When the first group of weary Mormon pioneers straggled into Salt Lake Valley over a three-day period in 1847, they were a unique brand of settlers. Unlike most people in America's vast westward migration, they did not come for their own private purposes. They came as guides, ground breakers and road builders for the tens of thousands of others they knew would follow.
That sense of purpose - and all that subsequently flowed from it - is the real reason Utahns give significant honor to the pioneers each July 24. Utah's founding was not just an accident of geography or circumstance. Those first settlers and most who came after in the pioneer era were driven by a dream far bigger than mere personal gain.In the first few years, the pioneers knew poverty and hunger. They struggled to wrest a living from a hostile environment. But they did more than just seek to survive, despite the hardship.
They scouted and mapped and laid out a city patterned after the principles outlined by their late prophet and leader, Joseph Smith. They plowed and planted, not merely for their own use, but for others. They built community projects, disdained the private ownership of property, constructed places of worship while living in crude shelters and made plans for a magnificent temple.
In highly organized fashion, they dispatched groups of settlers across Salt Lake Valley and then to nearby valleys. Eventually, they founded 350 settlements stretching as far as California and into Canada and Mexico - all while struggling to acquire the basic necessities of life.
The effort, the discipline, the commitment that went into that heroic colonization may be difficult for some people to grasp and appreciate. But modern Utah rests intimately upon the foundation laid by those pioneers who were conscious of building for today's generation of Utahns as well as for their own.
For members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the pioneer saga is not a dusty item in history books. In a very real way it is ingrained in the Mormon psyche, kept alive in genealogies and family histories and a sense of kinship with the past. For many people, 1847 in some ways does not seem all that strange or distant.
Salt Lake's huge Days of '47 parade is more than a colorful spectacle of floats and bands and marchers and an easy salute to the pioneers. On a deeper level, the parade is a reminder of the debt owed to the past and ought to serve as a nudge to the conscience of modern Utahns as to whether they are living up to the legacy left for them at such great cost.