Pioneer Day

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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.)

9 Comments

Happy Pioneer Day Holly! Cool history lesson there.

Is this it? I found it on a site called "Electric Scotland."

Pioneer children sang as they walked and walked and walked and walked.
Pioneer children sang as they walked and walked and walked and walked.
They washed at streams and worked and played.
Sundays they camped and read and prayed.
Week after week they sang as they walked and walked and walked and walked.

If you ever come to Wyoming let me know and we'll go down to Independence Rock and Martin's Cove.

I always loved the rhythm of this song and how obnoxiously you could sing the refrain. I never for a moment believed that kids forced to walk halfway across the country sang while they walked. Except maybe: "This sucks.... and sucks.... and sucks... and sucks...." Yeah, I'm a romantic.

Like Holly, I also grew up mormon, but unlike Holly, I did so in North East England. We also celebrated Pioneer Day, which seemed to us a bizarre ritual that had so little to do with the culture we saw around us that we really struggled to understand its significance. Another reason we didn't understand and didn't like it was that our teachers seemed to think it was an exercise in trying to recreate the misery of the pioneers - we had to walk a long way and the reward at the end of it was very little food and a long and boring religious service. The recreation of misery was, on reflection, a large part of the way mormonism was practiced where I lived, but perhaps that was a reflection of the kind of unstable people the church attracted in our community! However, I was not sorry to see Pioneer Day disappear but I was happy to remember it, Holly, so thanks.

Hi Everyone--

Yes, Juti, that is the song! Thanks for providing the rest of the lyrics.

Dale, glad you enjoyed the history lesson. SO, I'm with you: I really doubt anyone was singing cheerfully for over 1000 miles.

Matt--I love your comment that The recreation of misery was, on reflection, a large part of the way mormonism was practiced where I lived, but perhaps that was a reflection of the kind of unstable people the church attracted in our community!

I think that goes, to a slightly lesser extent, about the way Mormonism was practiced where I lived as well!

Happy Pioneer Day (belatedly)!

I'll try to get out and waaaaalk (but I don't think I'll be singing at the same time).

Dammit!!!

Now I have that song stuck in my head!!!

Thanks a lot Holly!!!

Well, since I'm an affirmed nostalgia-maniac, I guess I'll embrace it.

But just this once!!! ;-)

I realize this is an old post but I just found it searching for Tarleton Lewis. He is also my great-great-great grandfather which makes us cousins of some sort :) Nice to meet ya cousin. I did not know that about him losing the little boy that way, finding the bucket but not the boy... Sad.

Hi Allison--glad you stopped by; glad to meet another cousin. It is a sad story; it always gets to me. One reason I can't--and don't want to--abandon the riches of my Mormon heritage.

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This page contains a single entry by Holly published on July 24, 2006 2:02 PM.

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