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