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Murray Journal

Murray City's naming saga: A clash of cultures, convictions and controversies

Jun 04, 2024 01:28PM ● By Shaun Delliskave

Harry Haynes' businesses dominated State Street in the 1880s, and he influenced the name Murray City.

No, Murray City isn't undergoing a name change. Yet, it's intriguing that many lifelong residents are unaware of the story behind their city's namesake and the contentious history that led to its christening. The name of Murray doesn't honor a founder or notable local figure but stems from internal tensions within the community and a political statement made during its naming process.

Comedian Scott Bennett humorously highlighted Murray's unique name in his routine: "I love Utah; I love all the neat Mormon names you guys have for all of your cities: Nephi, Manti, Lehi, Moroni. And then of Salt Lake City, you have this little town called Murray. And I'm just like, 'Hey! Who invited the Jew?'”

In the 19th century, Latter-day Saint pioneers established the Murray area in groups organized into wards, such as Mississippi Ward, Cottonwood and South Cottonwood. South Cottonwood became particularly revered for its agricultural resources. This was due to the fertile soil and ample water supply from Big and Little Cottonwood creeks, which were essential for the community’s farming needs. Interestingly, the initial settlement at 5600 South and Vine Street was north of both creeks.

The discovery of ore in nearby mountains and the advent of the railroad heralded a new era for South Cottonwood. It wasn’t long before the area’s strategic position and access to transportation networks caught the eye of industrialists, leading to the establishment of Francklyn Smelter (4800 S. 200 West). This industrial development departed from the purely agrarian lifestyle, introducing a new economic dynamic that promised prosperity through diversification. The smelter, alongside the railroad, catalyzed the growth of a burgeoning community poised for change.

Harry Haynes stepped onto the scene as both a local business owner and the area’s postmaster. During the late 1800s, Murray’s State Street thrived as an industrial hub, bustling with smelters and railroads strategically positioned between the Park City and Bingham mines. Amidst this industrial surge, Haynes recognized a unique opportunity to serve the smelter workers.

Having arrived in the Utah Territory during a time of significant growth and change, Haynes was not just another entrepreneur. His venture into the liquor business not only established him as a key player in the local economy but also granted him a deep understanding of the community’s social and economic dynamics. It was his appointment as postmaster, however, that truly elevated his influence within Murray, allowing him to shape the town’s future in profound and enduring ways.

Murray historian Korral Broschinsky said, “Harry Haynes, a Union veteran of the Civil War who came to Utah in 1870. He built a row of commercial buildings on the west side of State Street. Haynes was appointed postmaster in October 1882 and tasked with choosing candidates for the postal designation name. Haynes was faced with competing interests for the identity of the emerging community.”

At the time, Eli Houston Murray was the territorial Governor of Utah. Born in Kentucky, Murray was a man of considerable accomplishments and controversies. His journey from a Union Army enlistee during the Civil War to the 12th Governor of the Territory of Utah is a story of ambition, legal acumen and steadfastness. Murray’s post-war life saw him achieving the rank of brigadier general, completing a law degree, and engaging in various professional pursuits, including serving as a U.S. Marshal and newspaper editor before his appointment as governor in 1880 by President Rutherford B. Hayes.

Like most Utah territorial governors, Murray’s term in office was marked by fighting with the local LDS leaders, who exuded more influence than he did. Murray’s tenure as governor was tainted by his involvement in a contentious election certification that significantly impacted the political landscape regarding Mormon practices, particularly polygamy. His decision to certify non-LDS Allen G. Campbell as a delegate to congress over LDS Apostle George Q. Cannon, despite the latter receiving a vastly greater number of votes due to Cannon’s practice of polygamy and questions over his naturalization, reflected Murray’s stance against the LDS establishment in Utah.

He would serve as governor until 1886 and headed to California. Regardless, Haynes liked the man, and as postmaster, he was required to submit names for the new post office. 

“The farmers preferred the name South Cottonwood, which had religious connotations as the name of the local ward of the LDS Church. Business leaders wanted to use the name of a local smelter, Francklyn, which was also the name of the train station on the Utah Central and Denver and Rio Grande lines, but not used by the general public,” Broschinsky said.

Haynes proposed two names: George Armstrong Custer, the well-known general who died at the Battle of Little Bighorn, and Eli Houston Murray. Choosing Eli Houston Murray, a figure recognized for his opposition to polygamy and tense relationship with the Mormon community, went beyond merely selecting a name. It served as a political declaration by Haynes, revealing his ideological leanings and making a statement that resonated with the area's social dynamics, alluding to Murray’s contentious tenure as territorial governor.

With the names submitted, Haynes received word from the Postmaster General—Murray. However, similar to how they regarded the territorial governors, local LDS residents viewed this naming as merely a bureaucratic formality and continued to call the area South Cottonwood.

“Harry Haynes made the right choice in avoiding South Cottonwood and Francklyn. Although Eli H. Murray was a controversial territorial governor, I am very glad my hometown was not named Custer,” Broschinsky said.

As the number of saloons swelled to 40 around Haynes’ business on State Street, the editor of the American Eagle newspaper advocated for Murray’s official incorporation to address the increasing lawlessness in the city. Haynes resisted the idea of incorporation, worried about its potential adverse effects on his businesses. Nonetheless, the community overwhelmingly supported the move, and Murray was officially recognized as a city. Haynes realized that the city he had played a role in naming was changing. In 1914, Murray declared itself a dry town, banning the lawful sale of liquor until the prohibition was lifted.

Like Eli Murray, Haynes left Utah. It is uncertain if Eli Murray ever visited the town named after him. Eventually, Murray returned to Kentucky, where he chose to live in Bowling Green, where he died in 1896. Murray and his wife are buried at Arlington National Cemetery. λ