California Pioneer History Day Honors Settlers

Contributed By Margaret Snider, Church News contributor

  • SACRAMENTO, CALIFORNIA

Mormon Battalion reenactors cross the grassy plain at Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park.  Photo courtesy of Patrick Twomey.

Article Highlights

  • Locals in Sacramento celebrated the first ever California Pioneer Day.
  • Attendees enjoyed a parade, pioneer games, and live entertainment.
  • The new event is a product of the California LDS Living History Church Service Mission.

“We were trying to capture the spirit of our earlier settlers and also pay tribute to the cultural diversity and contributions made by those coming from all over the world to settle in our valley.” —Jeri Clinger, entertainment committee member for California Pioneer History Day

In a greater Sacramento area community-wide event, California Pioneer History Day exploded into action May 21 with the blast of a cannon and five-gun salute by Mormon Battalion reenactors. The Pioneer Heritage Foundation and the Church’s Sacramento public affairs leaders sponsored the day held at Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park in Coloma, California.

The real Mormon Battalion arrived in San Diego on January 29, 1847, after a march of some 1,900 miles from Iowa. After they were released, some of the battalion traveled to Coloma and were helping build a sawmill for Captain John Sutter when gold was discovered there in 1848.

After the opening parade, master of ceremonies Dirk Verdoorn, KCRA-TV meteorologist, kicked off the event on the stage that had been assembled early that morning. “When gold was discovered at Sutter’s Mill just a short distance from here, it triggered one of the largest gold rushes in history,” said Mr. Verdoorn. “Between 1840 and 1855, over 300,000 people moved to California, bringing additional cultures and establishing communities throughout the new state. … Today is the first California Pioneer Day, which will celebrate and honor all of those pioneers.”

Robin Cook, director of the Third District Agricultural Association, presented a resolution from five members of the California Legislature establishing May 21, 2016, as California Mormon History Day and listing some of the important historical contributions made by the early LDS pioneers.

An estimated 4,000 to 5,000 visitors attended the event, making it the largest one-day event the park has hosted. Throughout the six-hour event people of all ages visited interactive booths that illustrated pioneer games, crafts, and necessary tasks of daily life.

Stage entertainment was a highlight throughout the day, presented continuously from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., planned by a committee consisting of Paul Allen of Valley Chorale Society and Jeri and Richard Clinger of Galena Street East fame. “We were trying to capture the spirit of our earlier settlers and also pay tribute to the cultural diversity and contributions made by those coming from all over the world to settle in our valley,” Jeri Clinger said.

A long chain of events led up to the decision to have the event more than a year ago. In May of 2014, Dennis Holland was told by the Church Missionary Department that a new mission, the California LDS Living History Church Service Mission, had been created, and Brother Holland would be the new president of the mission. “It would be an unusual mission,” Brother Holland said, “because we could not proselyte on school or historic park properties. We would operate under the North America West Public Affairs Department in Los Angeles in building bridges of friendship and understanding with students and the public.”

Mormon Battalion commemorations have been a major event for eight years in San Diego, with battalion and pioneer reenactments and many activities, especially for children. “[Brother] Holland and I have been going down to San Diego for years,” said Richard Montgomery, multistake director of public affairs for the Sacramento Correlation Council. “Each year we’d say, ‘Why don’t we do something like that up here?’ And in 2015, we said, ‘All right, let’s do it!’”

To create the event, Brother Holland and Brother Montgomery had to get permission from three Area Seventies, as they had 14 stakes participating, from three different correlation councils, and it was necessary to have special permission to cross council boundaries.

“I keep being prompted in this work that we need to educate the public, our members, and especially our youth about the contributions made by Mormon pioneers to the early history of California,” Brother Holland said. “They have a rich heritage passed on to them, and the theme of all of it is to strengthen family units and be proud of who they are.”

The natural “anchor” stake for the event fell to the El Dorado California Stake, because Coloma is within its stake boundaries. Stake President Spencer Weston, Brother Holland said, was extremely supportive and went above and beyond in his support and encouragement of the event.

“I grew up here in El Dorado County, and thought I knew the history pretty well, but our event this year taught me so much more about the times and people,” President Weston said. “One of my granddaughters, just three years old, joined a parade of people marching around the field imitating the Mormon Battalion. She sported a wooden replica of a rifle that was twice as tall as she was and thought that she was part of something really special. I am thinking we were all part of something special that day.”

Jacob Nixon, 10, Zac Lamphere, 15, and Bryan Nixon, 16, wait at Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park for the festivities to begin on May 21. Photo courtesy of Patrick Twomey.

Reenactors lead the parade at California Pioneer History Day. Front left is Keith Bond, representing Mormon Battalion Scout Jean-Baptiste Charbonneau, and next to him is Lance Cheney, representing Ute Indian Chief Walkara. Photo courtesy of Patrick Twomey.

Many people attending on May 21 took wagon rides, getting a feel for how the pioneers traveled. Photo courtesy of Patrick Twomey.

Descendants of the ship Brooklyn march in the parade held on May 21. Photo courtesy of Patrick Twomey.

Matt Ball of the Sacramento Public Affairs Coordinating Council; Dennis Holland, California LDS Living History Church Service Mission President; Richard Montgomery, Sacramento Public Affairs Coordinating Council; Spencer Weston, El Dorado California Stake president; Sue Ramsden, Sacramento Public Affairs Coordinating Council; and Mark Jansson, Sacramento Public Affairs Coordinating Council, pose for a picture on May 21 during the California Pioneer History Day. Photo courtesy of Patrick Twomey.

Master of ceremonies Dirk Verdoorn, KCRA-TV meteorologist, front left, and John McGinness, former Sacramento County Sheriff and afternoon talk show host on NewsRadio KFBK, with leaders of the California Pioneer History Day, local dignitaries, and organization representatives, speak at the beginning of the California Pioneer History Day. Photo courtesy of Patrick Twomey.

John McGinness, former Sacramento County Sheriff and afternoon talk show host on NewsRadio KFBK, introduces dignitaries and presents special certificates to pioneer organizations that participated in the event on May 21. Photo courtesy of Patrick Twomey.

Robin Cook, director of the Third District Agricultural Association, presented a resolution from five members of the California Legislature establishing May 21, 2016, as California Mormon History Day and listing some of the important historical contributions made by the early LDS pioneers. Photo courtesy of Patrick Twomey.

Richard Montgomery, Robin Cook, former U.S. Congressman Wally Herger, Bill Terrell of the Buffalo Soldiers, John McGinness, Spencer Weston, Dennis Holland, Matt Ball, Dirk Verdoorn, and Mark Jansson pose for a photo during the California Pioneer History Day. Photo courtesy of Patrick Twomey.

Abby Karren and Bryant Grimsman portray a Juliet and Romeo in an Old West version of Romeo and Juliet that was part of the entertainment during the California Pioneer History Day. Photo courtesy of Patrick Twomey.

Reenactors Carol Tullis and Audrey Glomm pose with a pack goat on May 21. Photo courtesy of Patrick Twomey.

Bubba Blair, Smokey Bassett, and Jonathan Taylor, participants in the California Pioneer History Day, stop for a photo on May 21. Photo courtesy of Patrick Twomey.

Emilia Carlston, 5, and Francesca Carlston, 18 months, clutch the pioneer dolls that they made at the Pioneer History Day. Photo courtesy of Patrick Twomey.

Mika and Kiyana Pitre, Jacob Nixon, Zac Lamphere, Larry Anderson, Debi Anderson, and Kathy Drew pose for a picture at the Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park on May 21. Photo courtesy of Patrick Twomey.

Representatives of the Buffalo Soldiers pose for a photo during the California Pioneer History Day held on May 21. Photo courtesy of Patrick Twomey.

Elizabeth Muncy, Alexandra Shadle, Galena Street East cofounder Jeri Clinger, Erin Johnson, Erica Carruth, and Cyndie Parker smile after performing during the California Pioneer History Day on May 21. Photo courtesy of Patrick Twomey.