Pioneer Day is celebrated in Utah every year in honor of the pioneers who settled in the state and developed the land and communities. The day is held on June 24, the day that Brigham Young led the first Mormon group of settlers to Salt Lake City. Mormons and other Utah citizens hold celebrations recognizing the strength required to settle in the Salt Lake Valley.
Observers celebrate similarly to Independence Day celebrations—patriotic displays of fireworks, parades, festivals such as rodeos, and educational programs about the pioneers. Dinners and parades may feature participants in pioneer clothing. Utah recognizes this day as a public holiday, so schools and most offices will be closed.
Some Mormons observe the holiday by walking part of the Mormon Trail, the path the settlers took to Salt Lake.
The history of Pioneer is significant to Mormon culture, as the Mormon pioneers led by Brigham Young saw their settlement as the establishment of a homeland for Mormons, which make up a large part of Utah’s population today. Young’s group had left an Illinois settlement due to religious discrimination, choosing a new isolated area that would be far away from control of other settlements. The journey was harsh, the group having to travel over plains and the Rocky Mountains. The settlers suffered from disease and lack of supplies as well. When they reached Utah, they sent a message to other Mormon groups that they had found this Promised Land. They immediately went to work cultivating the land, first planting potatoes and building dams. The first area deemed Salt Lake City was about two square miles.
After word reached other Mormon communities, large amounts of Mormons made the trek to the Salt Lake Valley, which contained almost 2000 Mormons In 1847. The first celebration like Pioneer Day was a commemoration of the city’s second birthday in 1849 by the Nauvoo Brass Band, the church’s official band. The first established Pioneer Day was going to be held in 1857, which was cancelled due to the Utah War. Utah took up celebrations again in 1862 after Abraham Lincoln stated he would not interfere with Utah during the Civil War.
Prominent Mormon Pioneers
Brigham Young is considered the founder of Salt Lake City and an instrumental figure in the Latter-day Saints movement. He started as a missionary in Canada and then England. Before founding Salt Lake City, he established a Mormon community in Ohio. In 1835, he was ordained into the original Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, which led to his leadership role with the Salt Lake settlers. Young went on to replace Joseph Smith as Church President after his murder, also serving as Governor of Utah until 1858.
Joseph Smith was the founder of the Latter-day Saints movement, as he wrote the Book of Mormon when he was only 24 years old. He went on to attract thousands of followers. Although he did not found Salt Lake City, Pioneer Day often honors Smith because of his contribution to the religion and because he aided in the settlement of other areas such as Ohio and Illinois. Smith died in 1844 after a mob broke into the jailhouse in which he was imprisoned for polygamy, shooting him.