Growing up July 24 was a special day. In Utah, it is a state holiday known as Pioneer Day. Much like the fourth of July, it is a day off from work to celebrate with fireworks, parades, and BBQs; except this day is not to celebrate our independence as a country but the day the first Mormon Pioneers arrived in the Salt Lake Valley after their exodus fleeing the mobs of the midwest.
Moving away from Utah going on 8 years ago (!) I tend to forget about this day and my pioneeer heritage. In fact, I have often balked at it. I remember arriving in Iowa City discovering Mormon Trek Blvd and the University of Iowa’s Mormon Handcart Park and saying “I thought I finally escaped all of the pioneer and handcart re-enactments.” For my Iowa friends who are still confused, Pioneer Day is a lot like Pella Tulip Time, except instead of dressing up like Dutch people from the 1800s we (sometimes but not usually) dress up as pioneers from the 1800s and youth often pull handcarts around parks or trails for a few hours to experience “what it was like” (although this can happen at any time during the summer, not just on the holiday).
But today I had some new thoughts regarding this upcoming July 24.
I wont get the day off to celebrate. There will be no fireworks and probably not even a BBQ. But this year I am remembering the amazing heritage that has been left behind. My ancestors and the other pioneers were survivors! They humbly endured horrible trials I cannot imagine. It is hard to understand that in this country where we value religious freedom and equality that my people were thrust out of their homes by angry mobs with torches, were tarred and feathered, and sometimes murdered. In fact, in Missouri it was not against the law to kill a Mormon. It is hard to comprehend that a whole group of people, here in the United States, were forced to leave the homes they had built for an unwanted desert land thousands of miles away.
I have made the trek, maybe even on some of the same roads, from Utah to Iowa (a bit of a pilgrimage back home I suppose) in my car. It still takes about 18 hours and even today, is sometimes impossible due to harsh weather. I have lived in the sweltering heat of Iowa and the blistering cold of its winters. I have a better understanding what it must have been like for the people to cross over the frozen Mississippi river in February. I have no idea what it would be like to walk miles in the snow without my high tech snow gear or a warm house at the end of the day.
One of my own ancestors, Lucius Scoville, was a prominent member (you can visit his bakery in Historic Nauvoo) of the Nauvoo community (the last Mormon settlement before the Saints left with Brigham Young leading them to Utah).
A week before the first group left, his wife died, leaving him alone with four children. He was called to serve a mission in England and left his young family behind in Iowa without much of anything except a trust that God would take care of them. While on his way to England, he was on a river boat leaving from St Louis. A group of men were talking about how they had been in the mob that had forced the Mormons to flee. One man mentioned he shot an old man in the back just because he found the man annoying. He swore he would kill any Mormon in his path, especially on a river boat, and would throw them overboard. Great-something Grandpa Scoville couldn’t take listening to this anymore so stood up to the man and was luckily protected by the other passengers on the boat before the mobster could throw him over the side. Eventually Scovillle was able to meet back up with his family and take them the rest of the way to Utah after helping many other families make the trip as well.
I think about the problems I have in my life. Frustrations at work, difficulties accomplishing day to day tasks, feeling tired and worn down. But I have never been asked to leave everything I own behind, I’ve never been threatened with physical harm because of what I believe, to suffer through an Iowa winter or summer without the relief of a warm house or air conditioner, and I have never had to leave my family behind not knowing if I would ever see them again. But hundreds of Mormon pioneers faced these trials with courage and faith. Many died, but those who lived passed on those survivor genes to the generations to come.
I hope to be like Lucius Scoville-- To face my enemies (hypothetical or otherwise) bravely and head on without complaint. I want to adopt the humility, diligence, and faithfulness of the pioneers. I think I can (with practice). After all, it’s in my blood!
I may not be dressing up like a pioneer this year, but I’m going to try my best to be more like one!