July 24 is a Utah State holiday which commemorates the entry of the Mormon pioneers to the Salt Lake Valley in 1847. In spite of not being from Utah, this was part of my own heritage because I was raised in a southern Arizona town which was settled by descendants of those pioneers. There was at the time one congregation for the entire town of about 1,000 people. Practically the whole town turned out for the annual Pioneer day parade, and I participated in it once or twice. It was as big an occasion as the 4th of July.
Although I knew I had Mormon pioneer ancestors who “crossed the plains”, I was under the impression that most of them came later than the original pioneer group. It was not until a few years ago that I learned that one of my ancestors, Levi Jackman, was in Brigham Young’s pioneer company. My father may have known it, but he never spoke of it.
I grew up singing a hymn written by Ida Romney Alldredge, a great aunt to Presidential candidate Mitt Romney, “They, the Builders of the Nation“. I always considered it to apply to many of the early American colonists as well as the Mormon pioneers, who likewise fled religious persecution. The ordinary, accessible, human courage of those pioneers in facing the extraordinary hardships of their day has long been an inspiration to me.