“Lest Thou Forget”: Memorializing and Marking the Mormon Pioneer Trail
Scott C. Esplin, “'Lest Thou Forget': Memorializing and Marking the Mormon Pioneer Trail,” in Far Away in the West: Reflections on the Mormon Pioneer Trail, edited by Scott C. Esplin, Richard E. Bennett, Susan Easton Black, and Craig K. Manscill (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center; Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2015), 279–307.
Scott C. Esplin was an associate professor of Church history and doctrine at Brigham Young University when this was written.
This Is the Place Monument. Photograph by Scott C. Esplin.
As the children of Israel left Egypt and journeyed to the promised land, the prophet Moses instituted a “memorial,” a Passover celebration to be kept “throughout [their] generations” (Exodus 12:14). Celebrating their deliverance, they were to use this feast and its corresponding reminders to instruct their children regarding the strength of God’s almighty hand (see Exodus 13:9, 14). A generation later, after safely arriving in the land of Canaan, Moses’s successor, Joshua, instructed the people to erect a monument of twelve stones taken from the bed of the River Jordan to symbolize their passing through on dry ground. Again, he instructed participants to teach that the marker was “a memorial unto the children of Israel for ever” (Joshua 4:7).
The pattern of celebrating deliverance and erecting memorials to divine intervention was repeated in the exodus of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from Nauvoo, Illinois, to the Salt Lake Valley in Utah. Throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the Church and its members have celebrated the exodus of the early Saints and, more recently, the sites and experiences along the Mormon pioneer trail. Like the Israelites of old, Latter-day Saints have revisited the difficult journey of their forbears and erected monuments to their memory. Prominent commemorations to memorialize the Mormon pioneer exodus include Utah’s annual July 24 pioneer celebrations, the 1947 centennial caravan, and the 1996–97 sesquicentennial wagon train. Originating as celebrations to honor the early Saints’ faith and sacrifice, these commemorations assumed a life of their own, becoming pilgrimages for modern members of the Church. The story of memorializing and marking the Mormon pioneer trail reveals much about how Latter-day Saints view their place in the settling of the West and what these commemorations mean to the shaping of a community’s religious memory.
Early Utah Commemorations
Commemorations, markings, and memorials like those of the Mormon exodus from Nauvoo serve an important function for public memory because they help “society understand both its past, present, and by implication, its future.” They are “a way of claiming that the past has something to offer the present, be it a warning or a model.” They also perform important social functions by constructing unity, continuity, and loyalty among diverse populations. Katharyne Mitchell argues that “there is a deep politics to memory, and each age attempts to refashion and remake memory to serve its own contemporary purposes.” For diverse groups such as those who make up modern Mormonism, monuments, commemorations, and celebrations of the settling of Utah “create a common history that allows for divergent groups to find a common bond.”
As early Utah residents struggled to create a society in their mountain home, they exemplified these memorial patterns, employing commemorations as a means to remember the journey that brought them west and to solidify a sense of community. Commemorations of the trail experience began shortly after settling in the West, often in the form of community gatherings and parades. The first such celebration occurred on July 24, 1849, as Salt Lake City remembered the first arrival of the pioneers. Awakened by nine rounds of artillery, residents of the city’s twelve ecclesiastical wards marched behind their bishops, accompanied by brass and martial bands, carrying respective ward banners to the city’s downtown temple block. President Brigham Young addressed the assembly and joined them in a thanksgiving feast. The Nauvoo bell repeatedly peeled as a large American flag, measuring sixty-five feet in length, was unfurled atop a 104-foot liberty pole. Twenty-four “regular toasts” were pronounced, ranging in topics from extolling the Constitution to blessings upon the “Wheat of the Valley, worth more than the Gold Dust of California.” Additional “volunteer toasts” followed, “many of them . . . sublime, while others were very witty, and caused much laughter among the audience.” In all, participants reported “not an oath was uttered—not a man intoxicated—not a jar or disturbance occurred to mar the union, peace, and harmony of the day.”
Eight years later, in 1857, residents commemorated a decade since the first settlers arrived in the valley. At the commemoration, Brigham Young led a company of 2,587 people in 464 carriages and wagons, together with 1,028 horses and mules and 332 oxen and cows from the mouth of Big Cottonwood Canyon up to Silver Lake, where they celebrated for two days—July 23 and 24. The program consisted of addresses, bands, singing, and dancing. Rounds fired from a brass howitzer were a muted reminder of the United States Army’s impending march to squelch supposed insurrection in what became known as the Utah War. In spite of concerns, President Young recounted “the mercies of God to this people in delivering them from the power of their enemies, in making the desert places blossom like the rose and the sterile plains yield luscious fruits and golden grain, in loading the leaves of the trees and shrubbery with honey dew and in increasing our flocks and herds in a marvelous manner.” Like celebrations marked by the firing of arms, brass bands, talks, and memorial toasts were reported in the Utah communities of Lehi, Alpine, Pleasant Grove, Provo, Payson, Nephi, Manti, Parowan, and Cedar City. During the first decade of Mormonism’s presence in the Utah Territory, festive community celebrations of the pioneers preserved the ideals of Mormon culture, developed social unity, and maintained a status quo.
While memorializing the arrival of the pioneers remained the primary focus of early celebrations, elements of the commemorations reveal fundamental characteristics of Latter-day Saint society. For example, in spite of simmering mistrust of the federal government, freedom, support of the Constitution, and love of country were prevalent in early Pioneer Day festivities in the Utah Territory. At the 1849 celebration, a parade was led by “twenty-four young men, dressed in white, with white scarfs on their right shoulders, and coronets on their heads, each carrying in their right hand the Declaration of Independence and Constitution of the United States.” At the appropriate time, one young man stepped forward and presented his document to Brigham Young, “which was received with three deafening shouts, led on by President Young, of ‘May it live for ever and ever.’” Toasts at this celebration praised “the Constitution of the United States; the Mercury of American Liberty,” “the President of the United States, and the Governors of the several States,” “and “our God, our Country, and our Rights.”
A year later a visitor noted the peculiar “sources of amusement” commemorating the “gala day.” “The rising sun was hailed by the discharge of artillery and loud music in front of the Council House,” the visitor reported. “Soon after, a triumphal car, 40 feet long, 6 feet high and 6 feet wide, containing the President, Brigham Young, sundry other officials and a large band of music and drawn by 24 gray horses, began a march through the various thoroughfares of the city; cannons firing and the band playing for two hours.” Impressed by the love for country, the visitor noted “13 old men, one of whom addressed the rising generation as spokesman for himself and 12 compeers as representatives of the 13 original states.” These men “bequeathed to the rising generation the Constitution of the United States[,] [t]he Declaration of Independence and Constitution of the State of Deseret, all of which was duly read.”
Following a peaceful resolution of the Utah War, commemorations of Pioneer Day varied in size and splendor across the Utah Territory. In 1879, the Church’s journal history simply noted for July 24, “This being Pioneer Day, the day was generally observed in Utah as a holiday. The weather was fine and there was a grand concert in the Tabernacle.” A year later, as the Church celebrated its fiftieth anniversary, the same record contained five pages of preparations leading up to the celebration and more than two dozen pages reporting on the event itself. While the celebration coincided with the Pioneer Day commemoration, Church officials used the occasion to recount prominent stories of the faith’s past, including the march of Zion’s Camp, the campaign of the Mormon Battalion, and the Church’s message being preached in twenty-five nations. In doing so, the faith employed collective instruction, a key function of public commemorations, especially for those who did not experience the original events.
The annual processional likewise reflected expansion of the celebration beyond the pioneer component. Highlighted by seventy-six different entries, the 1880 parade had its share of expected participants including the 1847 pioneers and Church leaders. However, it also had diverse groups represented, such as the pilgrim fathers, Pony Express riders, telegraph operators, horticulturalists, quarriers, stonecutters, tanners, house and decorative painters, tailors, soap makers, machinists, basket weavers, chimney sweeps, and even men from the local yacht club. Clearly, the celebration had grown beyond its original purpose to honor pioneers. It had expanded to honor the progress of the faith by demonstrating its taming of the harsh western frontier.
As the population of the territory grew, emphasis on celebrating the arrival of the original pioneers of 1847 increased. By honoring select segments of society such as community founders and leaders, pioneer commemorations served the important function of reinforcing social order. In this way, Utah’s galas were typical of other nineteenth-century American celebrations, which “invariably focused primary attention on the first generation of white settlers in a particular place.” For example, during the 1880 celebration, the grand processional parade was headed by five wagonloads of surviving 1847 pioneers. The first carriage transported prominent pioneers, including Wilford Woodruff, Orson Pratt, Charles C. Rich, Erastus Snow, Albert Carrington, Joseph Young, John Brown, Thomas Bullock, Horace K. Whitney, Aaron Farr, Zebedee Coltrin, Truman O. Angell, and Thomas Grover. Portraits of Brigham Young were placed on both sides of the carriage, together with the inscriptions, “Gone before Us” and “Absent but Not Forgotten.” Prominently displayed “above [the portraits and inscriptions] was the old pioneer banner, on which were the names of all the pioneers and a picture of Joseph Smith, the prophet, in the act of blowing a trumpet.” Later in the day, Wilford Woodruff addressed an assembled audience of about 15,000 in the Salt Lake Tabernacle, where he praised the congregation “as pioneers and as the people of God . . . fulfilling prophecy and making history.”
As their numbers dwindled, focus intensified on honoring the vanguard company and the other pioneers who first arrived in Utah in 1847. During the Church presidency of Wilford Woodruff, the Deseret Evening News editorialized on the eve of the 1896 pioneer celebration that President Woodruff was the lone survivor of the presiding council of the Church who made the pioneer journey and that less than three dozen people remained from the original company of 148 men, women, and children. Looking forward to the jubilee celebration the next year, the paper continued, “By another July 24th, when the fiftieth year since the arrival in Utah shall have been rounded out, we know not what names may be dropped from the list.” Praising their memory and encouraging readers to honor their sacrifice, the editorial concluded, “But we do know that the Pioneer band and the cause that impelled their heroic action are permanently enshrined in the hearts of the people of these mountain vales.”
While generally festive in nature, pioneer commemorations also provided opportunity to express community emotion. On one occasion, the passing of a son of a prominent pioneer impacted the community’s celebration of the journey. On July 19, 1896, thirty-seven-year-old Elder Abraham H. Cannon, Apostle and son of First Presidency member George Q. Cannon, died unexpectedly. Pained by the loss of a “beloved and honored son of a Pioneer of 1847” who was “also loved and honored by the whole people,” the public celebration of Pioneer Day in Salt Lake City was canceled in his memory.
Though remembering the past continued to be the primary purpose for the Pioneer Day commemorations in the nineteenth century, the annual celebrations also highlighted community progress. The decoration and use of the famed Salt Lake Tabernacle, “where early Mormonism revealed itself to contemporaries,” discloses much about the faith’s view of the day. For example, during a festive fiftieth anniversary of the Church, the tabernacle was “re-decorated for the occasion and was truly a magnificent sight to behold.” On either side of the imposing organ were scenes contrasting the frontier past with the trappings of modern civilization. The south side depicted the way pioneers perceived the valley upon their arrival, with a pine and sagebrush forest and figures of deer and buffalo as well as “an Indian wickiup before which sat [an American Indian] family in characteristic attire,” all under the large numerals “1847.” By contrast, on the north end of the organ “was a tastefully arranged picture of a handsome modern dwelling, with lace curtains, chairs, sofas, settees, etc.” The front of the dwelling was decorated with a fountain and “luxuriant growth of exotics, house plants, and various kinds of flowers and garden shrubbery, forming a beautiful arbor, under which were seated several ladies and children nicely dressed.” Like the other display, the scene was crowned in large numbers that read “1880.” Fresh festoons of pine draped the balcony, the phrase “God Bless Our Mountain Home” was atop each pillar, and a water fountain adorned by four lion figures was placed on the main floor. The decorations sent the unspoken message of how far the community had advanced.
Six years later, the drapery of progress was changed to reflect instead an era of federal opposition to the faith’s practice of plural marriage. In 1886, the general celebration of Pioneer Day was canceled. It was replaced by a children’s program in the Salt Lake Tabernacle on July 24. For the occasion, “the interior of the Tabernacle presented a scene in strong contrast to the gay holiday decorations of former occasions.” The vacant stands were “draped in mourning,” marked by signs to explain the absence of Church leaders. Near the vacant seats, one placard read, “The First Presidency: In Exile for Conscience’ Sake.” Another card explained, “Of the Twelve Apostles and Counselors: Those not here are in jeopardy, in prison, and in foreign lands, because they prefer to obey God rather than man.” On the stand sat three pioneers—Patriarch Lorenzo D. Young, Bishop Millen Atwood, and Elder Samuel Turnbow—the only three “who could be present of the 143 men and three women who composed that noble band” of original settlers. Using the commemoration to make a social statement, speakers extolled pioneer virtues while condemning the nation that sought their liberty.
By 1897, the mood was markedly different for the grandest pioneer celebration of the nineteenth century—the commemoration of fifty years since the arrival of the first settlers in the valley. Nearly a decade removed from antipolygamy opposition that had muted pioneer commemorations throughout the 1880s, the Church and the newly created state of Utah enjoyed five days of revelry. The jubilee brought together iconic elements of nineteenth-century community gatherings. Beginning on Tuesday, July 20, festivities commenced at midnight with six shots fired by surviving members of the Nauvoo Legion from a small brass howitzer. Three additional guns were fired at 7:00 a.m. to open the day’s events, the first being the march of 318 pioneer men and women to the new Brigham Young monument unveiled on the northwest corner of Main and South Temple Streets in Salt Lake City. Later in the afternoon, 663 pioneers participated in a meeting at the Salt Lake Tabernacle, where each received a gold medal honoring their legacy. The evening celebration was capped by a concert in their honor, with special guest William Jennings Bryan speculating in his oration, “How long would live the story of that journey across the plains.”
Engendering societal unity, parades highlighted the next four days of the public celebration. In an attempt to describe the scene, the Deseret Evening News noted, “The streets cease to be streets about the time the parade begins.” Instead, they become “rivers of humanity in which the people surge to and fro, here moving rapidly for a stretch in ripples of anticipation toward some happening a block or two [away], there forming a whirlpool which moves round and round some striking object of interest; while all along the street are to be seen Pioneer eddies—white haired groups shaking hands and trading reminiscences.” On July 21, the Pageant of Progress, “a magnificent parade that surprised and pleased tens of thousands” highlighted growth in the region since the pioneers first arrived. The next day over ten thousand children paraded through the streets of the city, laying flowers at the pedestal of the Brigham Young monument. Upon retiring to the tabernacle, these children were instructed by their leaders. A granddaughter of President John Taylor placed a laurel wreath on President Wilford Woodruff’s brow and said, “As one of the descendants of Utah’s 1847 Pioneers, I crown you the oldest of that noble band present here today, and pray God’s blessing on you and all your pioneer companions.” Later that evening, an illuminated night parade dazzled more than one hundred thousand spectators. A newspaper later reported that the evening’s entertainment would be “talked of throughout Utah and the surrounding states for weeks to come—may be for years.” The next day, a parade entitled Riches of the Counties displayed products from Utah’s various regions.
In Salt Lake City, the 1897 Pioneer Day itself began with the boom of cannons at Fort Douglas. A grand pioneer parade united the five previous processionals into “an all-eclipsing finale” that “eclipse[d] in length, beauty and diversity of features, any other parade ever given in the United States west of the Mississippi.” Pioneers from 1847 numbering about five hundred marched four abreast the length of the parade route and were “cheered enthusiastically along the whole line.” Brigham Young’s pioneer carriage was decorated and “drawn along by a company of tastefully dressed grandchildren of the late President,” while the American flag was unfurled atop nearby Ensign Peak. Fireworks on Capitol Hill in what promoters called “one of the largest pyrotechnic displays ever seen in the United States, consisting of brilliant illuminations, thousands of Roman Candles, Rockets, Bombshells, Tourbillions and Whirlwinds,” capped the evening. For the citizens of Utah, Pioneer Day in 1897 was the celebration of the century, the “greatest Mormon holiday.” It characterized how communities, like nineteenth-century Mormonism, used celebration to preserve and express its ideology, unite a diverse society, and promote a common history.
Shifting Focus to Remembering the Trail
In a somber display, Sabbath services in the Salt Lake Tabernacle concluding the 1897 pioneer jubilee were held “in memory of the departed Pioneers, who came to Salt Lake Valley in 1847.” Commemorating “members of that gallant band who have departed this life and are resting from their labors, while their heroic works do follow them,” the memorial discourse delivered by First Presidency member Joseph F. Smith marked a shift in how the trail experience would be remembered in the twentieth century. President Smith laid the groundwork for expanding future celebrations beyond honoring the declining number of living pioneers. In addition, he spoke at length on regions outside the borders of their mountain home, extending the reach of the celebrations. Looking eastward, President Smith noted:
In reflecting upon the work that has been accomplished and the gratifying results that have accrued therefrom, we will not do full justice to the departed ones to whom under God we are indebted for the blessings we enjoy in the mountain vales today, if we stop at the Pioneers of 1847, with Brigham Young at their head. We must go further up the stream of time. . . . In leading the people here, in laying out the cities and towns and hamlets in this then desolate region, [Brigham Young] was but carrying into practical effect the teachings and predictions and directions of . . . Joseph Smith.
President Smith then recalled the events of Nauvoo that led to the exodus.
In the twentieth century, members of the faith followed this pattern by shifting their focus toward Nauvoo, Illinois, and the pioneer trail that connected it to Salt Lake City. As those who crossed the plains in early companies passed away, their posterity sought ways to commemorate and eventually recreate their experience for a new generation. While earlier efforts in Utah focused on the remembrance of pioneers and the progress they effected in the West, the twentieth century brought attention to marking the trail and remembering their trail experience.
Early markings of the trail began at its western end and progressed east. Beginning in 1912, Boy Scout troops hiked the Utah portion of the trail, erecting markers and signboards at prominent locations, including Big Mountain, the place where Brigham Young first viewed the Salt Lake Valley in 1847. In subsequent years, the Utah State Legislature appropriated money to transform the pioneer trail from the Salt Lake Valley to the Utah border into a state highway. Meanwhile, parties lobbied for the placement of thirteen stone prisms between six and eight feet high to mark the trail. At the base of Emigration Canyon in Salt Lake City, Pioneer Trail State Park had its beginnings when a miniature obelisk was placed on the site in 1921. A state commission was appointed to oversee the area in 1937, transforming it into a state park in 1957. During this same era, the Daughters of Utah Pioneers organization, followed later by the Sons of Utah Pioneers, also began actively marking numerous pioneer trail sites across the West.
To mark the trail east from Utah, individuals interested in commemorating the Mormon Trail joined with those committed to highlighting other western trails. Chief among them was Ezra Meeker, a Washington state resident who, in 1906 at the age of seventy-six, retraced his Oregon Trail journey of five decades earlier, generating interest and raising money to mark trails. While focused primarily on the Oregon Trail, “Meeker Markers,” as his memorials came to be known, remain in places along both the Oregon and Mormon Trails. Additionally, his reverse journey attracted attention to the Mormon pioneer trail. Meeker teamed up with Howard Driggs, a professor at the University of Utah with a strong interest in memorializing the trail. Driggs served as a charter member and president of the Oregon Trail Memorial Association and later as president of the American Pioneer Trail Association. In these capacities, he published numerous accounts of pioneer life, spearheaded efforts to mark trails, and organized important commemorations.
One prominent celebration Driggs directed was the 1930 centennial of the Oregon Trail. From July 3 through 6 of that year, approximately fifteen thousand people representing every state in the Union gathered at Wyoming’s Independence Rock. There they participated in the national Covered Wagon Centennial. Though the Oregon Trail Memorial Association sponsored the celebration, Driggs realized that the Oregon Trail was merely the “mother trail.” He expanded the organization’s reach to include other pioneer experiences, including the Mormon story. Recognizing connections between the Oregon and Mormon Trails, Elder George Albert Smith led a large delegation from Utah to the centennial event. A year later, Elder Smith and President Heber J. Grant returned to Independence Rock to place a marker honoring the Mormon pioneers on behalf of the newly formed Utah Pioneer Trails and Landmarks Association.
Leading the Utah Pioneer Trails and Landmarks Association for twenty years as an Apostle and later as Church President, George Albert Smith was instrumental in placing pioneer markers on the Mormon Trail and at other important pioneer sites extending from Nauvoo to Salt Lake City and throughout the West. The organization had an ambitious agenda “to place one or more historical markers of one kind or another: In, on, or near every plain, desert, mountain, river, lake, spring, mountain pass, highway, railroad, settlement, town, city, county, old structure or building, school house, court house, theatre, meeting house, chapel, lodge or other place frequented by the people.” In a Herculean endeavor, the group hoped to commemorate
the first person who visited or told about the place; the first explorer, trapper, emigrant, scout, missionary leader, or actual settler. The first child born, the first married couple, the first Mayor, the first Bishop or Pastor, the first school teacher, or other civic leader, the most prominent person in any line, the one who set out the first trees, plowed the first furrow, planted the first grain, or sugar beets, or whatever the community grows best, built the first house, erected the first saw mill, grist mill, molasses factory, sugar factory, tannery, harness shop, boot and shoe shop, or blacksmith shop, started the first newspaper, became the first butcher, doctor, dentist, lawyer, banker, jeweler or whatnot that marked the growth of the place; the oldest person, the mother of the most children; the first storekeeper; the first postmaster; the town’s namesake, if any; the one who brought in the first reaping or threshing machine; the woman who wove the first cloth and taught others; the one who introduced fruit, and set out orchards; the first library, and so forth. Some one or more people are outstanding in the history of the community—and deserve a marker. Who started the first irrigation water, or who discovered that the land could be dry farmed—honor him! Who discovered the flowing well, or dug the first one and attached a pump? Who made it possible to stay there over night!
As if that were not enough, the association added, “Then there are the routes and stations of the historical Overland Stages, Pony Express, and so forth—all these need marking, and so do the mountain routes into many valleys.” While manifestly impossible to accomplish all of this in one lifetime, George Albert Smith tried. “Probably no man in the United States has officiated at more unveiling exercises of historic monuments and markers over such a wide area than has President George Albert Smith,” noted fellow trail enthusiast George Q. Morris. “More than one hundred monuments and markers, ranging in cost from $50.00 to $450,000.00, have been sponsored by the group he heads, and with very few exceptions he has officiated at the dedicatory programs.”
Mormon Trail Monument near Bridgeport, Nebraska, photograph by Napa, Wikimedia Commons.
While marking and memorializing sites important to Mormonism, leaders used the interaction with others to mainstream the faith within what Kathleen Flake called “the permissible limits of American religious difference.” Nationally, the erecting of memorials and marking of historic sites was an important trend of the first half of the twentieth century. By participating in even non-Latter-day Saint memorials, the Church and its leaders demonstrated loyalty to American ideals, often with President George Albert Smith dressed in a Boy Scout uniform for emphasis. Acknowledging the inclusive nature of the markers, leaders boasted that President Smith “has never raised the question of religion but has been concerned only with giving proper recognition to the persons who made the history that the monuments and markers were designed to preserve. His contributions to the cause of preserving the history of the pioneers and of the West constitute a lasting monument that will honor him for generations to come.”
The crowning memorial prepared by President Smith and his organization was This Is the Place Monument, located at the mouth of Salt Lake’s Emigration Canyon and dedicated in July 1947 as part of the centennial celebration of the pioneer arrival in the Salt Lake Valley. Nearly two decades in the making, the massive monument grew out of President Smith’s vision to replace a smaller marker at the base of the canyon with a memorial befitting the pioneers. In 1937, George Albert Smith led a commission to erect the monument, then served as its vice-chair and chair and presided at the dedication. The monument itself characterized the breadth of Mormon memorials in the twentieth century and, like earlier efforts, the Church’s desire to position itself within a larger American community. While Church officials like Brigham Young, Orson Pratt, and Erastus Snow are featured on the structure, the memorial also includes likenesses of prominent Spanish missionaries, trappers, traders, and explorers important to the settling of the region.
As commemoration of the concluding portion of the Mormon Trail moved forward, interest was raised about the origin of the trail. At its eastern end, Nauvoo, Illinois, served as the launching point for a reenactment of a pioneer caravan in 1947. The Sons of Utah Pioneers organized a centennial company of 143 men, 3 women, and 2 “scouts” headlined by Elder Spencer W. Kimball that duplicated Brigham Young’s 1847 camp in number and followed the trail to Salt Lake City. Seeking a spirit of “enthusiasm and good humor, rather than solemn historical accuracy,” they traded ox-drawn wagons for modern transportation, traveling in seventy-two automobiles decorated as wagons, with cutout oxen hanging on the sides of the cars and white canvas covering the tops. The caravan timed their journey’s end to arrive in Salt Lake City on July 24, 1947, where they became an entry in the city’s Pioneer Day parade.
Memorializing and marking the Mormon Trail coincided with the faith’s acquisition and development of its historic sites. In fact, the early development of Nauvoo’s restoration was associated with commemorating the pioneer exodus. Nauvoo Restoration, Incorporated, a nonprofit organization created in 1962 to oversee Latter-day Saint historic preservation efforts in Nauvoo, strongly connected the city’s restoration to the importance of the trail. The organization’s stated purpose, as presented in its Articles of Incorporation, was to develop the old city of Nauvoo to awaken public interest in “the mass migration of its people to the Valley of the Great Salt Lake.” Organizers viewed the story of the Latter-day Saints as one of the “vital forces in the expansion of America westward” and encouraged historic interest in the Mormon Trail. Emphasis on a connection between restored Nauvoo and the pioneer trail was rooted in a 1959 National Park Service report that recognized the city as a “place of exceptional value in our National history” because of its role in westward expansion. “The movement of the Mormons to the valley of the Great Salt Lake,” the National Park Service report summarized, “was one of the most dramatic events in the history of American westward expansion” because of the shift it effected in the type of immigrants migrating west and their motivations for doing so. Organizers wanted to commemorate Nauvoo as the starting point for this trail to the West, further embedding the faith within a grander American narrative.
The celebration of Mormonism’s influence on the settling of the West coincided with increased interest in westward expansion and Cold War era efforts to emphasize the nation’s greatness. Thus, with the endpoints of the exodus memorialized, focus turned to the trail between Nauvoo and Salt Lake City. In 1968, Congress passed the National Trails System Act, promoting the preservation of and public access to scenic and recreation trails across the country. A decade later, the act was amended to include national historic trails, with the Oregon and Mormon Trails among the first designated in 1978.
Federal protection of the trail brought in its wake the involvement of government agencies, including the National Park Service and the Bureau of Land Management. In 1972, the Mormon Pioneer Trail Foundation, together with the Iowa Department of Highways, placed approximately one hundred blue-and-white metal road signs along modern highways in Iowa that generally follow the Mormon Trail. In many places, these signs replaced earlier wooden markers erected by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression. With its designation as a national historic trail in 1978, brown-and-white National Park Service markers that read “Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail” replaced both signs.
In addition to providing signage along the trail, interpretive markers and monuments were added throughout the latter half of the twentieth century. In 1978, the Church erected the Exodus to Greatness Monument at the edge of the Mississippi River in Nauvoo, Illinois. The memorial highlighted the departure point for the city’s residents in 1846. Similar markers were placed at prominent locations like Mount Pisgah, Winter Quarters, and Independence Rock, as well as at a host of lesser-known sites. During this era, a unique exhibit was created at the Wayne County Historical Society Museum in Corydon, Iowa. In a cooperative venture between the Church and a local historical society, a display entitled “The Hymn That Went Around the World,” paid tribute to William Clayton’s pioneer anthem, “Come, Come, Ye Saints.” The prominent trail hymn was authored at the Locust Creek campsite on the outskirts of town.
Marking the trail also led to increased interest in it. In 1978, the Deseret News published daily entries summarizing the vanguard company’s 1847 journey from Winter Quarters to the Salt Lake Valley. The following summer, more than 450 runners ran the full length of the trail as a relay, day and night over ten days. Runners carried gold, blue, and silver batons containing messages for President Spencer W. Kimball, Utah governor Scott M. Matheson, and Salt Lake City mayor Ted L. Wilson. Church and civic officials along the route greeted the party. Highlights included a formal apology from a Presbyterian minister in Garden Grove, Iowa, for how Latter-day Saints were treated in 1846 and music by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir at This Is the Place Monument upon the group’s arrival in the Salt Lake Valley.
With increased publicity about the trail, interest rose among non-Latter-day Saint groups. The involvement of others in memorializing the Mormon Trail marked a significant shift in what was originally a religious celebration to a nondenominational one. “During the 25 years I have tramped around the Mormon Trail,” remarked trail historian Stanley B. Kimball in 1993, “I have found increasing interest in our history. In many communities, it seems that everybody wants Brigham Young to have gone through their back dooryard. Many non-Mormons are very proud of their Mormon Trail legacy.”
Fascination with the pioneer experience led to the creation of additional trail organizations. In 1991, the Mormon Trails Association was formed. As “an umbrella organization,” the group coordinated “the efforts of interested groups and individuals, including the National Park Service and other government agencies as well as historic, civic and church-related organizations.” Hoping “to identify some locations, clarify the trail where possible, and just document whatever can be documented,” several Iowans formed the Iowa Mormon Trails Association in 1995. Explaining her interest in the trail, founding member Karla Gunzenhauser explained, “We’re Iowans, and this is part of our history. It’s as simple as that, really. Our school district is called the Mormon Trail School District, and there’s a newly formed organization . . . called the Mormon Trail Chamber of Commerce and Development. . . . We draw our identity from the Mormon Trail.”
Sesquicentennial Recreation of the Pioneer Experience
With the trail marked from beginning to end and the sesquicentennial of the exodus approaching, commemorations turned to recreating the pioneer journey. While reenactments occurred with earlier commemorations, including the 1947 pioneer centennial, the most dramatic recreation of the trail experience coincided with the pioneer sesquicentennial of 1996–97. On February 3, 1996, more than a thousand people gathered on the edge of the Mississippi River in Nauvoo, Illinois, to remember the exodus 150 years earlier. That evening, bonfires were lit across the trail in Iowa and Nebraska and as far away as Montrose, Colorado, to signal the beginning of the commemoration. The next day, Chuck Offenburger, a non–Latter-day Saint columnist for the Des Moines Register, arranged for more than one hundred choirs and congregations of various denominations across Iowa to sing the anthem “Come, Come, Ye Saints” in their worship services. Later that summer, two wagon trains reenacted the journey from Nauvoo to Council Bluffs, where professional football player Steve Young, dressed as his ancestor Brigham Young, and President Gordon B. Hinckley joined thousands to greet them upon their arrival.
In January 1997, sesquicentennial events began with a replica wagon and handcart entry in the inaugural parade for President Bill Clinton held in Washington, DC. Later that spring, Church officials dedicated a new Exodus to Greatness Pioneer Memorial, a monument in Nauvoo, Illinois, containing the names of over two thousand Saints who died along the pioneer trail during the nineteenth century. A pioneer wagon train rumbled west from Florence, Nebraska, on April 21, 1997, beginning a journey of more than one thousand miles across the trail to Salt Lake City. Bidding the company a safe journey, Elder M. Russell Ballard outlined the purpose for the excursion. “The re-enactment,” Elder Ballard predicted, “will fill people’s hearts with the spirit of appreciation and increased devotion to the Church, and we’ll be looking back to our forefathers with greater affection and appreciation.”
1997 Sesquicentennial Wagon Train.
Though dedications of monuments and structures, plays and musicals, the marking of pioneer graves, a pioneer spectacular in Brigham Young University’s football stadium, and even a worldwide day of service added to the year’s sesquicentennial fervor, the trail reenactment was the showpiece of the celebration. Capturing the attention of a worldwide audience, approximately three hundred journalists representing 130 different national and international press agencies from as far away as Germany, Russia, Philippines, and Japan reported on the wagon train. In addition, President Bill Clinton sent his “warm greetings to all those participating in the wagon train trek.”
Throughout the spring and summer, the size of the march swelled as participants from around the world joined for segments of the journey. Finally, on July 22, after ninety-three days on the trail, approximately fifty thousand people gathered at This Is the Place State Park to welcome the wagon train to the Salt Lake Valley. Two days later, the travelers were the final entry in Salt Lake City’s annual Days of 47 Parade, where they received standing ovations along the parade route. While the pioneer train garnered attention, the Church “didn’t set out to do it as a publicity matter,” said Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, cochair of the sesquicentennial committee. It did have a “profound effect on elevating the visibility of the Church in the eyes of the media,” Elder Holland continued, but “we set out to do it to pay tribute. We wanted to salute the faithful, devoted pioneers of 150 years ago.”
Changing Commemorations but a Common Purpose
When analyzing pioneer commemorations, one reflects on core questions of social memory posed by historian Kirk Savage: “Who guides the process of remembering and towards what ends? Why do specific commemorative projects take particular forms? How do commemorative practices actually shape social relations and cultural beliefs (rather than simply reflecting them)?” In the case of Mormonism’s pioneer celebration, the faith has expanded beyond honoring trail participants to celebrate the trail and the trail experience, partnering with others, as Michael Kammen describes, “with the needs of contemporary culture in mind—manipulating the past in order to mold the present.” The Mormon celebration of its pioneer trail also illustrates John Bodnar’s assertion regarding American communal memory: “American history is replete with examples of minority groups mounting spirited defenses of their own versions of the past and resisting pressures to acquiesce to nationally dominant traditions.”
Looking back over more than a century and a half, much has changed about the memorializing and marking of the Mormon Trail. During the nineteenth century, commemorations focused on honoring the then-living pioneers who came west. Celebrations in Utah and by the Church regularly honored surviving pioneers in order to reinforce identity and recognize community progress. In the twentieth century, attention turned to where the early Saints traveled, with efforts to mark and document the entirety of the trail. By expanding beyond Utah, commemoration of the pioneer experience helped the faith better blend into the fabric of American society. Throughout it all, emphasis has been placed on why the pioneers came west.
Remembering why the Mormon pioneers came to the Salt Lake Valley and instilling this faith and sacrifice in future generations has remained the purpose for memorializing and marking the Mormon Trail. Like Moses, who warned his people “lest [they] forget the things which [their] eyes [had] seen” (Deuteronomy 4:9), President Gordon B. Hinckley charged Church membership in his day, “We have instituted these services as a feature of our Pioneer Day celebration, lest we lose sight of the hand of God in establishing our people in these valleys of the mountains. It was their faith that brought them here. . . . In all of our celebrations of the 24th of July, let us never forget it.”
 John Bodnar, Remaking America: Public Memory, Commemoration, and Patriotism in the Twentieth Century (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1992), 15.
 Jeffrey K. Olick, “Genre Memories and Memory Genres,” American Sociological Review 64, no. 3 (June 1999): 381.
 Bodnar, Remaking America, 13.
 Katharyne Mitchell, “Monuments, Memorials, and the Politics of Memory,” Urban Geography 24, no. 5 (2003): 443. “Memory,” Mitchell continues, “is sustained through the interplay between collective recollection and repetition. The repetition engaged in various commemorative events and rituals, for example, is crucial in blurring the differences between individual interpretations of events, and creating a single, highly idealized, composite image.”
 Paul A. Shackel, “The Making of the American Landscape,” in Myth, Memory, and the Making of the American Landscape, ed. Paul A. Shackel (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2001), 3.
 It appears that no major celebration was held in 1848, on the one-year anniversary of the pioneer arrival. This may be due, in part, to the fact that Brigham Young and many of the leaders journeyed to Iowa in the fall of 1847 and were then again crossing the plains on their way to the valley.
 “Celebration of the Twenty-Fourth of July at Great Salt Lake City,” Millennial Star, December 1849, 353–59.
 “The 24th of July in the Tops of the Mountains,” Deseret News, July 29, 1857, 165.
 “Celebrations of July 24th,” Deseret News, August 5, 1857, 174; “Celebrations of the 24th of July,” Deseret News, August 19, 1857, 187.
 Shackel, “The Making of the American Landscape,” 6.
 “Celebration of the Twenty-Fourth,” Millennial Star, 353–56. The young man was Richard Ballantyne, who later founded the first Sunday School in the Church.
 “Diary of Edward Alexander Tompkins,” cited in Journal History of the Church, July 24, 1850, 5–6, Church History Library, Salt Lake City.
 Journal History of the Church, July 24, 1879, 1. The Journal History of the Church is a scrapbook of Church-related events compiled by clerks working in the Church Historian’s office.
 Journal History of the Church, July 23, 1880, 2–6, Church History Library; Journal History of the Church, July 24, 1880, 2–18; Journal History of the Church, July 25, 1880, 1–7. These accounts contain clippings from the Deseret News and the Salt Lake Herald as well as an address later republished in the Improvement Era.
 Wilford Woodruff, “Zion’s Camp—Mormon Battalion—Pioneers,” Salt Lake Daily Herald, July 27, 1880, 2.
 Susan Sontag argues there is no collective memory, only collective instruction. See Susan Sontag, Regarding the Pain of Others (New York: Picador, 2003), 85.
 “Pioneers’ Day,” Deseret Evening News, July 26, 1880, 1. Like celebrations coincided with the completion of the Salt Lake Temple in 1893, the centennial of the Church in 1930, and the centennial and sesquicentennial pioneer celebrations of 1947 and 1997.
 Shackel, “The Making of the American Landscape,” 6; Bodnar, Remaking America, 13. For a discussion of the sociology of Pioneer Day, including the way it reinforced age, gender, and class roles, see Steven L. Olsen, “Celebrating Cultural Identity: Pioneer Day in Nineteenth-Century Mormonsim,” BYU Studies 36, no. 1 (1996–97): 169–71.
 Bodnar, Remaking America, 34.
 “Pioneers’ Day,” 1.
 Woodruff, “Zion’s Camp—Mormon Battalion—Pioneers,” 2.
 “Forty-Nine Years,” Deseret Evening News, July 23, 1896, 4.
 “Forty-Nine Years,” 4.
 “Forty-Nine Years,” 4; Journal History of the Church, July 24, 1896, 2.
 Ronald W. Walker, “The Salt Lake Tabernacle in the Nineteenth Century: A Glimpse of Early Mormonism,” Journal of Mormon History 31, no. 2 (Fall 2005): 199.
 “Pioneers’ Day,” 1.
 “In Solemn Assembly,” Deseret Evening News, July 26, 1886, 2.
 The Nauvoo Legion was a Mormon militia organized in Nauvoo, Illinois, in 1840. Revived in Utah, it operated as part of the territorial militia until the late 1880s.
 “‘Utah’ at the Tabernacle,” Deseret Evening News, July 21, 1897, 8.
 “Pageant of Progress,” Deseret Evening News, July 21, 1897, 1.
 Franklin D. Richards, “Wilford Woodruff,” Improvement Era, October 1898, 878–79.
 “Big Jubilee Night Parade,” Deseret Evening News, July 23, 1897, 5.
 “Program of the Utah Pioneer Jubilee,” International Society Daughters of Utah Pioneers, http://
 “Program of the Utah Pioneer Jubilee”; Journal History of the Church, July 24, 1897, 2–3. Ensign Peak is a small mound-shaped peak in the northern foothills of Salt Lake City that was prominent for pioneer settlers.
 “Program of the Utah Pioneer Jubilee.” Special features included the “monster rockets and thirty-six inch Bombshells, the largest ever manufactured” and three thirty-foot balloons that displayed “showers of fireworks.”
 Thomas F. O’Dea, The Mormons (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1957), 82.
 Olsen, “Celebrating Cultural Identity,” 174.
 Joseph F. Smith, “Memorial Services,” Deseret Evening News, July 26, 1897, 5.
 John D. Giles, “Hike of 1917—Pioneer Trail,” Improvement Era, September 1917, 987–95.
 “Proposes to Mark Old Pioneer Trail,” Salt Lake Tribune, July 27, 1916, 5. Though conceived in 1916, the highway was nearly four decades in the making. See George Q. Morris, “Perpetuating Our Ideals through Markers and Monuments,” Improvement Era, April 1950, 284.
 Today the site has more than doubled in size and is highlighted by pioneer-era structures and the massive This Is the Place Monument. See “Pioneer Past Comes Alive,” Church News, July 26, 1980, 10.
 For trail sites marked by the Daughters of Utah Pioneers, see Stanley B. Kimball, Historic Sites and Markers along the Mormon and Other Great Western Trails (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1988), 54, 102, 104–5, 231–32. For those marked by the Sons of Utah Pioneers, see pages 101, 106–7, 212; see also Stanley B. Kimball, Historic Resource Study: Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail (Washington, DC: United States Department of the Interior, National Park Service, 1991).
 Perry Driggs and Camille Q. Bradford, “Howard R. Driggs Collection: Biography,” Southern Utah University, Gerald R. Sherratt Library, http://
 President Herbert Hoover issued a proclamation declaring April 10 to December 29, 1930, the official centennial of the Oregon Trail. The first date represented the day fur traders Jedediah S. Smith, David E. Jackson, and William L. Sublette left St. Louis for South Pass in 1830. The latter date commemorated the birthday of Ezra Meeker. See “Centennial of Oregon Trail,” Washington Historical Quarterly 21, no. 2 (April 1930): 156. Congress also authorized the minting of six million half-dollar coins memorializing the trail. These were sold by the Oregon Trail Memorial Association and later the Utah Pioneer Trails and Landmarks Association to raise funds for markers and memorials. See John D. Giles, “The M.I.A. Writes Its Name in Enduring Stone and Bronze,” Improvement Era, June 1932, 468–69, 483.
 Giles, “The M.I.A. Writes Its Name,” 468–69, 483.
 John D. Giles, “Mormon Caravan to Independence Rock,” Improvement Era, September 1930.
 Andrew Jenson, “Over the Pioneer Trail,” Deseret News, June 27, 1931, 6. The Utah Pioneer Trails and Landmarks Association joined the American Pioneer Trails Association in August 1940. George Albert Smith, founder of the Utah association, also helped organize the American Pioneer Trails Association, serving as an original member of the executive board. See “The Church Moves On: Utah Pioneer Trails Joins National Group,” Improvement Era, August 1940, 479; John D. Giles, “President George Albert Smith,” Improvement Era, July 1945, 431.
 Morris, “Perpetuating Our Ideals,” 284–85; Francis M. Gibbons, George Albert Smith: Kind and Caring Christian, Prophet of God (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1990), 141.
 “Vanguards-Scouts Department: Project Markers for Historic Spots” Improvement Era, November 1930, 51–52.
 “Vanguards-Scouts Department,” 51–52.
 Morris, “Perpetuating Our Ideals,” 284–85.
 Flake briefly describes the faith’s use of centennials like Pioneer Day celebrations in the early twentieth century as one of several things that preserved core Mormon values while shaping positive public perception. As an effect of these efforts, “Mormonism was no longer perceived as a political threat; merely an ethnic peculiarity. The Latter-day Saints had succeeded in becoming merely odd. Like the Amish pietists of the Midwest and Orthodox Jews of the East, the Mormons in the West became part of America’s cultural diversity, a reassuring reminder of its capacity for religious liberty.” Kathleen Flake, The Politics of American Religious Identity: The Seating of Senator Reed Smoot, Mormon Apostle (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2004), 167–69, 72.
 Bodnar, Remaking America.
 Morris, “Perpetuating Our Ideals,” 284–85.
 John D. Giles, “George Albert Smith—A Prophet Goes Home,” Improvement Era, May 1951, 368–70.
 Janath R. Cannon, Nauvoo Panorama (Nauvoo, IL: Nauvoo Restoration, 1991), 75–77.
 The centennial caravan was one of several ways Utahns celebrated the pioneer centennial. Other events during that summer of 1947 included a month-long performance of the 1930 Church production, “The Message of the Ages,” in the Salt Lake Tabernacle, dedication of the This Is the Place Monument, issuance of a centennial stamp, and a two-hour-and-fifteen minute flight by a U.S. Army jet named the “Mormon Trail Blazer” from Omaha to Utah to demonstrate one hundred years of transportation improvements. See Marc Haddock, “Celebrating in 1947 Pioneer Day,” Deseret News, July 20, 2009, B2.
 See Benjamin C. Pykles, Excavating Nauvoo: The Mormons and the Rise of Historical Archaeology in America (Lincoln, University of Nebraska Press, 2010).
 “What Is Nauvoo Restoration, Incorporated?” (Nauvoo, IL: Nauvoo Restoration, n.d.).
 “What Is Nauvoo Restoration, Incorporated?”
 Susan Sessions Rugh, Are We There Yet?: The Golden Age of American Family Vacations (Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 2008), 2–5. Rugh’s work is an excellent analysis of American vacation trends from the 1950s through the 1970s.
 R. Scott Lloyd, “Mormon Trail: 1968 Congressional Act Preserves Historic Thoroughfares,” Church News, June 5, 1993, 8.
 Kimball, Historic Sites and Markers, 23.
 Kimball, Historic Sites and Markers, 26. Kimball’s text is a useful summary of the location, history, and inscription on most pioneer trail markers and memorials.
 “Pioneer Trail Book Publication Announced,” Church News, July 22, 1978, 10. The popular series was later republished in book form as 111 Days to Zion.
 Hal Knight, “Mormon Runners Cover Historic Pioneer Trail,” Church News, June 2, 1979, 4, 12.
 Lloyd, “Mormon Trail,” 8, 10.
 R. Scott Lloyd, “Group Works to Preserve Mormon Trail,” Church News, December 19, 1992, 5. Though emphasizing more than merely the Mormon Pioneer Trail, the Oregon-California Trails Association is a prominent participant in the study and preservation of western American trails, including the Mormon Trail.
 Lloyd, “Mormon Trail,” 10.
 R. Scott Lloyd, “Non-LDS in 3 States Honor 1846 Exiles by Lighting Bonfires,” Church News, February 10, 1996, 11.
 Chuck Offenburger, “Let’s All Sing Mormon Hymn,” Des Moines Register, January 23, 1996, 1T; R. Scott Lloyd, “Bitter Cold Is Stark Reminder of 1846 Hardship,” Deseret News, February 4, 1996, A1–2; Chuck Offenburger, “When the Mormon Tabernacle Choir Sings, Brothers and Sisters, All Is Well! All Is Well!” http://
 Chuck Offenburger, “Remembering a Great Exodus,” Des Moines Sunday Register, January 21, 1996, 1B, 6B; “President Hinckley Maintains Busy Schedule,” Ensign, October 1996, 74–75. On this occasion President Hinckley also dedicated the reconstructed Kanesville Tabernacle in Council Bluffs, Iowa.
 Lee Davidson, “Pioneers on Another American Journey,” Deseret News, January 17, 1997, A1.
 Brian Richardson, “Church Dedicates Pioneer Memorial,” Daily Gate City, April 21, 1997.
 “‘Trek Will Touch Hearts,’ Elder Ballard Says,” Church News, April 26, 1997, 7. While the trek reenactment was not an official Church-sponsored event, Church leaders, including President Gordon B. Hinckley and Elder M. Russell Ballard, frequently participated throughout the journey.
 “Pres. Hinckley Keeps Rapid Pace, Dedicates Visitor Facilities,” Church News, April 26, 1997, 3; Dell Van Orden, “‘Hallowed Ground Made Sacred,’” Church News, May 10, 1997, 3–4, 13; “Worldwide Day of Service,” Church News, July 26, 1997, 8–10.
 Twila Van Leer, “Trek Attracting Worldwide Attention,” Church News, June 28, 1997, 11–12; “Pres. Clinton Sends Greetings,” Church News, July 26, 1997, 3; Shaun D. Stahle, “Trek Stirs Imagination, Receives Vast Coverage,” Church News, August 30, 1997, 4.
 Shaun D. Stahle, “Trail Ends with Triumphal Tears,” Church News, July 26, 1997, 3, 5.
 Sarah Jane Weaver, “‘Footsteps of Faith’ Move Parade—Spectators Rise for Wagon Train,” Church News, August 2, 1997, 14.
 Sarah Jane Weaver, “Sesquicentennial Is Celebration of Beliefs,” Church News, July 26, 1997, 4, 6.
 Kirk Savage, “History, Memory, and Monuments: An Overview of the Scholarly Literature on Commemoration,” Organization of American Historians and the National Park Service, http://
 Michael Kammen, Mystic Chords of Memory: The Transformation of Tradition in American Culture (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1991), 3.
 Bodnar, Remaking America, 43.
 Gordon B. Hinckley, “Remarks at Pioneer Day Commemoration Concert,” Ensign, October 2001, 70–72.