While we consider Pioneer Day, we should take the time to ponder the lives of these brave saints, read stories of our pioneer ancestors, and learn about how they lived.
Pioneer Day was first celebrated in 1849 in commemoration of when Brigham Young and the latter-day saints settled into what is now the Salt Lake Valley in 1847. What a happy day that must have been for them! Years of persecution, losing children, brothers and sisters, husbands and wives. Trekking cross country through snow, rain, wind and heat; then finally hearing from your leader that you’ve come to the place of your rest. What a peaceful day that was, 164 years ago! The saints walked for years, pulling handcarts carrying everything they owned. The lived on whatever food and water they could find and suffered immeasurable amounts of pain, fatigue, hunger and for many, death. All experienced grievances, exhaustion and uncertainty. Despite the pain and suffering, the settlers knew that they were united towards a common purpose. They knew that if they found a place to settle, that they could finally feel safe and be able to thrive without threat of harm. For this reason, the wagon train companies were well organized. Everyone felt personally essential to the company’s higher purpose and sense of community which ultimately kept them trekking on to the end.
Besides Salt Lake City, our pioneer ancestors settled in many communities stretching from Canada and Mexico, although Pioneer Day is celebrated exclusively in Utah. The pioneers after which Pioneer Day is fashioned, were some of the primary settlers in the settlement of the West, with over 70,000 pioneer settlers that crossed the Great Plains by wagon and handcart. Our current observance of the holiday has become more materialistic, but is still seen as a way to celebrate the unity and foundation of society that has been built by our Mormons and non-Mormon pioneer ancestors. Today we celebrate the building of our society by “pioneers” of many epochs and backgrounds. While I have never had to walk thousands of miles, suffer and starve like my pioneer ancestors, I can’t help but feel some empathy for the situation that they were in. I may not have had to stand strong against angry mobs, but I have had to teach my children to stand strong against the influences of peer pressure, drugs and alcohol. I may have not have lost a child to sickness but I combat daily the idea of losing our children to Facebook, MySpace and texting. I may never have been burdened with unyielding sickness or ailment. In fact, migraine headaches are as much as I’ve had to deal with in my short years of life. But there are people in our community that battle cancer, diseases and maladies.
Life on the trail was not easy. Many of the Mormon pioneers lost their lives but the dream of Zion kept them going. The same Zion that we’re fortunate to live in and enjoy still today. Our modern existence today is very complex. Our challenges are diverse, and the world around us is definitely more different now than it was back then; but we’re still the community of today’s pioneers. This year as you celebrate with your friends and families at parades, parks and community get-togethers, let us not forget the real reason we contemplate–our ancestors and the camaraderie developed in their communities. Let’s remember the trials and tribulations written in our pioneer history books. If nothing else, by studying the pioneers we can become better familiar with their examples and strengthen our friendships and our sense of community. And the next time you’re having a rough day, think of the pioneers. Maybe you’ll find yourself contemplating on the pioneer trials and your own journey will be made to feel just a little easier to bear.