Like many holidays in the United States, Pioneer Day commemorates a very specific event in a rather complicated history. So what’s the deal with this statewide celebration?
The Origin Story
On July 24, 1847 Brigham Young and members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints arrived in the Salt Lake Valley after trekking thousands of miles across the country to escape religious persecution in Illinois, following the murder of their founder Joseph Smith in 1844. Young reportedly commemorated the momentous occasion by uttering, “This is the right place.” By the end of 1847, nearly 2,000 Mormons had settled in what they called “the promised land.”
A State Holiday
The first Pioneer Day was celebrated locally in 1849 with a parade and various performances. It is an official holiday in the state of Utah.
A Push for Inclusion
The aspirations of the Mormon pioneers came at a great price for the Indigenous people of Utah, leading to the spread of disease, wars, and namely the dispossession of land — sometimes through violent means. There are several major recognized tribes — Ute, Paiute, Navajo, Goshute, and Shoshone — who called the valley home before the settlers arrived, though each of them consists of smaller groups or “bands'' with distinct traditions. Many Indigenous people in Utah are making a push for education and greater inclusion around the holiday, and modern counter-celebrations like “Pie and Beer Day” (a play on the word “pioneer”) seek to add depth to a layered history.
Tell us how you celebrate Pioneer Day.