Ask Us: Top Five Reference Questions about Pioneer Day

by Benjamin Whisenant and the Consultation Services team
21 July 2020

In this post, discover the answers to some of the most common questions about Pioneer Day that come to the Consultation Services team.

In our “Ask Us: Top Five” blog series, we share questions and answers on Church history topics that come to us through Ask Us, the Church History Library’s online question submission system. This month, we’re highlighting the top questions we receive related to Pioneer Day, the day when many people commemorate the first Latter-day Saint pioneers’ arrival in the Salt Lake Valley on July 24, 1847.

Here are the top five reference questions we get asked at this time of the year:

1. What is the history of Pioneer Day celebrations?

Pioneer Day wasn’t celebrated until two years after the pioneers’ 1847 arrival in the Salt Lake Valley. “The first winter was a mild one, and when July 24, 1848, came, the day went unheralded,” Harold H. Jensen wrote for the Improvement Era.1

The next year, however, was different. In early July 1849, the State of Deseret convened the first general assembly of its provisional government. According to Edward H. Anderson, this general assembly provided the backdrop for the first Pioneer Day celebration, which kicked off with “music, firing of musketry and artillery, shouts and hurrahs,” and the raising of “an immense national flag made by the ‘Mormon’ women.”2 A parade—featuring “a brass band; twelve bishops bearing the banners of their wards; twenty-four young men . . . ; twenty-four young ladies in white, each carrying a Bible and Book of Mormon . . . ; Brigham Young and his company of nine prominent men; again twelve bishops; [and] twenty-four [elderly men] . . . , one carrying the Stars and Stripes bearing the inscription ‘Liberty and Truth’”—marched across downtown Salt Lake City. When the parade reached its end, there was a “feast . . . of which several thousand people partook.”3

Celebrating Pioneer Day has been a tradition ever since. The following are other sources discussing the first Pioneer Day:

2. Who were the first Latter-day Saint pioneers to enter the Salt Lake Valley?

In April 1847, the first group of Latter-day Saint pioneers to attempt the journey to the Salt Lake Valley left Winter Quarters, Nebraska, with Brigham Young as their leader. Later known as the vanguard company, their mission was to establish a trail to the Great Basin region and, once there, find a new home for the Saints. They beat a determined track across the North American plains, rising at 5:00 every morning, beginning the day’s travel at 7:00 a.m., stopping the wagons at 8:30 p.m., and retiring to bed at 9:00 p.m. They didn’t travel on Sundays.

Following this pace, they usually covered between 14 and 20 miles a day, and, by late June 1847, the vanguard company reached what is now Wyoming, where explorer Jim Bridger met with Brigham Young and gave him a general description of the Salt Lake Valley. Shortly thereafter, mountain fever seized many in the camp, including Brigham, who became so ill he could barely lift his head off his pillow. Willard Richards was assigned to lead a “working party” into the Salt Lake Valley while President Young, still unable to travel, remained behind.

On July 21, 1847, Erastus Snow and Orson Pratt of the working party, acting as scouts, were the first to enter the valley; they returned to the working party and led them into the Salt Lake Valley the following day. On July 23, the working party reached the area that would become Emigration Street, near the Temple Block. And on Saturday, the 24th of July, President Young arrived.4

The 1847 Latter-day Saint pioneers at a 50th-anniversary celebration

Saints, Vol. 2: No Unhallowed Hand, 1846–1893, the new narrative history of the Church published by the Church History Department, is also an excellent resource for additional information about the first pioneers to enter the Salt Lake Valley.

3. Did Brigham Young ever actually say, “This is the right place”?

The first recorded use of “This is the right place” did not come directly from Brigham Young but from Wilford Woodruff, who used the phrase while quoting Brigham Young during an 1880 Pioneer Day speech at the Tabernacle; this was nearly three years after Brigham’s death. Describing the Latter-day Saint pioneers’ initial entry into the Salt Lake Valley from Emigration Canyon, Wilford said, “While gazing upon the scene before us, [Brigham Young] was enwrapped in vision for several minutes. He had seen the valley before in vision, and upon this occasion he saw the future glory of Zion and of Israel, as they would be, planted in the valleys of these mountains. When the vision had passed, he said, ‘It is enough. This is the right place. Drive on.’”5

There are other accounts from Wilford Woodruff, however, that differ somewhat from this version; for example, on the day of their descent into the Salt Lake Valley, Wilford wrote in his journal that “President Young expressed his full satisfaction in the Appearance of the valley as A resting place for the Saints”—without using Brigham’s exact words.6

Interestingly, even though most of Brigham’s speeches throughout his life were recorded by one or more people, there are no accounts of him repeating what he supposedly said in Emigration Canyon. This has led some researchers to question whether Brigham Young actually uttered his famous pronouncement.

Years later, President Young’s quote was also frequently recorded as simply “This is the place.” The History of Emigration Canyon: Gateway to Salt Lake Valley provides additional information and sources.7

4. Who was the last of the 1847 pioneers to die?

The last pioneer to die from Brigham Young’s 1847 vanguard company was Lorenzo S. Young, who died on March 28, 1924. He was 83 years old.

From left to right: Lorenzo S. Young, Mary Ann Park Brockbank, and Hilda Persdotter Anderson

Several other wagon trains made the trip in 1847. Mary Ann Park Brockbank was three years old when she crossed the plains, and she was the last of the 1847 pioneers to die; she passed away on August 18, 1941, at the age of 98.Hilda Persdotter Anderson died at age 108 on January 1, 1968. She was the last survivor of the pioneers who traveled to Utah before the transcontinental railroad was completed in 1869.9

5. When was This Is the Place Monument dedicated?

On July 25, 1921, the Young Men’s Mutual Improvement Association dedicated This Is the Place Monument to honor the pioneers’ arrival in the Salt Lake Valley. As part of the ceremony, the area where the monument stands—believed to be the spot where Brigham Young first saw the Salt Lake Valley—was dubbed “Pioneer View” by Anthony W. Ivins, general superintendent of the YMMIA, and the monument was unveiled by Preston Nibley, another member of the YMMIA general board.10

The original monument was a 10-foot white concrete obelisk, not the enormous stone and bronze statue that most people associate with the location today. (The latter was dedicated on July 24, 1947.) You can still visit the original monument—it is located higher on the mountain next to a small road. After many years of disrepair, the original monument was refurbished by the Sons of Utah Pioneers and was rededicated by President Boyd K. Packer on July 21, 2007.11

Although Church leaders have participated in its dedications, the Church does not own This Is the Place Monument; it is a Utah state park.

Other sources discussing the dedication of This Is the Place Monument include the following:

6. Bonus question: What additional information is there about Pioneer Day, and how can I find out more about my pioneer ancestors?

Start Here:

  • A post on the Church History Library’s blog, The Historical Record, this article details how the Woman’s Exponent was used to honor pioneers.
  • This is a database containing records of pioneers who traveled to Salt Lake City between 1847 and 1868. It is hosted and maintained by the Church History Library.
  • This is a series of articles hosted by the Church History Department about international Latter-day Saints who act as pioneers in their native lands.
  • This is a growing collection of histories of the Church in countries around the world, including chronologies of events, stories of faith, statistics, and maps.