The First Utahn • Someone had to have been the first person to ever set foot in what is now Utah. In my imaginings it happened 15,000 years ago when some energetic preadolescent scampered out ahead of his plodding Ice Age clan that was heading south to see what was just over the next rise. He saw mammoths.
Jedediah Smith • He crisscrossed the West, fought his way out of three massacres, survived a grizzly bear attack, read scripture daily, didn't curse or drink, mapped and journaled religiously, inspired devotion in the people he led, and was an illegal immigrant in California who gave the Spanish authorities fits. By the time he died in a Comanche ambush at the age of 32, he had lived more than a dozen lucky men could hope. He was the first white to consider the Great Basin home.
Brigham Young • He established the Mormons as the first permanent white settlers in the Great Basin. His influence still touches every Utahn's daily life, from the wide, compass-oriented streets to the building of Utah's most recognizable icon: the Salt Lake Temple.
Martha Hughes Cannon • She broke the mold of a subservient polygamist wife when she went to Chicago to become a doctor. She returned to advocate for women's suffrage, and bested her husband in an election that made her the first female legislator in America.
Butch Cassidy • The son of an LDS bishop, Robert Leroy Parker was born in Beaver. He was a better cowboy than he was a Mormon, and a better criminal mastermind than cowboy. As the brains behind the Wild Bunch Gang, he planned successful robberies of trains and banks. While avoiding the reach of U.S. law, he was reportedly killed with his friend, the Sundance Kid, in Bolivia. While easy to romanticize the exploits of Butch and his gang, it should be remembered that innocent people were sometimes killed in the execution of their robberies.
Maude Adams • Adams was perhaps America's first superstar. She could sing, dance, act, and even perform comedy, all while making the audience fall in love with her. Even bad plays were successes if Maude was headlined on the marquee. She is said to have made a million dollars a year, back before motion pictures swept the nation.
John Moses Browning • He was the Steve Jobs of arms manufacturing and design. From his Ogden manufactory, he dedicated himself to improving the reliability, speed and accuracy of guns. Virtually every improvement in today's modern weapons can be traced back to one of his patented designs.
Philo T. Farnsworth • In a just world, Farnsworth would have been accorded all the fame and royalties due to the genius who invented television. Instead he spent years of frustration and lost productivity suing RCA, which had blatantly stolen his idea. The courts eventually found in his favor, but the effort to extract justice from a major corporation with deep pockets and armies of attorneys left Farnsworth dispirited and depressed.
"Dinosaur" Jim Jensen • He stumbled into being the pre-eminent paleontologist of his time, and along the way established Utah as the real Jurassic Park to thousands of aspiring dinosaur hunters. Lacking formal credentials, he nevertheless gained media attention as one of the world's foremost dinosaur experts and inspired a generation to expand on his considerable collections and discoveries.
Gayle Ruzicka • For good or ill, not since Brigham Young has an unelected person wielded as much political influence as Gayle Ruzicka. Republicans control the state and Ruzicka controls Republican politicians through the Eagle Forum, an advocacy group that can make or break GOP candidates. Like Brigham, evidence of her agenda is everywhere, from home schooling to screwy liquor laws, from amendments against gay marriage to squelching the teaching of meaningful sex education to our children.