Pioneer Day: Recommended Reading from JI’s archives

By July 24, 2014

Happy Pioneer Day, readers! Thank you for your patience with us lately — we know things have been slow around here (they tend to get that way during the summer), but we have some exciting things planned moving forward and hope you’ll keep checking in, reading, and commenting moving forward.

In recognition of Pioneer Day, I’ve culled from the Juvenile Instructor’s archives links to several previous posts treating Mormon Pioneers in one sense or another. In hopes that they’ll prove interesting to those who missed them the first time around (and to those, like me, interested in revisiting them), here we go:

Pioneer Day Posts from Previous Years

2008: In “Remembering 7/24 and 9/11 in Mormon History: A Photo Essay,” I reflected on my visits to a pioneer ancestor’s grave on Pioneer Day and then Mountain Meadows a day or two later.

2009: Edje Jeter celebrated Pioneer Day with a fun and informative post on the history and scientific classification of “Mormon Crickets.”

2010: David G.’s “Pioneer Day and Remembering/Forgetting Utah’s Indian Wars” used the example a 1941 monument erected on Pioneer Day in Provo in honor of the Ute Chief Sowiette to investigate the ways in which Utah’s Native peoples are remembered by Mormons celebrating their pioneer forebears, concluding that “I think there is some danger in allowing ourselves to forget too much the violence that marked early Mormon-Indian interactions.”

What David did not know when he wrote the post was that the very morning it went live, Elder Marlin K. Jensen was speaking on that very subject at a Pioneer Day Sunrise Service hosted by the Sons of the Utah Pioneers. Jared T highlighted Elder Jensen’s speech the following morning at JI, and then, two years later, alerted readers that the full text had been published in Mormon Historical Studies.

2011: Ben P. reflected on “Pioneer Day, the Sweetwater Rescue, and the Role of History in Mormonism,” using the popular but largely apocryphal story surrounding the 1856 rescue of the Martin Handcart Company to consider “how we remember [both] the handcart companies [and] … the pioneers in general” and the complex intersections of Mormon history and myth.

2012: David G. again looked to historical monuments in his Pioneer Day post, “‘Linking One Generation to Another’: Dedicating the ‘This is the Place’ Monument, 1947.” He concluded that “the ‘This is the Place’ monument has proven more resilient than many American memorials that crumble and fade as later generations wander from the world views of their parents, as it has remained an important historic site in Utah. It remains unclear, however, whether the dedication was fully successful when viewed from the perspective of [Laurie] Maffly-Kipp?s ‘long approach of the Mormon moment.’

Edje Jeter also contributed a Pioneer Day post in 2012 as part of his then ongoing (and much-missed!) series on the Southwestern States Mission, noting the ways in which missionaries at the turn of the 20th century celebrated (or, in some instances, did not celebrate) the Mormon holiday.

Other Relevant Posts

While not posted on (or immediately around) Pioneer Day, each of the following touch on topics and themes directly relevant to the day and the way it is remembered by Mormons today:

In one of JI’s very earliest posts in November 2007, Stan considered the expression of “Mormon Manifest Destiny” in LDS literature, comparing and contrasting an 1898 vignette published in our blog’s namesake called “The Indian Boy’s Twenty-Fourth” with Orson Whitney’s hymn, “The Wintry Day, Descending to Its Close.”

A guest post from Jared Farmer on “Mormons, Indian Displacement, and Useable Pasts” in 2008 included excerpts from his (then) just-released book, On Zion’s Mount, including the following: “With its disproportionate focus on pioneering, the Mormon sense of the past is compressed and insular. Intentionally or not, native peoples have been pushed to the historical margins?the realm of footnotes and folklore. Utah Mormons preoccupy themselves with the narrative ofgetting to Utah. The pioneer trek is their ?master commemorative narrative.? They have little incentive to think about what happened here before or even afterward. Notwithstanding the achievement of ?making the desert blossom as the rose,? Utah?s territorial period was, from a strict believer?s standpoint, a debacle. … As a consequence, the territorial period as a whole became indistinct. Indians faded out with the polygamists. The native peoples of the Great Basin are now doubly disadvantaged in Mormon memory: not only are the Lamanites forgettable because they didn?t live up to prophecy; they are associated with a prophetic era that most Latter-day Saints would rather forget. By contrast, pioneering is a supremely usable past.”

We’ve featured a handful of really excellent posts examining the specific ways in which modern Mormons remember their pioneer past, including Tona Hangen’s 2013 reflections on “Youth Trek, Public History, and Becoming ‘Pioneer Children’ in the Digital Age,” guest blogger Megan Sanborn Jones’s look at the history and meanings of Mormon pageants (tracing their origins, in part, to an 1849 jubilee celebration that “included the same large casts, creative costuming, symbolic actions, song, and dance that mark pageants today”), and guest blogger Kari Main’s exploration of the “Daughters of the Utah Pioneers as Keepers of Cultural Memory.”

Finally, turning our attention beyond the borders of the United States, two posts on international Mormonism: Stan’s 2007 post on the memory of 19th century Mormon pioneers in 21st century Taiwan and, from 2013, Saskia’s closely-related considerations more broadly. She concludes, “This transnational element illustrates the complexity of the pioneer symbol. In this transnational context, I would argue that the cultural power of the comparison lies in the very fact that it can serve both the needs of a smaller space (a branch in Mongolia, say), and larger structures (the LDS Church as a whole). It allows communities to band together, to rally around a common symbol, whether their need comes from a feeling of being a ?peculiar people? in a differently-peculiar culture, or the reality that being a non-American Saint often does place you in a minority position on several fronts. This symbol is so powerful because it does all that, and yet also serves as an important reminder that the hardships you are facing now are nothing new. You will overcome them, this too shall pass. And in the meantime, ?Come, Come Ye Saints? is there to keep you company along the way?pioneer clothing optional.”

Article filed under Categories of Periodization: Accommodation Categories of Periodization: Modern Mormonism Categories of Periodization: Origins Categories of Periodization: Territorial Period Cultural History Current Events International Mormonism Material Culture Memory Popular Culture Public History Race


  1. Great review, Chris!

    Comment by Ryan T. — July 24, 2014 @ 11:43 am

  2. Thanks for the round-up! Some of these were written before my time and I’m looking forward to catching up.

    Comment by Saskia — July 24, 2014 @ 1:56 pm

  3. Thanks, Ryan and Saskia. There’s been some really great posts.

    Comment by Christopher — July 24, 2014 @ 3:23 pm

  4. As I awoke yesterday to see an American flag in our yard (placed by the Young Men in our ward), I wondered whether anyone has written about the Americanization of Pioneer Day. Or, was America already at the center of celebrations in the past? Any research on that front?

    Comment by Tod R. — July 25, 2014 @ 5:23 pm


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