One hundred thirty years ago, Brigham Young led a tired band of 148 Mormon pioneers through a mountain pass into the valley of the Great Salt Lake, culminating in one of history’s epic struggles for religious freedom.
It was 1847. The war with Mexico was winding up. James K. Polk was in the White House. The potato famine in Ireland sent some 100,000 Irish scrambling for a new Life in America that year.
The year the Mormons found refuge in the mountains, Karl Marx was putting the finishing touches on his Communist Manifesto. Ralph Waldo Emerson published his first book of poems and the Chicago Daily Tribune was founded.
On July 24 this year, nearly four million Mormons the world over commemorated the historic events of that long ago day when Brigham Young looked over the valley and declared, “This is the place!”
Young, who died just one hundred years ago this coming August, is often thought of by non-Mormons as the first leader of the Church. Actually, he was the second, having succeeded Joseph Smith, first prophet and president of the Church which was organized in 1830 in western New York
Under Brigham Young’s direction, the Mormons, or members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, traveled by wagon, horseback and on foot from the Midwest and established their roots in the then desolate valley on the sunset side of the Rockies. As soon as they arrived, they rolled up their sleeves and went to work in an effort to turn desolation into beauty. They succeeded and today, even though the Church has spread throughout the world and has members in 88 countries, Salt Lake City remains its world capital.
As in previous years, parades, pageants, rodeos and other activities marked the July 24 anniversary in Salt Lake City and other Mormon-settled western communities.
July 24 is a state holiday in Utah and the Days of ’47 observance in Salt Lake City is perhaps the largest such commemoration of the arrival of the Mormons. It lasts more than a week and culminates on the 24th.
Similar celebrations are staged in Ogden, Provo and other Utah communities.
Mormons in other parts of the United States and the world often get together as congregations on July 24 to observe the anniversary.