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Re-enactment of Mormon pioneers arriving in Salt Lake City, 1997
Re-enactment of Mormon pioneers arriving in Salt Lake Valley, Pioneer Day, 1997 Photo by Jeffery D. Allred, courtesy of the Deseret News

Pioneer Days

Dubbed, the "Days of '47," the 150th Pioneer Day Celebration was held in 1997 to commemorate the trek the Mormons made in 1847. It's been called the greatest human migration in American history. By the time the transcontinental railroad joined East and West at a remote point in Utah in 1869, perhaps 70,000 Latter-day Saints (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints), also called Mormons, had walked or waggoned across 1,300 miles of wilderness to Salt Lake City, leaving another 6,000 in shallow graves along the way. The Mormon Pioneer exodus was a search for religious freedom, a journey equal to the distance from Manhattan to Miami or Seattle to San Diego.

Impelled as they were by something greater than gold, these pioneers took persecution and suffering in stride, "as God's way of trying their faith." And such faith was rewarded. In the words of historian Wallace Stegner:

Signs and wonders accompanied them. . . . Rivers opportunely froze over to permit passage of their wagons, quail fell among their exhausted and starving camps as miraculously as manna ever fell upon the camps of the Israelites fleeing Pharaoh. If they were blessed with an easy passage, they praised God for his favor; if their way was a via dolorosa milestoned with the cairns of their dead, they told themselves they were being tested, and harkened to counsel, and endured. 

Although the body of Latter-day Saints grew rapidly, swelling the population of a number of frontier communities in New York, Ohio, Missouri, Iowa, and Illinois, they were no theocratic usurpers: "We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may." (Articles of Faith 1:11.) But as they gathered converts, they gathered enemies, leaving them, ultimately, no choice but departure from their homes in the East. In a letter addressed to U.S. President James K. Polk in 1846, Brigham Young gave effectual notice of the farewell: "We would esteem a territorial government of our own as one of the richest boons of earth, and while we appreciate the Constitution of the United States as the most precious among the nations, we feel that we had rather retreat to the deserts, islands or mountain caves than consent to be ruled by governors and judges whose hands are drenched in the blood of innocence and virtue, who delight in injustice and oppression." Thus, they walked.

Brigham Young, as the presiding Elder of the Church following their founder, Joseph Smith's death, set out for the West from Winter Quarters, now Omaha Nebraska, with an advance company of 143 men, 3 women, and 2 children on April 5, 1847. Traveling in pleasant, if not too warm, summer weather, their long journey was a relatively easy one, considering the trails they had already traveled through Iowa. Crossing the elevations of the Wasatch mountain range, however, Brigham became sick with mountain fever and entered the Salt Lake Valley on July 24, three days behind the advance party. From his supine position in the back of a wagon, he surveyed the valley for only moments before announcing, "This is the right place. Drive on." That year and subsequent years brought tens of thousands to what later became the State of Utah. With those words of Brigham Young on July 24th began the annual celebration of the arrival of the Mormon Pioneers in Salt Lake Valley.

Held since 1849, the celebration now includes the third largest parade in the United States. 1997 marked the 150th anniversary of the pioneer arrival. A three month long re-enactment of the 1847 Mormon Pioneer wagon train left Omaha, Nebraska in April and arrived July 22nd in Salt Lake City, Utah. Celebrations and service projects were held throughout the state of Utah and Latter-day Saint congregations throughout the world. This sesquicentennial event is documented through books, music, videos, articles, and an interactive CD.

Originally submitted by: Orrin G. Hatch, Senator.

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The Local Legacies project provides a "snapshot" of American Culture as it was expressed in spring of 2000. Consequently, it is not being updated with new or revised information with the exception of "Related Website" links.

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