Celebrating Pioneer Day and Learning from The Latter-Day Saint Pioneers
This weekend the people of Utah will celebrate Pioneer Day. If you don’t live in or near Utah, you may not be familiar with Pioneer Day – an official state holiday in Utah celebrated every July 24.
As the name suggests, Pioneer Day honors and celebrates the pioneers of Utah who arrived there on July 24, 1847.
With the holiday celebration on its way, it’s the perfect time to reflect on the pioneers’ journeys to see what lessons we can learn.
Why Pioneer Day Still Matters Today
The original pioneers of Utah were Mormons, so the Days of ’47 are considered the greatest Mormon holiday.
These pioneers consisted of more than 70,000 Mormons fleeing religious persecution who endured a 1,300-mile journey to reach the safety of the Valley of the Great Salt Lake on July 24,1847.
During this journey through the plains and over the Rocky Mountains into Utah, they faced their share of hardships and triumphs.
Even if you are not a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, you can appreciate their disciplined, organized journey.
As the National Park Service explains, “The Mormon pioneers shared similar experiences with others traveling west: the drudgery of walking hundreds of miles, suffocating dust, violent thunderstorms, mud, temperature extremes, bad water, poor forage, sickness, and death. [However…] This was a movement of an entire people, an entire religion, and an entire culture driven by religious fervor and determination.”
Ultimately, the Mormon pioneers’ methods proved to be more efficient than other pioneer journeys to Oregon and California.
10 Things We Can Learn from Their Pioneer Journey
So, what exactly did these pioneers do so differently? Read on to learn what made the Great Mormon Migration more effective.
1. Faith Through Tribulations
It’s important to remember that the reason the Great Mormon Migration began, and why these pioneers headed West is because they were facing extreme religious persecution, including the murder of founder Joseph Smith.
It was because of their faith that they began their journey, and it was their faith that kept them moving forward even when facing horrific circumstances.
According to PBS, “In one evening on the trek nine babies were born, their parents barely able to provide any shelter from the elements. Wagons collapsed, people died from exposure, and it took 131 days for the Mormon convoy to travel 310 miles to relative safety on the banks of the Missouri. […] Still, church members kept the faith throughout their tribulations. William Clayton, who had been ordered to travel ahead of his pregnant wife, was so overjoyed to learn of his son's birth that he wrote a hymn, ‘Come, Come, Ye Saints,’ that has become a Mormon standard. Its hopeful last line: ‘All is well! All is well!’”
2. Homesteading Skills
These pioneers had every intention of claiming the land for themselves and starting a community there. The goal was to be self-reliant.
To do so required homesteading skills, which they had in full.
The National Park Service explains, “The pioneer party began planting late crops as soon as they reached the valley. During the next few weeks, they laid out streets, built temporary shelters, and prepared for winter.”
[Related Read: 3 Lost Skills the Pioneers Knew That America Needs Back NOW]
The western pioneers recognized the importance of community while on their journey and when settling in unfamiliar territory. They went out of their way to help others.
For example, historians discovered, “Many who completed the journey returned to the east to lead others along the route. […] At least three pioneers in the database made the westward trip seven times! In this, even Brigham Young provides an example. After leading the vanguard pioneer company that arrived on July 24, 1847, he returned east to Winter Quarters, Nebraska, by December 1847. He led a second company to Salt Lake the following year.”
4. First Aid and Medical Knowledge
Like other pioneer journeys, many travelers did not make it to their destination. 1,900 pioneers died on the trail or soon after their arrival. Many of those died of illnesses, such as cholera or dysentery.
We’ve learned a lot more about water safety and first aid since the 1800s, but if you don’t know how to find clean water or purify water, now is the time to learn.
In addition, basic first aid skills and medical knowledge (such as identifying medicinal herbs) will prove helpful in a survival situation.
5. Record Keeping
It’s no secret that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is an excellent record keeper.
In addition to their amazing collection of genealogical information, their journals have proven to be a reliable source of historical documentation, especially for learning about their pioneer journey to Utah.
According to the National Park Service, “They recorded their experiences in journals, diaries, and letters that have become a part of our national heritage.”
The Mormon pioneers were determined to find a place where they could live in community with fellow believers and practice their faith in peace.
Hence their determination to keep pushing forward through difficult terrains and hardships to reach Utah.
One of the key reasons why this group of pioneers proved more successful than others is because they were well organized.
PBS explains, “Brigham Young, who was emerging as the church's new leader, conducted a census that fall, counting more than 3,000 families and some 2,500 wagons. He then divided church members into smaller administrative groups of tens, fifties, and hundreds.”
Once the journey began, “they traveled in semi-military fashion, grouped into companies of 100s, 50s, and 10s.”
8. Hard Work and Discipline
Hard work and discipline were paramount to the success of these pioneers.
They worked hard not only to get themselves to their destination but also to make the journey easier for those that came after them.
They improved the trail, built facilities to help others along the trail, made maps, planted crops, and more.
9. The Value of History
It’s important to learn from history, but too often, people make the same mistakes over and over.
This wasn’t the case during this pioneer journey.
During the first pass, they weren’t prepared for the weather or elements. As a result, they lost more people than they should have.
However, they did not make the same mistakes with future groups on the trail.
According to the National Park Service, “Along this first part of the trail, the Mormons developed skills for moving en masse. They established several semi permanent camps, including Garden Grove and Mount Pisgah, where they planted crops and built facilities to assist those who followed. […] The lessons learned crossing Iowa were used by future companies of Mormons.”
Lastly, the pioneers understood the importance of celebrating – even amid hardships.
Pioneer Ellen Hallett wrote to her parents, “We enjoyed the journey much. […] When night came we were generally tired, but not too much to enjoy the dance and song.”