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2008-07-21 14:16:30
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Pioneer Day

24th of July


Pioneer Day on the 24th of July is a state holiday in Utah, commemorating the arrival of the mormon pioneers after a 17-month trek across the plains after they had been driven out of Nauvoo, Illinois and other places in the Eastern parts of the United States. Pioneer day is also celebrated in other states and countries by the members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

The early members of the church were heavily persecuted in their homes, and eventually in 1846 were forced to leave westward, essentially driven out of their home country (at the time Utah belonged to Mexico). They made the journey mainly with pushcarts or carriages pulled by oxen. Many didn't survive the journey, many were left along the trail to be retrieved later. When the pioneers were in Council Bluffs in Iowa (or Winter Quarters as they called it), the United States army - that had earlier refused to help or defend the rights of the Mormons - requested a battalion of 500 men to help fight the U.S-Mexican war. That battalion of 500 men (and some women who had refused to be separated from their husbands) endured the longest infantry march in U.S. history, over 2,000 miles. Some of these returning soldiers were also involved in starting the California Gold Rush of 1849, when several of them found gold at Sutter’s Mill while trying to earn enough money to go to Utah to rejoin their families and friends.

While the battalion was out, the pioneers continued westward from Winter Quarters in April 1847, traveling along what is now known as the Mormon Trail. The first scouts arrived in Salt Lake Valley on the 21st of July, 1847 with the main party arriving on the 24th. They immediately planted crops to have fresh wheat before winter. More groups of pioneers kept arriving steadily through the years. In June 1848 the colonies were plagued by swarms of crickets. After much prayer and fasting by the members, flocks of seagulls came and ate all the crickets, more than they normally should have. The Mormon pioneers recognized this as a miracle, and as a result the seagull is the state bird of Utah.

In Utah Pioneer Day is an all-out celebration complete with rodeos, parades and fireworks. The largest parade, The Days of '49 in Salt Lake City is a three-hour event, which is televised. In the evening there is also a celebratory event with an address from the First Presidency of the church and a programme of music. Non-Mormon citizens of Utah also celebrate Pioneer Day, commemorating other pioneers such as Bishop Daniel Tuttle who built the state's first public hospital in the 1800s.

From the beginning of the pioneer day tradition, the living pioneers who had arrived in the valley before 1869 were honored with a dinner each July 24. The last living pioneer died in 1967. Her name was Hilda Ericson and she was 108 years old.

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