Come take a walk with me back in time down a trail less traveled. There is much interest in Utah in the 24th of July: pioneer parades, museums open inviting the public to come view artifacts, and media coverage. Utah considers their ancestry and organization as a state due to establishment by the pioneers of 1847. Thus July 24 is declared a state holiday to celebrate their rich and colorful heritage.
The Vanguard Company was the first group of Mormon settlers entering Salt Lake valley. The bulk of the advance party consisted of their leader Brigham Young and farmers and craftsmen. Three women and two children accompanied them.
Leaving Winter Quarters, Neb., in April 1847, they considered themselves a vanguard of people on a mission and organized themselves accordingly. They had determined they would find the place to settle in the west and send for the rest of the displaced members of the church as soon as they could. Each carried a loaded rifle and wagons traveled two abreast when possible with drivers walking beside each team. Members of the party were directed to arise at 5 a.m., prepare, eat, pack up and be ready to travel at 8 a.m. Traveling during daylight hours they generally retired for the night at 9 p.m. Leader Brigham Young added religious instructions, admonishing all to observe strict personal decorum, attend to prayers, observe the Sabbath, and refrain from frivolous activities such as card playing. He instructed the hunters to only kill enough game to provide for the needs of the camp.
As they traveled they found sufficient food for themselves and their cattle, abundant grass and buffalo herds on the plains, antelope, deer and fish throughout Wyoming and into Utah. They followed the well-traveled banks of the Platte River where earlier Oregon immigrants had preceded them as well as Fremont and other explorers. Starvation, geographical hazards and accidents weren’t their greatest trials. Diarrhea from unfamiliar food, canker, nosebleeds and toothaches caused considerable distress. Fever plagued the travelers the most, possibly induced by tick borne rickettsia that caused Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.
That they would meet other travelers in such a wide open expanse of the continent seemed unlikely yet they did, and shared stories with them. A Catholic missionary offered advice on the route ahead as he had gone west and was returning east. Some mountain men met them and suggested promising areas to settle ranging from Cache Valley to Salt Lake Valley to Utah Valley. One urged them to go to a certain area because his vegetable garden had thrived there. After conversations with these people Brigham Young and his leaders concluded that the eastern edge of the Great Basin would probably offer the best place for permanent settlement.
Clearing trees and stumps in the canyons of the Wasatch Mountains they wound their way into the Salt Lake Valley on July 22, 1847. After spending the rest of the 22nd exploring, the early arrivals began plowing and planting. Brigham Young, ill with fever, had stopped up the canyon and didn’t arrive at the mouth of Emigration Canyon until July 24, 1847. After looking at the fertile valley with streams of water and tall grass, Brigham made the statement that “this is the place where we stay.” One of the leaders who kept a careful diary recorded that he saw a rich and fertile valley clothed in the heaviest garb of green vegetation that would yield farm land and homes to those weary members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who had been driven from their homes 1,000 miles to the east persecuted because of their religious beliefs.
To the women the valley was a place of loneliness and desolation and wondered if they could stand staying in such a forsaken place. But by winter of 1847, nearly 2,000 souls had crossed the plains and followed them into their new paradise.
The pioneer settlers saw abundant grasses with sufficient water for agricultural, manufacturing, domestic and commercial activities. Clay beds were found to provide adobe for their early building and trees near the mountain provided logs and lumber. Ample supplies of salt and coal were discovered by exploring parties. Also found were warm springs and many freshwater springs feeding the streams coming into the valley. Although Utah is defined as a desert state, the Mormon Pioneers resolved through their efforts to make it blossom like a rose.
On July 26, a group of pioneers exploring the southern Salt Lake Valley met a mounted party of Native Americans interested in trading with them. As the pioneers became better acquainted with the Indians, they were taught how to harvest sego lily and other roots as well as sunflower seeds, and make a meal of cakes of ground crickets mixed with honey. During the hard winter of 1848, the instructions in use of the roots was put to use, but the pioneers had a hard time tempting their palates with cricket cakes.
The first Pioneer Day celebration was held July 23 and 24, 1857, commemorating the Mormon pioneers’ passage into the Salt Lake valley from Emigration Canyon in 1847, and has been held every year with the promise to never forget and long remember the sacrifice and accomplishments of the Mormon Pioneers.