How can Utah celebrate the 24th of July in a way that honors all of Utah's diverse pioneers and people?
Latter-day Saint Pioneers, by Shipler Commercial Photographers
Image courtesy of the San Francisco Public Library.
Shoshone Indians, by Andrew Russell
On July 24, 1847, Brigham Young, the leader of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, looked over the Salt Lake Valley and declared it to be a new home for the Saints, sometimes referred to as Mormons. These Saints had been driven out of their community of Nauvoo, Illinois and were seeking a place to live free from persecution. Two men who traveled with Brigham Young were Wilford Woodruff, another leader of the Saints, and Green Flake, an enslaved African American who was also a member of the Church of Jesus Christ. Brigham Young’s group was the first of many groups of pioneers to cross the Great Plains in covered wagons or handcarts and settle in Utah and the Great Basin. A pioneer is the first person to accomplish something. The word pioneer also refers to individuals who migrated from the eastern United States to the West before the railroad was completed in 1869. In Utah, the 24th of July is still celebrated as Pioneer Day, a state holiday. Pioneer Day festivities includes parades, rodeos, races, fireworks, and other activities. (See this website produced to promote tourism in Salt Lake City for examples of Pioneer Day activities: https://www.visitsaltlake.com/blog/stories/post/the-top-10-pioneer-day-events-in-salt-lake/)
Although the July 24th Pioneer Day commemorates one group of pioneers, the Saints, many other groups have been pioneers in Utah. Utah’s first human residents may have arrived 13,000 years ago. Archeologists don’t even know the exact year they came so it would be impossible to celebrate the day of their arrival. But oral histories and artifact evidence shows that various Native American groups lived in what is now Utah for thousands of years before the coming of the Saints. They pioneered agriculture and made many other developments. The arrival of the Saints in the Great Basin impacted the Native Americans who continued to live in the region, including the Utes, Shoshone, Goshutes, Paiutes, and Navajo. Many of their descendants who live in Utah today view the coming of the Saints as a tragic development in their people’s history. Others joined with the Saints and adopted many of their practices.
Other individuals and groups have brought a pioneering spirit to Utah. After the completion of the transcontinental railroad in 1869, mining increased. Thousands of immigrants from Europe, China, Mexico, and elsewhere transformed Utah’s culture. They were not only pioneers within their own families, but they introduced many new firsts to Utah including new religious congregations, new technologies, new languages, new industries, and new communities. For example, the Greek settlers of Carbon County introduced new foods that continue to be popular in the state. And Utah women were pioneers in the suffrage movement, gaining for women the right to vote in Utah in 1872, decades before the 19th amendment gave women across the United States the right to vote.
As Utah has become increasingly diverse, the celebration of Pioneer Day, has taken on different meaning for different Utahns. Some, remembering its origin, continue to view it as a celebration primarily for members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Others see it as an opportunity to celebrate the pioneering spirit that brought their ancestors to the state. Some see it as a reason to celebrate Native American cultures, which have survived the arrival of outsiders. Others enjoy a day off work and think little about the origins of the holiday.
A mini-archive has been created with primary and secondary sources related to the arrival of the Saints and other aspects of the Pioneer Day celebration. Your assignment is to use these resources to determine the best ways to celebrate Pioneer Day to include not just the Mormon pioneers, but the pioneering spirit that has been part of other individuals and groups who call Utah home.
Written by Jeffery D. Nokes, PhD, Brigham Young University
This lesson fulfills Utah History Core Standard 2.8. Find the resources for the lesson below.
Instructions for Graphic Organizer
Teachers: You may need to simplify, adjust, or scaffold these instructions for students, depending on grade level/ability. This is just a general outline.
Analyze all 6 sources from the archive page. (Teachers: you can add or remove rows from the table if you want students to look at fewer sources)
In the first column, write the perspective of the source. (I.e the main group who is represented by the source.)
The following two columns are a place to record the contributions of pioneering groups, both LDS and non-LDS. In each row, follow the prompt to fill in the relevant details.
In the final column, use analytical thinking to connect the primary source with today's Pioneer Day celebrations.
Work with your group members and discuss why each section is filled out as it is. Pay attention to the specific contributions of each group.
With your group, discuss the questions at the bottom of the worksheet. Then answer them individually on your worksheet.