We join with you today in celebrating Pioneer Day. We do so with a renewed sense of awe at the epic journey that brought the Mormons to the Salt Lake Valley in 1847. In the vanguard of that migration was the man who not only founded this now-thriving city on the edge of the Great Basin, but colonized a vast chunk of the Intermountain West. Say what you want about Brigham Young, who even today is a figure of controversy, he knew how to get things done. He also knew that in reaching this place of refuge from the rest of the United States, his followers had reason to celebrate.
As Pioneer Day has evolved, from the first one in 1849 at a humble bowery on the site that Young had picked for a new temple, to today's extravaganza of parades and pyrotechnics, it has happily become more inclusive. We applaud that effort to honor pioneers of all races, religions and nations who have made Utah their home.
To mark this day of celebration, we feel it appropriate to offer these words on Utah's pioneer past:
"This is the right place"
Brigham Young, July 24, 1847
"The transformation of the idea of what it means to be a pioneer will surely help dissolve what amounted to a caste system within the Mormon community. But as the meaning of being a pioneer is being transformed rather than de-emphasized or discarded, Pioneer Day is likely to retain its significance as both a holy day and a holiday."
Jan Shipps, historian of Mormonism, 2002
"Brother Brigham again called them to the colors of the kingdom of God, and sent them to settle the valleys, near and remote, in these vast mountains of refuge. So again they yoked their oxen and hitched up their teams, and putting their all in the covered wagon, this time willingly, unwhipped by the threat of mob cruelty and outrage, they wended their slow way to new valleys again trusting with implicit faith in the wisdom and divine guidance of their Moses."
J. Rueben Clark Jr., LDS Church apostle, Pioneer Day centennial, 1947
"For you must cross the raging main before the promised land you gain, then with the faithful make a start to cross the plains with your handcart."
from "The Handcart Song"
"In 1857 several thousand Mormons gathered in the mountains east of Salt Lake City for the tenth anniversary of the founding of their western Zion. In the context of one of the largest and most exuberant public displays of Mormonism to date, the celebrants became aware of the approach of Johnston's Army, which initiated the tense but essentially non-violent Utah War."
Steven L. Olsen, Utah History Encyclopedia
"The next morning the snow was about eighteen inches deep and awful cold. While my sister was preparing our little bite of breakfast I went to look for father, and found him under the wagon with snow all over him and he was stiff and dead. I felt as though my heart would burst as I sat down beside him in the snow and took his hand in mine and cried, 'Oh, Father, Father.'"
Heber McBride, 13, member of the Martin Handcart Company, 1856
"Those pioneers who broke the sunbaked soil of the Mountain West valleys came for one reason only 'to find', as Brigham Young is reported to have said, 'a place where the devil can't come and dig us out.' They found it, and against almost overwhelming adversities they subdued it. They cultivated and beautified it for themselves."
Gordon B. Hinckley, president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from 1995-2008
"This state's origins, rooted in a great religious exodus and colonization that still give this place a unique identity and culture, certainly are worthy of celebration and study. A more colorful history is difficult to imagine, and it is no accident that it is the subject of pageantry, folklore, religious veneration and occasional controversy."
Salt Lake Tribune editorial, July 24, 1993
"During the 1886 observance of Pioneer Day, the Mormon Tabernacle was draped in black bunting and those in hiding or imprisoned by federal authorities for practicing polygamy were eulogized for their devotion to the faith."
"In Utah, Independence Day Can't Hold Roman Candle to Pioneer Day," Associated Press, July 6, 1997
"Happy Days of '47 to the rest of the world! Utah is celebrating itself while you have to have a hot summer day. Sure, you have your Christmas in July, but how can that compare with obligatory parades and rope-bound cattle?"
Laura Moncur, weblog, 2004