24 July 2011

24 July - Pioneer Day in Utah


Pioneer Day - the Days of '47 - commemorates the first Mormon (Latter Day Saints) trek across the western plains to the place where they hoped to establish 'a new Zion' and their arrival at Salt Lake Valley on July 24, 1847.  It is an official state holiday for Utah, with huge celebrations, especially in Salt Lake City.  Check out the Calendar on the Days of '47 website for a list of concerts, parades, and festivals (and the rodeo!) which will take place all week.

The Latter Day Saints (founded in 1829 by Joseph Smith, Jr.) had purchased the town of Commerce in western Illinois in 1839 and renamed it 'Nauvoo' - meaning Beautiful.  After years of persecutions and being expelled from communities where they had settled, Nauvoo was to be their Zion, a utopia of the righteous, where they could worship in peace.  Unfortunately, the peace did not last.  Increasing hostility led Smith to consider moving his people to an area further west where they could be free of government interference, and after Smith's murder in 1844, Brigham Young formulated the plans for the move west.

In February 1846, a group of about 14,000 Latter Day Saints started on the 1,300 mile long trail through Iowa, Nebraska, and Wyoming to the Great Basin (at that time a possession of Mexico).  Their plan was to leave some of the company at various places along the trail to develop farm/supply stations for subsequent bands of emigrants.  Unfortunately, heavy rains turned the roads into quagmires, and the largest part of the group was forced into Winter Quarters near Omaha, Nebraska during the winter of 1846-1847.  Setting out again in April of 1847 with a vanguard of 143 men, 3 women, and 2 children, Young saw the Salt Lake valley on July 24 and said "This is the right place."

For more on the Mormon Trail (which became an extensively traveled and well maintained emigrant highway between Salt Lake City and points east) see the Wikipedia article.  The Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail is operated by the National Park System which has auto tours approximating the historic route with suggested sites to visit.   This page on the Mormon Trail discusses the methods of travel and the way the Mormons made it easier each year to travel to and from Salt Lake City.
Food for an emigrant journey west had to be carefully planned, as the pioneers couldn't just pull off the trail to the nearest fast-food joint, and trading posts were not only few and far between, but could be expensive as well.  In 1859, Randolph Marcy advised in his book "The Prairie Traveler":

The allowance of provisions for each grown person, to make the journey from the Missouri River to California, should suffice for 110 days. The following is deemed requisite, viz.: 150 Ibs. of flour, or its equivalent in hard bread; 25 Ibs. of bacon or pork, and enough fresh beef to be driven on the hoof to make up the meat component of the ration; 15 Ibs. of coffee, and 25 Ibs. of sugar; also a quantity of saleratus or yeast powders for making bread, and salt and pepper.

These are the chief articles of subsistence necessary for the trip, and they should be used with economy, reserving a good portion for the western half of the journey. Heretofore many of the California emigrants have improvidently exhausted their stocks of provisions before reaching their journey's end, and have, in many cases, been obliged to pay the most exorbitant prices in making up the deficiency. 

Heritage Gateways, the official website of the Mormon Trail Re-enactment, has an extensive amount of information about both the 1847 trek and the 1997 re-enactment, including biographies, maps, and the mundane things: food, amusements, life on the trail, etc.   Their Food section has recipes and directions for many of the meals which kept the pioneers alive and going on their way West.  Try the Jerky Stew in their honor.