Today, as I post this, is July 24. Here in Utah it’s a big day. Pioneer Day. A state holiday. Lots of folks who work for a living get the day off. There’s a big parade in downtown Salt Lake City and fireworks will light up the sky tonight at many places around the state.
For some reason, Utah’s Pioneer Day holiday is confusing to a lot of people. Immigrants enjoy the day off, but can’t wrap their heads around the reason for it—well, lots of them know the why of it, but still don’t grasp why that why matters.
It all started back in 1847 when Mormon leader Brigham Young’s wagon pulled into the Salt Lake Valley and he raised up from his sickbed and said this was the place the Mormons (having been chased out of New York, Ohio, Missouri, and Illinois) would settle. His declaration was no big surprise—some advance members of the expedition were already here plowing when Brother Brigham showed up—but he made it official. He hadn’t asked permission to settle here, either from the bands of Ute and Shoshoni and other Indians who frequented the area, or from Mexico, which held title, such as it was, to the place.
But here the Mormons settled anyway, intending to form their own little nation with a theocratic-type government. But, much to their surprise, they soon ended up back in the United States in 1848 when the land was seized following the Mexican-American War.
Commemorating the arrival of those Mormon pioneers in the Salt Lake Valley is the reason for all the hoopla. I don’t know why that’s so confusing. When I lived in Nevada, most of that state shut down for a day in late October to celebrate Nevada Day, commemorating statehood. (Nevada, by the way, was originally part of Utah before the federal government started slicing off chunks to make and add to the new state. The same thing happened with parts of Colorado and Wyoming, too. The Mormons originally claimed big chunks of California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Oregon as well, but the government never recognized that claim. It’s all covered in a chapter of my book, .)
But never mind all that. Just have a happy holiday. We could all use an excuse to celebrate.