Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Why Does Utah Celebrate July 24th?

The_Mormon_pioneers_coming_off_Big_Mountain_into_Mountain_dellPhoto copyrighted by Harry A. Kelley. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

In Utah, July 24th is known as Pioneer Day, but do you know WHY we are celebrating? Many people think that we are celebrating Utah’s Statehood, but that didn’t happen until January 4, 1896.

Pioneer Day is the celebration of the Mormon Pioneers that sacrificed all they had and traveled to the Great Salt Lake Valley to escape the religious persecution they were facing throughout the rest of the country. After being driven from their homes, thousands of pioneers joined Brigham Young in this new land, and spread outward from there to settle what we now call Utah.

July 24, 1847 is the day Brigham Young and the first big group of pioneers entered the Great Salt Lake Valley. (That is why many of our celebrations are called “The Days of ‘47”.)

These early Pioneers faced many obstacles and challenges. I have a handful of Pioneer ancestors, and honor them for the courage and strength they had to sacrifice everything to come to the place I know and love as home.

Margaret Ann Griffiths Clegg:

One of my pioneer ancestors is Margaret Ann Griffiths Clegg. She was only 16 years old when she pulled a handcart to Utah with her family. They left Liverpool, England on May 28, 1856 and met up with the Edward Martin Handcart Company in Florence, Iowa to begin their journey to Utah. They were the last handcart company to arrive in the Great Salt Lake Valley that year, and as a consequence faced heavy snowstorms and starvation.

mag1Here is an excerpt from her autobiographical sketch, which can be read in its entire online:

In three days we sailed for America. We landed at Boston, U.S.A. and took the cars [train] and came on to Florence, Iowa and camped there four weeks till our handcars were ready for us, then we started to cross the plains. It was the first day of Sept, and we arrived in Salt Lake the same year on the last day of November 1856, making it three months traveling. We were as happy a set of people as ever crossed the plains, till the snow caught us. We would sit around the camp fire and sing and were as happy as larks.

Well after the snow caught us we had a pretty hard time. I have seen as many as seventeen sit around a campfire eating supper and I have seen some of them fall over dead as they were eating. I think there were six hundred and fifty of us when we started out to cross the plains, and I believe there were only three hundred that arrived in Salt Lake City. It was the last handcart company that came in that year. It was the last day of November 1856 when we arrived in Salt Lake, Utah.

My father took sick and he had to ride in one of the wagons, that had provisions. One day he felt a little better and thought that he would try and walk, but he could not keep up as he had rheumatism so bad he could not walk, and he took hold of the rod at the end gate of the wagon to help him along and when the teamster saw him, he slashed his long whip around and struck father on the legs and he fell to the ground. He could not get up again, and that was the last wagon for the handcarts had gone on before. As I was pulling a handcart I did not know anything about it till we got into camp, and then I went back about three miles to him, but could not find him, so I went back and I was nearly wild. I thought the wolves might have him.

My sister Jane lost the first joint of her big tow and I was terribly frozen up myself, I was laid up nine weeks in Salt Lake, because my feet had been so badly frozen. (After I was placed into the wagons and the frost left my feet, large bags of water formed at my heels.) My father died the next morning after we got in to Salt Lake. He was frozen to death, He was 47 years of age.

Learn more about the Utah Pioneers:

Check out our list of 2014 Pioneer Day Events and Activities

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