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Beehive Archive: Orderville and the Great Pants Rebellion

By Staff | Mar 27, 2024

Welcome to the Beehive Archive — your weekly bite-sized look at some of the most pivotal — and peculiar — events in Utah history. With all of the history and none of the dust, the Beehive Archive is a fun way to catch up on Utah’s past. Beehive Archive is a production of Utah Humanities, provided to local papers as a weekly feature article focusing on Utah history topics drawn from our award-winning radio series, which can be heard each week on Utah Public Radio.

The rural Utah town of Orderville was once a communal utopia – until a single pair of pants scandalized the whole settlement. Inspired by the utopian visions of LDS prophet Joseph Smith, Utah settlements in the 1850s reorganized into an economic system called the “United Order,” which prioritized communal living.

One of the longest-lasting of these settlements was called Orderville, where residents shared land, labor, and goods for nearly twenty-five years. But after Utah connected to the nation through new railroads in the 1880s, outside products flowed at an unprecedented rate into formerly isolated communities.

For the remote town of Orderville, it was a pair of pants that symbolized the growing influence of the outside world. Orderville was governed by an elected Board of Management that tracked investments and daily affairs in the town. They oversaw shared cattle, a cotton farm, knitting, public works, cleaning, midwifery, stock feeding, and schools. Orderville townsfolk even ate together in a communal dining hall every night.

But this strong economic and political system was put to the test after a young Orderville man traded communal wool for new pants at a store in Nephi.

He then wore the pants to a town dance and received a kiss from a local girl. Such scandalous behavior demanded action and the town’s Board of Management ordered the young man to turn over his “store pants.” Recognizing the popularity of these new fashions, the Board decided the pants would be used as a new pattern by the town’s tailoring department. Clearly Orderville’s young people were growing tired of their simple gray woolen trousers because it was soon discovered that local boys were using the town’s grinding stone to intentionally wear out the seats of their pants in order to justify requesting a new pair.

These rebellious youth forced the hand of Order elders who eventually started exchanging their locally-made wool for bolts of new cotton trade cloth. While the “pants rebellion” did not bring down the United Order, it did illustrate the impact of external goods and the growing interest in the wider market place.

United Order commodities were no longer produced by the insular town alone with shared labor. By 1885, the United Order in Orderville dissolved and an auction was held to re-privatize all its land.

Beehive Archive is a production of Utah Humanities and its partners. Sources consulted in the creation of the Beehive Archive and past episodes may be found at www.utahhumanities.org/stories.


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