Series 1649
District Court (Third District) Territorial minute books

Dates: i 1858-1896.

20 microfilm reelsSkip to Containers

These records are housed in the Utah State Archives' permanent storage room.

Historical Note

An agency history is available.

Scope and Content

The 1850 federal organic act in establishing Utah as a territory defined the role of the courts. There was to be a territorial supreme court, district courts, county probate courts, and precinct justice of the peace courts. The territory was divided into three judicial districts each presided over by one of the federally appointed justices of the territorial supreme court. These are the minutes of the Third District, recording the activities of that court in civil, criminal, chancery or equity matters, and appeals.

The boundaries of the district courts were initially defined by the governor and could then be altered by the legislature. Boundaries were redefined frequently. (See appendix A for a list of counties in the third district in various years.) Crimes and disputes originating in any of the counties in the table may appear as entries in the minutes; however, the county of origin is rarely specified. Minutes prior to 1858 are missing. There is also a gap from September 1871 to March 1873.

District courts had original jurisdiction in civil, criminal, and chancery or equity cases. Conflicts between the federally appointed courts and the local Mormon population resulted in the territorial legislature giving original jurisdiction in the same type cases to the county probate courts in addition to estate and guardianship cases, in 1852. Appeals from the lower probate, county and other courts could still be made to the district courts.

In 1874, with the Poland Act, the federal government pared away the authority of the probate courts, returning to the original intent of the Organic Act. From 1874 district courts had original jurisdiction in suits involving more than $300.00, all mining claims, and divorces. Probate courts were to deal with estate and guardianship cases, but no longer civil and criminal cases. Probate courts could share jurisdiction in statutory grounds divorce cases with the district courts. Appeal procedure was also clarified.

The minute books document the daily proceedings of the third district court but are not transcripts of court cases. Business matters recorded include court site and officers present; names of jurors selected or dismissed; judicial appointments, oaths, and bonds; appeals of lawyers to be permitted to practice before the court; and claims for expenses.

A typical case will span multiple dates. A case will include an indictment for a charge or indication of a filed complaint; demurrers, in which a defendant does not dispute a charge but claims it is not important enough to justify legal action; dismissals; continuances; court orders or other motions; a statement that the case was presented, including names of witnesses for and against, but rarely alluding to the nature of their testimony; the verdict; and precise sentencing or settlement. The most information presented occurs in various forms of property disputes (e.g.. mining claims, foreclosure, receivership, deed issuance, estate settlement, water claims) where settlement details the property and its sale or distribution. Indices by plaintiff are available for several volumes.

Cases include those for murder, larceny, robbery, burglary, theft, embezzlement, assault, purchasing public property from soldiers, riot, polygamy, gambling, liquor law violations, prostitution, etc.. Also included are property claims, debt, repossession, foreclosure, receiverships, dissolutions of corporation, divorces, and commitments to reform school. Most are exercises of original jurisdiction but do include appeals from probate, county, and justice of the peace courts.

Notable cases include the divorce and alimony case between Ann Eliza Young and Brigham Young spanning several years in the mid-1870s, and several cases revolving around the settlement of Brigham Young's will from 1879 to 1883. Bigamy, polygamy, cohabitation, and illegal voting cases peak after 1874 and particularly in the mid to late 1880s. Mining claim disputes are common in the 1870s and 1880s as are land disputes with the railroads to the end of the territorial period.

The district courts also had the power to grant citizenship (probate courts assumed the same power). This process included two witnesses testifying to the applicant's character, renouncing foreign allegiance, and taking an oath of allegiance to the United States Constitution. The applicant's name, the names of his witnesses, his native country and current county of residence are noted in the minutes. Applicants usually are, but need not be, residents of a county covered by the district. Naturalizations are one of the most frequent entries in the books and in fact, minute books were identified as naturalization books for many years.


Volumes and entries are chronological (although volume BB reflects a block of time which should be present in the middle of volume B) with the volumes designated alphabetically. The separate naturalization indices appear at the end of the series.

Research Note

Various counties belonged to the Third Judicial District at various times during the territorial period; see series inventory or court historical jurisdiction chart inventory for details.

Related Records

Minute books from the District Court (Third District : Salt Lake County), Series 1650, contain minutes for the third district court that are produced after 1896.

Civil and criminal case minute books from Salt Lake County (Utah). Probate Court, Series 3939, contain some of the same cases as are in the this series.

Civil and criminal case docket books from Salt Lake County (Utah). Probate Court, Series 3944, of the Probate Court, also contain civil and criminal case minutes of these types of cases until 1860 for Salt Lake County.

Territorial criminal case files from the District Court (Third District), Series 6836, record further information on criminal cases.

Case files from the District Court (Third District), Series 9802, document these same cases in more detail.

Civil registers of actions from the District Court (Third District), Series 22610, document the proceedings of each case.

Criminal registers of actions from the District Court (Third District), Series 22664, document the proceedings of each case.

Civil judgment dockets from the District Court (Third District), Series 24319, summarize activities and results in civil cases.

Certificates of citizenship record books from the District Court (Third District), Series 85110, of the 3rd District Court contain the certificates issued as a result of the naturalization hearings summarized in the minutes.

Access Restrictions

This series is classified as Public.

Preferred Citation

Cite the Utah State Archives and Records Service, the creating agency name, the series title, and the series number.

Processing Note

This series was microfilmed at the archives December 1981-January 1982 as requested by the Salt Lake County Clerk. Microfilming of previously overlooked indices was done in 1989 and 1999. The index to BB had been misidentified as a Docket Index and transferred to this series in 2002 when that series was processed. Archival processing was completed by Alice Cone in 1989.

Finding Aids

Indexes: Alphabetical names indexes by plaintiff are included with volumes A, BB, C, D, E, F, G, I, J, K, L, M, covering from 1858 thru 1892.

Indexing Terms

  • Trials (Larceny)—Utah.
  • Trials (Murder)—Utah.
  • Trials (Embezzlement)—Utah.
  • Trials (Assault and battery)—Utah.
  • Trials (Divorce)—Utah.
  • Naturalization—Utah.
  • Bankruptcy—Utah.
  • Liquor laws—Cases—Utah.
  • Corporation law—Cases—Utah.
  • Insane—Commitment and detention—Utah.

Container List

1 1 A Oct. 4, 1858-Aug. 7, 1869 and Index
20 n/a BB Index
2 2 BB Mar. 14, 1870-Sept. 22, 1871
2 3 B Aug. 30, 1869-Feb. 26, 1870; Mar. 15, 1873-May 1, 1875
3 4 C Index and May 1, 1875-June 24, 1876
4 5 D Index
4 5 D June 27, 1876-Apr. 26, 1878
5 6 E Index
6 6 E Apr. 27, 1878-May 13, 1880
6 7 F Index and May 14, 1880-Oct. 13, 1880
7 7 F Oct. 13, 1880-June 10, 1882
7 8 G Index and July 10, 1882-Oct. 1, 1883
8 8 G Oct. 1, 1883-Dec. 12, 1883
8 9 H Dec. 13, 1883-Oct. 3, 1885
8 10 I Index and Oct. 5, 1885-Oct. 27, 1885
9 10 I Oct. 27, 1885-Dec. 9, 1886
9 11 J Dec. 10, 1886-Dec. 5, 1887
10 11 J Dec. 5, 1887-June 18, 1888 and Court Case costs ledger
11 11 J Index
12 12 K Index
13 12 K June 19, 1888-Nov. 6, 1889
14 13 L Index and Nov. 7, 1889-Jan. 17, 1891
14 14 M Index and Jan. 17, 1891-Aug. 1, 1891
15 14 M Aug. 1, 1891-Jan. 22, 1892
15 15 N Jan. 23, 1892-Jan. 7, 1893
15 16 O Jan. 14, 1893-Jan. 20, 1893
16 16 O Jan. 20, 1893-Oct. 6, 1893
16 17 P Oct. 7, 1893-Apr. 2, 1894
17 17 P Apr. 2, 1894-June 16, 1894
17 18 Q June 16, 1894-Feb. 5, 1895
17 19 R Feb. 5, 1895-May 13, 1895
18 19 R May 13, 1895-Sept. 27, 1895
18 20 S Sept. 27, 1895-Jan. 3, 1896
19 21 -- Naturalization Index, 1858-1879; Indices (2) to the Naturalization Index

Page Last Updated October 18, 2012.