My Pioneer Ancestors

I joined the Church in February of 1962, as a teenager living in San Antonio, Texas, where my father was stationed at the time. (He was in the Army, studying hospital administration at Fort Sam Houston, in a Baylor extension program.) My parents and my younger brother joined at the same time. My parents were both from Knob Noster, Missouri, near Warrensburg, in Johnson County, about fifty miles east of Independence. Many of my ancestors were living in the area when the Saints were in Independence and probably took part in the persecutions. If I understood my mother correctly, I am related, collaterally, to Governor Boggs. As a result, genetically my heritage has something to do with the Saints move west to Utah, but it isn’t the kind of relation to the Utah pioneers that would qualify me to join the Sons of the Utah Pioneers.

In spite of that, I enjoy celebrating the 24th of July. I don’t see it as a celebration of Utah so much as a celebration of my heritage as a Latter-day Saint. Though our celebration of the 24th isn’t particularly religious, it has a significance not unlike the significance of the Passover for Jews: we each commemorate God’s salvation of his people from death and bondage, and we commemorate that event as an event in itself and as a type of our indidvidual and communal lives. Thus, though I understand why it might be strange for Korean, French, and Paraguayan saints to dress up in pioneer clothing for a parade, I don’t think it ought to be strange for those saints to commemorate the 24th of July.

On the 24th we remember God’s promise to save and his power to do so. And we recognize that, however imperfect the Church is at present, divine power to save culminates in the establishment of God’s Kingdom. I thank those pioneers who came to Utah for doing so in the face of hardship and, often, death. I thank God for saving them and for promising salvation to us.

11 comments for “My Pioneer Ancestors

  1. Hey!

    My wife is a direct descendant of Gov. Boggs!

    Well, my wife is actually adopted, BUT her adoptive mother (whom she is sealed to) says her family is a descendent of Gov. Boggs.

  2. Let me correct my english in that last post.

    “…her family is descended from Gov. Boggs.”

    There we go. Apologies to those who winced.

  3. Both of my parent are converts. My great-grandfather was an ornery Arizona cowboy who had unpleasant run-ins with the Mormons.

    According to family lore, he was rode in a rodeo once which had Mormon organizers. They were familiar with his attitude towards Mormons. He was riding a bronco, and after his eight seconds were up, they just left him up there and did nothing to stop the horse. This didn’t improve his view of Mormons any. He rode the horse to a standstill, and then got down and cussed them all out on the spot.

    I don’t feel any particular sentiment about Pioneer Day. But my wife likes it.

    I’ve always found the pioneer stories and hymns to be a little exclusive. In my current ward in the Bronx, maybe 10% of the people have any connection to the pioneers. So you often hear the “you are the pioneers of today” spin being used. But the repeated incantations about freezing streams and people walking barefoot don’t have all that much resonance.

  4. Kaimi, I understand not having a personal connection to the pioneers. Perhaps most in the Church today do not. But isn’t that like saying, “The Exodus story doesn’t resonate with me because none of my ancestors were Israelites?”

  5. Unlike my husband my family has four generations of mormons on all sides. I was related to Ira Hatch on of the famous mormons. My anscetors were also kicked out of Mexico by Pancho Villa, helped settled Bukerville, Nevada; Bluewater, New Mexico; Prescott, Arizona; and many other places. Anyways you get the idea my roots run very deep.

    Therefore Pioneer Day has lots of meaning to me. I grew up on the stories of my ancestors, especially since my Great-grandmother lived next door to me until I was about eight. She would often spend the afternoon telling us stories of her growing up years.

    Last year in our ward every one dressed up like their ancestors and had a get together. I was great seeing what every one wore. Pioneer day is not only about the pioneers who crossed the plains, it should about celebrating our own heratige to remember where we came from and how we got to where we are today.

  6. Kaimi: I agree with Jim. I am sorry that your great-grandfather had some bad experiences but that doesn’t diminish the importance of what the pioneers did for the preservation of this Church. Perhaps I am biased since my ancestors came across the plains (i.e. they were forced out of their homes in the winter and crossed those frozen streams that don’t resonate with you and said goodbye to loved ones in shallow graves by the wayside).

    But I suspect that even if my own ancestors weren’t the ones who suffered through that, I would still want to honor them through the pioneer songs and eulogies that you find exclusive. The entire Church owes a debt of gratitude to them. Expressing that debt doesn’t somehow devalue people whose own ancestors did not make the trek. It just acknowledges their sacrifices and makes a statement of gratitude for it. It is just downright silly to use the Church’s reverence for the pioneers as an argument of the Church’s exclusivity and/or insensitivity.

    I agree with Mardell when she said Pioneer day is not only about the pioneers who crossed the plains, it should about celebrating our own heratige to remember where we came from and how we got to where we are today. But only to a certain extent. It is also very proper to celebrate pioneer day for exactly what it is: a commemoration of the actual pioneers who sacrificed everything in a show of faith that anyone today would be hard-pressed to make. It is one thing to hold to a religion and quite another to leave hearth and home, watch the abuse and death of loved ones, and follow a leader who claims to be leading you to a promised land all for the sake of your hope in that which is not seen, but which you believe is true. All they needed to do was recant the faith and the persecutors would have let them be; instead they left everything behind (as they had many times before).

    In other words, pioneer day can be special to every single member of the Church as a time to honor those sacrifices, whether their ancestors were involved or not and whether they live in Utah or not or even whether they are American or not. It’s not about Utah or America; it is about remembering the efforts of those who have made it possible for us to have the restored Gospel today.

    Besides, in a certain sense, those who crossed the plains are your ancestors (at least in faith), because the faith you have came down to you through them, even if not by blood.

  7. I moved to Germany in the summer of 1997, the sesquicentennial of the 1847 crossing. Before I moved, I went to the Days of ’47 parade in Salt Lake City and at the end of the parade, all of the people who had participated in the recreation of the trek across the plains came walking and riding through with their handcarts and wagons. The emotion was overwhelming. Everybody was waving and cheering and crying. It was spectacular and it felt like the lead rider, whooping and waving his hat was the spirit of God–amazing.

    I felt the same emotion when I got to Germany, in the Fall, our German ward had our own Pioneer Day festivities and our choir sang “Faith in Every Footstep” translated into German. We had talks about Karl Maiser and about the German saints who moved to Utah. Those same feelings of emotion and gratitude were present–it was also amazing.

  8. Comparing our Pioneer Day to the Exodus made me realize something. When I think of the Jews’ use of the Exodus, it seems to have the attitude of, “We need to remember these things to help remind us that God has delivered us in the past and will do so again, no matter how hard things get.” Even Alma, when talking about his people’s sufferings, told his sons something to the affect of, “Remember the bondage of your parents and consider the great things God has done for us.”

    In contrast, it seems that most pioneer talks deal with the sacrifice and trials of pioneers as something that they did for us, and we should be grateful to the pioneers for the Church we have today. And then that’s all. Our debt and remembrance are not God-directed, but pioneer-directed. Of course I’m painting general strokes here, but has anyone else noticed this difference? Is it important?

    I’m all for recognizing the courageous efforts of those who’ve gone before. Just this past week I taught the Heber J. Grant lesson about the pioneers and was touched by the stories and the connection with ‘Come, come, ye saints’. But would we benefit more by finding the common faith we have with the pioneers, recognizing that we too can do hard things with God’s help, and praise God for allowing any of us to know the blessings of His gospel. How high must we build the pioneer pedastal?

  9. Matt: I think that that is a good observation but it might also be looking beyond the mark. Implicit in the celebrations of the pioneers’ trek is a recognition that God sustained them during their difficult journeys.

    One difference between the pioneers and the Israelites might be that the Lord led the Israelites out of bondage, out of literal slavery, whereas the Saints fled from their homes to avoid persecution. Although forced out of their homes by persecution, they were still leaving comfort, civilization, and prosperity to follow a leader into the wasteland. True, the Children of Israel also followed a leader into the wasteland, but God was delivering them from slavery by those means.

    Still, you are right that we shouldn’t overlook the guiding hand of the Lord in the pioneers’ experiences. Good thing, then, that our songs and eulogies of the pioneers are indeed God directed while at the same time acknowledging the hardships endured by the pioneers.

  10. I appreciate John Fowles pointing out the difference between Israel’s exodus and our own. I didn’t mean the comparison to make them equivalent, just to say that the Mormon exodus from Nauvoo is important to all Mormons as a founding event and, in that, it is similar to the Israelite exodus. There are significant differences, not least among them that the Israelite exodus is celebrated by a religious ritual and ours is not. I take that difference to be a sign of fundamental differences in the ways we understand the two.

  11. Kaimi: Typically wards in Fairfield County CT have commemorated Pioneer Day with a handcart scene re-enactment at Weir Farm National Historic Monument. Weir Farm is an art colony run by the national park service that, among other things, was once home to artist Mohonri Young, grandson of Brigham.

    The park service has been very helpful in trying to emphasize the Mohonri Young angle, and the handcart re-enactment on what is essentially grassland gives otherwise non-connected Easterners a glimpse into the Pioneer sojourn.

    Most importantly, Kaimi, we’re only about an hour north of the Bronx — you’re welcome to come immerse yourself in our pseudo-Pioneer trek if you feel inclined some year.

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