Thursday, July 22, 2010


There's more than one kind of pioneer and though I have strong feelings of love and admiration for the men, women, and children who pushed, pulled, and walked two thousand miles from the banks of the Mississippi to the Salt Lake Valley, they weren't the only pioneers. A lot of my ancestors were among those people who made that hazardous journey, both by handcart and wagon train. Most of them actually started their journey in Europe with a dangerous sea voyage preceding their long trek. One ancestor and her husband made it from England to Pennsylvania then lacked the funds to even build a handcart so they left their group and signed on as indentured servants. My ancestor came on to Salt Lake when her indentured time was finished, but her husband disappeared. It was rumored he died in the Civil War, but no research has confirmed that and he may have disappeared into slavery as many indentured servants did at that time, or he may have died and no one bothered to notify his wife. One ancestor lost his mother at sea and his father was buried along the Sweetwater in Wyoming. He and his little sisters came on to the valley alone. Still one other was thrown out of her home by her wealthy husband for joining the Church. She sneaked back one night, kidnapped her children, and fled to America with them. Standing on the deck of the ship that was to carry them to America and eventually to Utah, she hid a runaway chimney sweep under her petticoats while officers searched the ship for him.

But what about those other pioneers? My younger brother and sister have certificates that proclaim them polio pioneers. They were among the group of children who first were given the Salk vaccine to prevent polio. Philo Farnsworth is widely referred to as the pioneer inventor of television. We frequently refer to John Glenn and Neil Armstrong as space pioneers. I think pioneers can be anyone who, at great risk, is first to do something new, to lead the way to something better.

As Utah celebrates Pioneer Day, we tend to place the emphasis on those early Mormon Pioneers who first settled the valley and perhaps this is right in Utah, but members of the Church living elsewhere may feel a little left out on this holiday that within the Church is given prominent importance. I've never thought those pioneers who came to Utah, then were promptly uprooted to settle in surrounding states have been given proper credit for their double duty as pioneers. I also think the many converts to the Church who were first in their family to be baptized are another type of pioneers who should count Pioneer Day as their special day too. Another group of pioneers I deeply admire are the ones who joined the Church, but remained in their homelands or states, consequently suffering at the hands of those who ridiculed their faith or thought them fools.

There are more pioneers to come. Some of the strongest and best pioneers will be those who face the onslaught of temptations and fears that will precede the final days of this millennium and usher in the long prophesied thousand years of peace and the reign of our Lord.

What sets a pioneer apart from others is mainly courage. A favorite saying of mine is "Courage doesn't mean a lack of fear; it's saddling up anyway." I think that's the basic reason we celebrate pioneers. I feel certain that all of those who left homes, families, and all that was familiar to travel half way around the world were scared. But along with their fear was an even stronger belief that they were doing right, so they did it. Along with the excitement and thirst for knowledge, I suspect there was a good dose of fear in Armstrong's heart as he took that first step onto the moon, but he did it anyway. When my six-and-seven-year-old brother and sister received those polio shots we'd just learned that the first batch of serum had been mistakenly delivered with a live virus and those children who received it came down with the dreaded disease, but my siblings accepted it, though I suspect they were more scared of the needles than the possibility of contracting polio.

As this week of Days of 47 events winds down to Pioneer Day on Saturday, let's pay tribute to those pioneers we all owe our thanks, whether we are their descendants or not. They wrote a vital piece of our Church's history. Let's remember those other pioneers too, the ones who came to the Gospel one-by-one, those who remained behind to lay the cornerstones in other places, and the ones who will carry forth with courage to face the latter days. As we celebrate with picnics, rodeos, parades, and fireworks, we should pause to remember those whose courage made the 'desert blossom as a rose' and left a pattern of courage for us to follow.

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