Pioneer memory is particularly powerful in Utah and within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which established Utah in the mid-19th century.

The LDS Church simultaneously sought to integrate large numbers of immigrant converts and to preserve Mormon doctrine as Utah embraced assimilation into the American nation in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Mormons believed that they played a crucial, distinct–and even holy–role in American westward expansion. 

Even after it transformed itself from an LDS theocratic state to a state of the United States, Utah’s politics and public life were heavily influenced by Mormon culture and the LDS church. That influence can be clearly seen in the ways in which LDS leaders shaped nominally public commemorations. Pioneer Day, which celebrated Brigham Young’s 1847 arrival in the Salt Lake Valley, has been celebrated statewide as a religious holiday since 1857; it became an official state holiday in 1882. Beginning in the 1880s and continuing throughout the twentieth century, LDS, community, and secular government leaders worked together to erect monuments to those early settlers.

In contrast to mainstream Christian denominations, Latter-day Saints believe in ongoing revelation from the time of Joseph Smith (1805-1844). The mid-19th-century Mormon overland migration therefore represented a kind of sacred history of the LDS Church. For Latter-day Saints, that story became not only a central part of the national frontier narrative, but also a reminder that the LDS faithful had been led by Brigham Young out of mainstream American society to their promised land. As the LDS Church moved away from independence toward annexation by the United States, Mormon interpretations of Utah’s frontier past shifted, and so did depictions of pioneer men, women and children in LDS-sponsored public monuments.



Interactive Map

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This data is plotted using timemap.