Shortly after the Civil War broke out in 1861, Lincoln realized the need for a federal presence in Utah: First, to establish loyalty to the Union, and second, to “keep an eye on the Mormons.” The camp’s leader, Colonel Patrick E. Connor, and Brigham Young were not fond of each other. They waged a constant power struggle over things such as land and religion.
In fact, Connor named the fort after U.S. Sen. Stephen A. Douglas (also known from the Lincoln-Douglas debates), who had voiced non-favorable opinions about polygamy and members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Although the relationship between Young and Connor was complicated at best, over the course of American history, Fort Douglas left its footprint on the West and beyond.
According to Carma Wadley of the Deseret News:
“The military history of the state can also be traced there [Fort Douglas] — from conflicts with native cultures, through world wars and into peacetime defense. And the significance has extended beyond local borders. From the soldiers who fought the Battle of Bear River to the Buffalo Soldiers who rode up San Juan Hill with Teddy Roosevelt, to the troops that made the final assault on Paris during World War II, there has been a Fort Douglas connection.”
Even as a territory, Utah’s military presence was vital for Western success. Fort Douglas was important in Utah’s growth and patriotism. Utah’s first documented photo of a president visiting Utah (Rutherford B. Hayes in 1880) was taken at Fort Douglas. It has housed thousands of patriots over the years and continues to stand as a symbol of westward expansion and freedom.