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July 24th is a state holiday in Utah, designated Pioneer Day. It commemorates the entry of the first wagon train of Mormons into the Salt Lake Valley in the summer of 1847. They came down Emigration Canyon, somewhat north of the present I-80 corridor which comes down Parley’s Canyon. Brigham Young was part of that first company to enter the valley. Due to sickness, he was a couple of days behind the lead group of wagons. By the time he entered the valley, crops were already being planted and water diverted for irrigation.
The LDS Newsroom just issued a statement reviewing the significance of the day: “Mormons Celebrate Their Pioneer Heritage.” For some background on some of the sites along the Mormon Trail in Wyoming (which, along this stretch, was shared with the Oregon Trail and the California Trail), see my earlier post “Reflections on the Mormon Trail.”
There are plenty of books on the Mormon pioneer experience. The one I would recommend is Wallace Stegner’s The Gathering of Zion: The Story of the Mormon Trail. It tells the story from a sympathic but objective non-LDS perspective, with all the flair and insight one would expect of a Pulitzer Prize-winning author.