Pioneer Day 101

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July 24 is just another hot summer day in every other state. But in the Beehive State, July 24, or Pioneer Day, gives Utahns a chance to celebrate and honor their pioneer heritage with breakfasts, barbecues, fireworks and family traditions.

This year marks the 170th anniversary of when dozens of pioneers arrived in what is now the Salt Lake Valley with Brigham Young, who exclaimed, “This is the right place. Drive on.”

Just as Americans celebrate the sacrifices made for their freedoms on July 4, Utahns celebrate the sacrifices pioneers made to establish the place they call home.

Horses pull a traditional covered wagon through the Dixie Celebration. The celebration occurs each year on the morning of Pioneer Day to celebrate Utah’s pioneer heritage. (Rick Neilson)

Pioneer Day commemorates the Mormon pioneers who sacrificed their homes, their families and their lives to pull handcarts across the U.S. and start anew in the Salt Lake Valley.

While the holiday is strongly associated with the LDS Church, it’s an official state holiday. Much like the Fourth of July, many businesses and state and local government offices close for Pioneer Day.

Devin Dayton, a public health major at BYU, said she celebrates Pioneer Day with outdoor adventures and spending time with family.

“Our celebration always starts with a parade, fetching candy out of the parade from the cars,” Dayton said. “We go out to the ranch, swim in the river and jump off the bridge, take naps, ride four wheelers, ride horses — classic country stuff with dozens and dozens of cousins. And the night always ends with a devotional.”

The state also holds events for Pioneer Day during the week of July 24.

A cowboy rides his horse at the Days of ’47 Rodeo. The rodeo is a popular event for people from all over the state. (Lloyd Blackburn)

Days of ’47 committee member Kathi Izatt said the name of the celebration was crafted to recognize the then-largest group of settlers.

The Days of ’47 is an all-volunteer charitable organization. Residents can attend a series of events the organization puts on honoring the pioneers, including a rodeo, the crowning of Days of ’47 royalty, a float preview party and a Pioneer Day parade down State Street in Salt Lake City.

“The parade is one of the oldest in the country, includes more than 110 discrete entries and has more than 30 self-propelled floats,” Izatt said. “Children love the clowns, adults appreciate the workmanship, businesses love the recognition and everyone loves a parade.”

Although the pioneers initially settled in Salt Lake City, celebrations continue throughout the state with the Pioneer Day Extravaganza in Provo on July 24 and the Dixie Celebration in Washington County from July 17 to 24.

“We strongly encourage participants in the (Dixie Celebration) parade to have horse, handcarts, horse and wagon, or horse and buggy entries and to come in era dress,” said Rick Nielson, president of Days of ’47 Dixie.

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