Today in History: July 24
seated in [United States Capitol] rotunda,
Theodor Horydczak, photographer,
Washington As It Was: Photographs by Theodor Horydczak, 1923-1959
Completing a treacherous thousand-mile exodus, an ill and exhausted Brigham Young and fellow members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints arrived in Utah's Great Salt Lake Valley on July 24, 1847. The Mormon pioneers viewed their arrival as the founding of a Mormon homeland, hence Pioneer Day. The Mormons, as they were commonly known, left their settlement in Nauvoo, Illinois, and journeyed West seeking refuge from religious persecution. The final impetus for their trek was the murder of founder and prophet Joseph Smith on June 27, 1844.
Determined to settle in an isolated region, the pioneers made their way across the plains and over the Rocky Mountains to Utah. They lost many of their party to disease during the winter months. By the time that they reached Utah, the desolate valley was a welcome sight. Potatoes and turnips were soon planted, and a dam was built. With solemn ceremonies, the settlers consecrated the two-square-mile city, and sent back word that the "promised land" had been found. By the end of 1847, nearly 2,000 Mormons had settled in the Salt Lake Valley.
Mormon Temple Grounds,
Salt Lake City, Utah,
L. Hollard, photographer,
Taking the Long View: Panoramic Photographs, 1851-1991
July 24 is still celebrated as Pioneer Day in Utah and several other Western states. The bravery of the original settlers and their strength of character and physical endurance is commemorated with festivities including games and music, speeches, parades, rodeos, and picnics.
The following American Memory collections contain perspectives on the Mormon church:
- American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1940 collection contains "The Mormon Church West of the Rio Grande" which recounts the settlement of Carson, New Mexico, by a band of Mormon pioneers.
- Trails to Utah and the Pacific: Diaries and Letters, 1846-1869 links to diaries, maps, photos and illustrations, and published guides for immigrants that provide information on the pioneers who trekked westward across America to Utah, Montana, and the Pacific between 1847 and the meeting of the rails in 1869.
- Read A Child of the Sea and Life Among the Mormons, Elizabeth Whitney Williams' eyewitness account of James Jesse Strang's short-lived dissident Mormon monarchy on Beaver Island, Michigan. Williams' memoir is available through the collection Pioneering the Upper Midwest: Books from Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, ca. 1820-1910.
- Search on Mormon in History of the American West, 1860-1920: Photographs from the Collection of the Denver Public Library for a variety of photographs, primarily in Salt Lake City, as well as on Brigham Young.
- Search on Mormon in The Nineteenth Century in Print: Books and The Nineteenth Century in Print: Periodicals for a rich variety of materials including "Mormonism in Illinois" in the American Whig Review and The Mormons, or, Latter-day saints, in the valley of the Great salt lake….
- Publisher Samuel Bowles gives his impression of the Mormon community of Salt Lake City in the mid-1860s in Our New West. Access this text through the collection The Evolution of the Conservation Movement, 1850-1920. Start reading on page 206.
- Search on Utah in Map Collections for early maps of the Utah territory.
- Search on Mormon, Brigham Young, or Joseph Smith in the Prints & Photographs Online Catalog (PPOC) for a variety of images—including photographs and prints.
- Also consult Today in History:
- Search the Today in History Archive on the names of states such as Minnesota, Kansas, or the Dakotas to learn more about settling the West.
- Today in History features about Westward expansion include the opening of the Oregon Territory in 1848, the 1862 Homestead Act, the birthday of well-known pioneer, Laura Ingalls Wilder, and the first transcontinental railroad which the Mormons helped to build.
- Search the Today in History Archive on the names of other religious groups to find features on significant events in the history of these groups in America, such as, the establishment of the first Jewish community and the first synagogue in America; William Penn's founding of the first Quaker colony in America; Roger Williams' championship of freedom of worship and his founding of the Rhode Island colony; and the charter of the Maryland colony, a refuge for Roman Catholics.