The liberty principle for this Freedom Friday is the fact that knowing our history makes us stronger. Tomorrow is an important day in the history of my people. It is Pioneer Day, a day we remember the Mormon Pioneers. On July 24, 1847, Brigham Young and a company of Mormon pioneers arrived in the Salt Lake Valley. Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, sometimes called Mormon, were forced out of Nauvoo, Illinois, and other locations including Kirtland (Ohio) and Missouri. There was no place within the United States where they could practice their religion.
The Pioneers left the boundaries of the United States and went to Utah Territory in search of a place where they could worship God as they chose. They were all committed to the American belief that each person had freedom of religion. They all left homes and property, and some left loved ones behind to follow the Prophet. Some of them drove covered wagons pulled by oxen, horses, or mules. Others pulled handcarts that held all their earthly possessions, or those they considered most important. Most, even little children, walked. No one knows exactly how many pioneers crossed the Great Plains of the United States between 1847 and 1868. However, the estimates of historians range between 50,000 and 90,000.
Pioneer Day – July 24th – is an official state holiday in Utah. It is also a day commemorated by members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints wherever we may live or how our community celebrates it.
When I was a child, Pioneer Day was a special day when Primary children dressed as pioneers and participated in the annual Primary Pioneer Day Parade. Every ward had a parade but usually on Primary day rather than on July 24th.
Utah normally celebrates Pioneer Day for about two weeks every July. This celebration is called the “Days of ’47,” but it has had other names in past years, such as Pioneer Days or Covered Wagon Days. However, it has been Days of ’47 since 1943.
This celebration includes many events and something for every member of society. There are rodeos in almost every town throughout the state as well as a big one in Salt Lake City. There is always a huge Days of ’47 parade in downtown Salt Lake City. People camp overnight on the streets and in the parks to have a good spot to watch the two-hour parade. The current Prophet and President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints usually leads the parade. The parade has many beautiful floats and is sponsored jointly by the Daughters of the Utah Pioneers and the Sons of the Utah Pioneers.
Like many other celebrations, Days of ’47 has a royalty. A queen and her two attendants have reigned over the pioneer celebration since 1897. One of my high school classmates was the Days of ’47 Queen in 1964.
Like many events in this strange year of 2020, all events for Days of ’47 have been cancelled and postponed to 2021 due to COVID-19 and the need for physical distancing. This is not the first time for the events to be cancelled. They were also cancelled in 1917-18 for World War I, 1942-45 for World War II. This year COVID-19 is the problem.
The cancellation of events will not deter me from commemorating this important day. Some of my ancestors were among the pioneers who entered the Salt Lake Valley during 1847. They did not all come the same year or in the same way, but all eight of my great-grandparents joined the Church of Jesus Christ and traveled to Utah. Most of them traveled across the plains with the pioneers with the last ones arriving on the newly completed cross-country railroad.
I am grateful to know the history of my people and my family. This knowledge helps me to know that I am part of a large family and an even larger group of people who believe in Jesus Christ. I gain strength through knowing that my ancestors had enough faith in Jesus Christ to do hard things and to make it possible for me to be born to parents who were active members of Christ’s Church.