Pioneer Day: What's the history behind July 24th in Utah?

Monday , July 17, 2017 - 5:00 AM

MATILYN MORTENSEN, Standard-Examiner staff

Each year on July 24th, communities throughout Utah celebrate in a fashion similar to Independence Day with fireworks, parades and rodeos.

But what exactly are those celebrations for?

Commonly refereed to as Pioneer Day, July 24th commemorates when Mormon pioneers first entered the Salt Lake Valley in 1847.

RELATED: Ogden Pioneer Days 2017: Events calendar, dates, times for parades, rodeo, more

These early settlers were members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Before migrating to Utah, they had been driven out of multiple places across the United States because of their religious beliefs.

“They migrated into the least-habitual, least-welcoming part of the West that they could find in order to not bug anybody else and practice their religion as they chose,” said Kathi Izzat, a volunteer who has helped coordinate Salt Lake City’s Days of ‘47 Pioneer Day events in various capacities for 20 years.

In April 1847, the first group of Mormon pioneers began the journey from Nebraska, where they had spent the winter, to Utah. 

It’s a little known fact, Izzat said, that the first pioneers to enter the valley actually arrived on July 21, 1847. But Brigham Young, the leader of the LDS church at the time, was sick and arrived a few days later on July 24.

The first July 24 celebrations were held two years later in 1849. Richard Sadler, a history professor at Weber State University, said entries from two pioneer journals explain what this day was like.

Pioneers Hosea Stout and Lorenzo Brown wrote that the settlers were woken up by artillery fire and drums early in the morning on July 24, 1849. Other festivities throughout the day included speeches by local leaders and a large community feast.

References to toasts given during the festivities are included in Brown’s journal. Sadler said he assumes these toasts included alcohol, since the Mormon health code prohibiting the use of alcohol, coffee, tea and tobacco was not strongly adhered to in the early days of the church.

Although the different events to celebrate Pioneer Days over the years have changed, Izzat said parades have always been a staple.

Pioneer Day celebrations did originally begin to commemorate the Mormon settlement of the state, but Izzat said the Days of ‘47 event organizers work to recognize all the early settlers of the state, including mountain men, railroad workers and members of other faiths.

Contact reporter Matilyn Mortensen at mmortensen@standard.net or follow her on Twitter at @MatilynKay.

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