July is an exciting time to be in Utah because there are many events leading up to the big celebration of Pioneer Day. Residents of Utah and members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in other areas celebrate Pioneer Day in remembrance of the arrival of the Mormon Pioneers in the Salt Lake Valley on July 24, 1847. The holiday is celebrated for several weeks and includes concerts, rodeos, and marathons as well as the big parade on the 24th.
President Gordon B. Hinckley presented some remarks at a Pioneer Day commemoration concert on July 22, 2001. He counsels the people of Utah and particularly members of the Church to never forget the sacrifices and achievements of the pioneers.
I have felt that we must never permit ourselves to lose sight of the great and singular achievements of those who first came to this valley in 1847. They came not for riches or gold, but rather to find a place where they could worship God under the revelations which are the foundation of this work. They were outcasts, driven and hounded, persecuted and peeled. Their reliance was on the God of heaven. When they reached this place, they stopped in spite of entreaties to go on to California or the Northwest.
As I have said before, they knew nothing really of the climate of the area, of the conditions of the soil, of the crickets or the grasshoppers with which they soon became acquainted. They had learned all they could concerning the Great Basin, but that was precious little. No one before them had ever grown a potato or an ear of corn or moved a plow to break this sunbaked soil.
In the months leading up to July 24, 1997, members of the Church studied the lives and accomplishments of the Mormon pioneers. There was a huge reenactment of the pioneer trek with a wagon train traveling from Nauvoo, Illinois, to the Salt Lake Valley. My husband’s brother and his wife took part in this event. Their experience had a profound effect in their lives.
In recent years the youth organizations of the Church started doing “Trek.” The youth and their leaders are divided into “families” who are members of a handcart company. The youth have the experience of walking for several days, pushing handcarts, and living in conditions similar to those of the pioneers. If the youth live near enough to the pioneer trail, they do their trek along the actual path of the pioneers. Other groups reenact the experience in their local areas. All come away from their experience with greater knowledge about their ancestors and other pioneers and stronger faith in Jesus Christ.
President Hinckley often reminded members of the Church that we are all beneficiaries of the Mormon pioneers whether or not we had ancestors among the Mormon pioneers. In these remarks he shares the following quote made by Brigham Young in 1868 – 21 years after entering the Salt Lake Valley.
We made and broke the road from Nauvoo to this place. … Some of the time we followed Indian trails; some of the time we ran by the compass. When we left the Missouri River we followed the Platte. And we killed rattlesnakes by the cord in some places, and made roads and built bridges till our backs ached. Where we could not build bridges across rivers we ferried our people across, until we arrived here, where we found a few naked Indians, a few wolves and rabbits, and any amount of crickets; but as for any green tree, or any green fields, we found nothing of the kind, with the exception of a few cottonwoods and willows on the edge of City Creek. For some 1,200 or 1,300 miles we carried every particle of provisions we had when we arrived here.
President Hinckley says that President Young went on to say: “We prayed over the land, and dedicated it, and the water, air and everything pertaining to them unto the Lord, and the smiles of heaven rested on the land and it became productive, and today yields us the best of grain, fruits and vegetables” (quoted in Nibley, Brigham Young, 441-42).
Then President Hinckley says, “We must never allow recognition of their trials, of their sacrifices, of their tenacity, of their faith and their prayers in establishing this great community to lapse or be forgotten.”
The Mormon Pioneers arrived in the Salt Lake Valley and began to tame the desert. They built homes and dug ditches to bring water from the mountains to water their crops. They made the desert blossom and the Valley to become fertile. Many of them were barely settled when they were asked by Brigham Young to go to other areas to make more settlements. Most of the cities in the Mountain West were first started by Mormon Pioneers.