1. The pioneers of 1847 did not pull handcarts.
The first party to reach the Salt Lake Valley arrived via wagon train. The first handcart company to arrive in Utah didn’t arrive until nearly 10 years later.
2. In fact, most Mormon pioneers didn’t pull handcarts.
Most came with wagons. Between 1856 and 1860, just 10 handcart companies emigrated into the valley, bringing a total of about 3,000 people. Of the 70,000 who emigrated during that time frame, only five percent came by handcart.
3. The journey was dangerous, but not in ways you might expect.
The three most common causes of death along the 1,300-mile trail were accidents, illness and gun-related deaths. Many of the pioneers walked alongside the wagons because the ride was bumpy and dangerous (people often fell out and were struck by wagon wheels, suffering severe injuries and death). Stampede was a constant concern. Cholera and typhoid took the lives of many pioneers, as did accidental shootings. Indian attacks were rare.
4. Most of the pioneers in the first wagon train reached the Salt Lake Valley several days before Brigham Young.
The party’s scouts, Orson Pratt and Erastus Snow, arrived in the Salt Lake Valley on June 21st. Most of the rest of the party followed on June 22nd and began diverting irrigation water from City Creek and planting potatoes and beets. Brigham Young, who was sick, arrived in the valley on the 24th to famously proclaim “This is the right place.”
5. The legend of Brigham standing majestically with his walking staff to survey the valley is not quite accurate.
As the vanguard company got close to the Salt Lake Valley, Brigham Young became ill. When his sick wagon reached the valley, he surveyed it from his bed in the wagon. A statue of a feverish Brigham Young lying down in a wagon just wouldn’t have the same impact of the one that’s displayed at Temple Square, though!
6. It took 10 years for the Mormon pioneers to celebrate “Pioneer Day.”
While the pioneers did celebrate the anniversary of their arrival starting in 1849, the first celebration to be called “Pioneer Day” was held in 1857. Now, celebrations occur all over the state! This photo was taken at the Town Dinner celebration in Monroe.
7. Pioneer Day is the second highest holiday for traffic fatalities.
According to the Utah Department of Public Safety, the holiday generates a lot of traffic, and is typically the highest holiday for fatalities on the road (July 4th is the first).
8. It’s also a great day to get a ticket!
Over the Pioneer holiday weekend in 2015, the Utah Highway Patrol issued 1,717 speeding tickets, 65 citations for distracted driving and handled 82 crashes. They also made 41 DUI arrests. Because the weekend is so notorious for fatalities, the Highway Patrol and local police departments are out in force...so follow the speed limit and pay attention on the road. It goes without saying that if you’re enjoying some Pioneer Day libations, you shouldn’t drive.
9. The celebration isn’t just for Mormon pioneers.
While the celebration began with Mormon pioneers, the state holiday is officially inclusive of all pioneers, including those who were not Mormon. One of Utah’s earliest non-Mormon pioneers, Daniel S. Tuttle, an Episcopal Bishop, founded the private school Rowland Hall-St. Mark’s, and St. Mark’s hospital.
10. Some Utahns celebrate the holiday in a different way.
While the origins of “Pie and Beer Day” are unknown, radio station KRCL hosted the first Pie and Beer Day celebration in 2013. This year’s event is held on Sunday, July 24th at The Beer Bar (161 E. 200 S.). It features pies from more than a dozen local restaurants, and beer from 16 breweries.