah, 1876). Utah's Second Territorial Legislature generously interpreted this law, and expanded the authority of county probate courts to include original jurisdiction, both civil and criminal. This gave them parallel jurisdiction with district courts, and this was in addition to the traditional right to exercise jurisdiction in the probate of wills, the administration of estates of deceased persons, and the guardianship of minors, idiots, and insane persons (Laws of Utah, Chapter 42, 1852). In 1869 the Territorial Legislature further expanded the county probate courts' authority by appointing the courts to adjudicate ownership of already surveyed town site lots on the public domain (Laws of Utah, Chapter 7, 1869). Probate Courts adjudicated claims and authorized deeds of conveyance.

Concerned about Mormon power in Utah, Congressman Luke Poland sponsored a bill which passed in 1874. The Poland Act revoked Utah county probate courts' jurisdiction in criminal and civil affairs with the exception of divorce cases. In 1887 the Edmunds-Tucker Act revoked the probate courts' jurisdiction over divorces as well. At statehood county probate courts were abolished altogether. In Iron County, Fifth District Court: Iron County assumed the jurisdiction over estates previously held by the Iron County Probate Court.


Iron County, briefly called Little Salt Lake County, was one of the original six counties organized in the newly created Utah Territory in 1850. From 1852 to 1874 the Iron County Probate Court handled civil and criminal cases in addition to the estate and guardianship matters traditionally handled by probate courts. Civil cases heard by the Iron County Probate Court include divorce, naturalization, and property disputes. In 1872 the Probate Court began holding special session to adjudicate land claims in Iron County's cities and towns. After 1874 the court no longer handled criminal or civil cases, with the exception of divorces, which it continued to hear until 1887.


The Territorial Legislature initially appointed probate court judges for four year terms, and the Governor issued their commissions. Judges were required to reside in the county and to preside at all sessions of the probate court. In practice, probate judges were often also Mormon ecclesiastical leaders. The Poland Act (1874) made probate court judges publicly elected officials and the Edmunds-Tucker Act (1887) provided that the judges should be appointed by the President of the United States.


County probate courts met quarterly in March, June, September and December. Originally the judge of each county probate court appointed a clerk to keep a true and faithful record of all the proceedings of the court (Compiled Laws of Utah, 1876, chapter 3, section 32). In 1880 the probate court clerks became elected officials, elected for two year terms (Compiled Laws of Utah, 1888, chapter 4, section 91). Originally the probate judge also presided over the County Court, which later became the County Commission, and the clerk officiated in both courts.

James Lewis Apr 1854-Dec 1860
Silas S. Smith Mar 1861-Nov 1865
Jesse N. Smith Jun 1866-Aug 1868. . .
Silas S. Smith . . .May 1872. . .
Samuel H. Rogers . . . Aug 1876 . . .
Edward Dalton . . . .24 Jul 1879. . .

COMPILED BY: Rosemary Cundiff, April 2002


Allen, James B. "The Unusual Jurisdiction of County Probate Courts in the Territory of Utah." Utah Historical Quarterly 36 (Spring 1968): 132-142.

Iron County (Utah). County Probate Court. Land Certificates (Parowan), Utah State Archives (Series 23642).

Iron County (Utah). County Probate Court. Minutes, Utah State Archives (Series 17477).

Legislature. Laws of Utah, Chapter 42, 1852, Utah State Archives (Series 83155).

Legislature. Laws of Utah, Chapter 7, 1869, Utah State Archives (Series 83155).

Legislature. "An Act to Establish a Territorial Government for Utah" reprinted in Compiled Laws of Utah, 1876, Utah State Archives (Series 83238).

Legislature. Compiled Laws of Utah, chapter 3, 1876, Utah State Archives (Series 83238).

Legislature. Compiled Laws of Utah, chapter 4, 1888, Utah State Archives (Series 83238).

Powell, Jay E. "Fairness in the Salt Lake County Probate Court." Utah Historical Quarterly 38 (Summer 1970): 256-262.

Page Last Updated July 2, 2003.