Celebrating Pioneer Day A profound American experience

Published 7:50 pm Friday, July 23, 2010

For this boy growing up in Utah, July was one of my favorite months.

We got to light fireworks twice! Independence Day and Pioneer Day, as it is known, was marked by parades, fireworks, rodeos and festivals.

July 24, 1847, was the day the Mormon pioneers entered the dry, treeless Salt Lake Valley after being exiled from one state to another.

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The Mormon Tabernacle Choir is known for singing patriotic songs. It’s most noted song might just be “Come Come, Ye Saints.” A verse:

“We’ll find the place which God for us prepared,

“Far away in the West,

“Where none shall come to hurt or make afraid;

“There the Saints will be blessed.”

People of my faith consider it a hymn because it encapsulates the harrowing plight of thousands of fellow Saints, or followers of Christ, who were scattered, exiled, hunted down.

Many of their wives and daughters were raped and their homes pillaged, yet they kept their faith in God and in a nation that was yet to accept them.

From New York, where the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was organized to Ohio; to Missouri where its governor signed an extermination order authorizing the murder of Mormons and then to Illinois where the church’s founder was murdered alongside his brother by a mob.

They set out across the frontier and then to the Rockies. They settled in a barren place where not even the Ute Indians found hospitable.

My ancestors came West later, along with the waves of thousands of English and Scandinavians who left their homes in Europe to settle communities in Utah and Idaho.

Oh, and Las Vegas. Yes, Vegas.

This pioneer stock has tamed the desert; produced patriots, statesmen, scientists, celebrities, athletes and yes, a few rogues here and there.

On July 24, 1849, the first official celebration was held.

These people, rich and poor, consisted of children of Revolutionary War patriots, farmers, doctors, merchants and musicians. They were mothers and fathers—many of whom buried children and spouses along the way. All were still faithful to their God and loyal to their country. That first celebration was an ironic if not heroic gesture to the God and country which had forsaken them, considering the overwhelming evidence.

Everything they owned came across a thousand miles of desert by handcart or covered wagon. Possessing only the barest of materials they built a pavilion and a flagpole 104 feet tall.

They made an enormous national flag 65 feet long and unfurled it at the top of this “liberty pole.” And they danced and sang. Why? How? If you can understand this, you will understand the power of the teachings of Christ to change the very nature of man.

This Saturday at 10, at Hales Landing Park, “Days of Forty-seven” will be celebrated. All are invited.

Many of the church’s 67,000 members in Georgia (nearly 200 in the Bainbridge Branch) have no relatives who crossed the plains, nor have they even been to Utah. However, it is worth celebrating a truly American event, which has shaped this great nation’s history—and a boy.

This Saturday at 10, at Hales Landing Park, “Days of Forty-seven” will be celebrated. All are invited.