Today is a holiday I haven’t celebrated since, oh, 1976. It’s Pioneer Day, anniversary of the day in 1847 when Brigham Young and a bunch of other guys (including my great-great-great-grandfather Tarleton Lewis, the first bishop of Salt Lake and the only man to be bishop of the entire city) arrived in the Salt Lake valley. Supposedly when they reached the descent into the valley, Brother Brigham, who was quite ill, sat up in his bed in the back of a wagon, surveyed the scene, then said, “This is the right place. Drive on.” (It’s often shortened to “This is the place.” But my dad, who reads lots of history books and loves correcting misinformed tour guides--he's done it all over the country, on topics ranging from the burial place of Wyatt Earp to the birthdate of Joseph Smith--always insisted that we say it correctly.)
When I was little we had big Pioneer Day celebrations; we dressed like pioneers and had parades with handcarts. But then the Church got ambitious and wanted to shed its provincial western image, and Pioneer Day ceased to be a big deal outside of Utah, where it's still a state holiday. I’m not complaining; it’s not all that fun to put on a long dress and sunbonnet and walk up and down the streets during monsoon season in southern Arizona.
But I admit I am totally captivated by the story of the trek across the plains, which killed a few of my relatives: Tarleton lost one of his sons that way, a small child of three or four, who wandered off one evening while collecting cow patties for fuel with a group of children. They found his bucket, but they never found the boy. Tarleton was heartbroken. Then there’s the story of the Willie and Martin handcart companies, a group of people who got a late start and so were overtaken by snow storms and blizzards. The survivors were eventually rescued by a bunch of young men. It chokes me up even to think about it.
In Primary we used to sing this song I absolutely loved, called “Pioneer Children.” It went,
Pioneer children sang as they walked... and walked... aaannd waaaaalked
They walked for miles....
and I can’t remember the rest. I just remember the way we’d draw out “aaannd waaaaalked.” It was fun.
So happy Pioneer Day! If you get a chance, take a walk. (I still can't--my gimpy hip is still bugging me.)