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 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.
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 American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936 to 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 of Hope: Overland Diaries and Letters, 1846-1869 External from the Brigham Young University Digital Collections links to diaries, maps, photos, 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 to 1910.
- Search on Mormon in the Denver Public Library Digital Collections External for a variety of photographs, primarily in Salt Lake City, as well as on Brigham Young.
- Publisher Samuel Bowles gives his impression of the Mormon community of Salt Lake City in the mid-1860s in Our New West. This text is also found in the collection The Evolution of the Conservation Movement, 1850-1920.
- Search on Utah in Map Collections for early maps of the Utah territory.
- Search on Mormon, Brigham Young, or Joseph Smith in the pictorial collections for a variety of images—including photographs and prints.