Agency History #3149

CREATION A county probate court must have been organized in Kane County when the county was created in 1864, however the earliest surviving records begin in 1878. Utah county probate courts held jurisdiction in the probate of wills and the administration of estates of deceased persons. In addition to this traditional right probate courts also held original jurisdiction in civil and criminal cases. At odds with federal authority, Utah's Second Territorial Legislature assigned the probate courts this jurisdiction so that Utahns would have an alternative to federally established district courts (Laws of Utah, 1852, Chapter 42 ). Concerned about Mormon power in Utah, Congress passed Poland Act in 1874, which revoked Utah county probate courts' jurisdiction in criminal and civil affairs with the exception of divorce cases. In 1887 Congress passed the Edmunds-Tucker Act which revoked the probate courts' jurisdiction over divorces as well, and at statehood county probate courts were abolished altogether. Sixth District Court: Kane County assumed jurisdiction previously held by the Kane County Probate Court.


When the Territorial Legislature defined Utah county probate courts' powers in 1852, it granted them the authority to probate wills, administer the estates of deceased persons, and provide guardianship for minors, idiots, and insane persons. (Laws of Utah, 1852, Chapter 42). As a primary function, the Kane County Probate Court administered estates and handled guardianship cases. In addition to this primary function, probate courts held jurisdiction in all civil and criminal cases until 1874, and continued to hear divorce cases until 1887. For the period records survive (1878 -1896), the Kane County Probate Court handled only a few divorce cases. In 1869 the Territorial Legislature appointed the county probate courts to adjudicate ownership of already surveyed town site lots (Laws of Utah, 1869, Chapter 7). In the early 1870s the Kane County Probate Court held special sessions to adjudicate land claims in Kane County communities. After hearing claims, the court validated ownership of townsite lots in Virgin City, Grafton, Duncan's Retreat, Rockville, Kanab, Mt. Carmel and Glendale.


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 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. The same clerk officiated in both courts.

William A. Bringhurst 1878-1883
John Rider 1884-1894
James L. Bunting 1894-1896

COMPILED BY: Rosemary Cundiff , February 2003


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

Kane County (Utah). Probate Court. Minute Books, Utah State Archives (Series 24249 ).

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. Laws of Utah, 1870, p. 136-140. 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).

Page Last Updated July 2, 2003.