FARMINGTON — Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints celebrated the church's history on Thursday.
This year's Pioneer Day marks the 167th anniversary of the arrival of the Mormon leader Brigham Young to the Salt Lake Valley in Utah. On the religious holiday, Mormons commemorate the migration of church pioneers to Utah after the assassination of the church's founder, Joseph Smith Jr. It is also a state holiday in Utah.
A couple of years after Smith was assassinated in 1844, the subsequent Latter-Day Saints prophet, Young, led the first wagon train of Mormon pioneers west toward the Rocky Mountains. On July 24, 1847, Young and his followers stood on the mountains overlooking the Salt Lake Valley and Young reportedly announced, "This is the place."
After the first wagon train arrived in Utah, the pioneers began to build, said DeWayne Whipple, stake president of the Kirtland Stake of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
"We still celebrate that today," he said.
Between the time of Young's arrival and the completion of the transcontinental railroad in 1869, an estimated 70,000 Mormon migrants traveled to Utah, according to church records.
"It's an opportunity even to celebrate local history," said Seth Bingham, a spokesman for the Farmington Stake of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints during a phone interview Wednesday.
Mormon pioneers, he said, founded several San Juan County towns. From the church headquarters in Salt Lake City, Young sent settlers to areas in northwest New Mexico and Arizona. The settlers built a town along the San Juan River in New Mexico and named it Kirtland after the town in Ohio, which was one of the early church headquarters. In addition to Kirtland, settlers also formed towns in Fruitland and Waterflow.
In honor of Pioneer Day, the Kirtland Stake will have celebrations Friday and Saturday, including a play from 7:30 to 9 tonight at the Brooks Isham Performing Arts Center. On Saturday, a day of games starts with a 5K run.
Whipple, whose grandparents moved to Kirtland about 100 years ago, remembers Pioneer Day as a time when former residents returned to the area so friends and family could reconnect.
"It's always been a fun time for families to gather together," Whipple said.
Traditionally, local Pioneer Day celebrations took place only in Kirtland, but, about 20 years ago, another celebration was started in Farmington, Bingham said. This year, that celebration is scheduled for Saturday evening at Taylor Park, located behind the LDS church on Apache Street and Auburn Avenue. The event will feature a children's parade, during which the kids will dress in pioneer garb.
"It's an opportunity to gather, find a little shade and to celebrate the pioneer heritage of the LDS church," Bingham said.
Bingham said he has heard stories from his family of the pioneer movement across the United States. His great-grandmother made a handcart journey to Utah when she was 12 years old. Her family then settled in Utah County, near present-day Payson and Spanish Fork.
The pioneer history doesn't only affect Utah, Bingham said. With the Mormon church's influence, members quickly spread throughout the western United States, settling in Idaho, Colorado, Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico and California.
"It has an influence in virtually every western state," Bingham said.
The history of the pioneer journeys has also left a legacy throughout the church.
"Every family in the church has a pioneering story," Bingham said.
He explained some people's pioneer stories center on their conversion to the faith, while others have stories of their ancestors coming across the plains in wagon trains.
"Each of them in their own way is a pioneer," he said.
Bingham added that modern people can be inspired by the faith, courage and devotion of the pioneers.
To connect the church's youth with the past, every four years, local stakes take their youth groups on a trek in Martin's Cove, Wyo., where they recreate a portion of the journey their ancestors made.
During the trek, the youth walk a portion of the Mormon Trail while dressed in 1800s clothes and pushing handcarts. They are divided into "family" groups.
While the local stakes won't embark on the trek this year, others across the country participate annually. Bingham said the local youth will have a chance to go on the trek either next year or the year after.
"It's an eye-opening experience for children of the gamer generation," he said.
IF YOU GO
Farmington Pioneer Day celebration
When: 4 p.m. Saturday
Where: Taylor Park, located behind the LDS church on the corner of Apache Street and Auburn Avenue in Farmington
Kirtland Pioneer Day celebrations
Barbecue dinner: 5 to 7 p.m. Friday at the Kirtland Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 549 County Road 6100. Five dollars a plate.
“Cactus Pass” play: 7:30 to 9 p.m. Friday at the Brooks-Isham Performing Arts Center
5K Family Run/2K walk: 7 a.m. Saturday at the Kirtland Stake Center
Swimming: From 1 to 4 p.m., free swimming at the Fruitland pool
Family dance: 8:30 to 10:30 p.m. at the Kirtland Stake Center
All day: Family games at the Kirtland Stake Center
Bloomfield Pioneer Day celebration
Breakfast: 8 a.m. Saturday at the Bloomfield LDS farm off Sullivan Road in Bloomfield.