Pioneer Day to Me: Family, Faith, Freedom

“Since I was young, my ancestry … was marching martyrdom across the …plains of Utah.” 1

Like many of Imagine Dragons’ songs, the particular tune which contains these words, Cutthroat, has been played tens of millions of times across the globe.

A simple internet search will reveal that Dan Reynolds – the lead singer and frontman of Imagine Dragons and one of the authors of these words – is a descendent of the Utah pioneers.

And this particular lyric might demonstrate that the notable sacrifices of this pioneer heritage has finally made its way into the mainstream culture of America – in part through the prominence of popular public figures like Reynolds.

FAMILY AND FAITH 

I, myself, am a descendent of the Utah Pioneers, on my mother’s side of the family.

One of my ancestors, Hugh Moon, was a convert to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who embraced the Restored Gospel in his homeland of England.

He was baptized on January 1, 1837, and faithfully braved the perils of ocean travel to gather with his fellow Saints in Nauvoo by 1840.

He recorded in his journal that “[Heber C. Kimball and Orson Hyde] told us that God required all his people to gather together in the land of America[.]”2

Eventually, he traveled with his family and his fellow pioneers to the Salt Lake Valley, arriving in October of 1848.

Moon would go on to settle in Idaho, eventually choosing Malad as the home for his family.

In a religious ordinance performed by John Smith, the Patriarch of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Moon was told that his “… family shall increase like Jacob, be mighty in the Priesthood and saviors upon Mount Zion and inherit all the blessings which the Lord hath in store for those who walk uprightly[.]”3

I think that my own affinity for my pioneer ancestors is just one example of why Pioneer Day is such a notable holiday for so many people in Idaho, Utah, and in the entire culture of the Latter-day Saints.

The heritage of the Utah Pioneers is inseparably connected with their faith, and with their explicit expectations that God would prosper them in their own “promised land,” in the same way that he had prospered Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the East.

I mean to say that it is difficult —if not impossible— for us to comprehend the motivations of the Utah pioneers without acknowledging that their specific and unique religious beliefs drove them forward across the plains.

FREEDOM

In fact, the entire trek west could be described as another stage in the quest for Religious Freedom in America.

Like the pilgrims of the 1600s who sought for a land of freedom, in which they could practice their religious faith in an unimpeded way, the Utah pioneers also sought “the blessings of liberty” for themselves and their posterity.

It is interesting to note that even after the Utah pioneers had settled in the Salt Lake Valley, they encountered challenges to their Religious Freedom. And scholars have noted that many of the major features of Religious Freedom Law within America have been defined by legal conflicts between the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the American Federal government.

In this regard, the quest of “the People” to maintain and improve the conditions of Religious Freedom in America continues to this day.  

INCLUSION

On that note, we turn to the impending festivities of July 24th. Pioneer day is a holiday that is unique to Utah. No other state in the Union recognizes Pioneer Day.

And yet the desire to celebrate the people who are responsible for what Utah would become – meaning the early Latter-day Saint pioneers – has exceeded the boundaries of Utah and spilled over into places like Idaho and Arizona.

Traditional celebrations of Pioneer Day in these localities often include parades, like the one this week in St. Anthony, where the descendants of the pioneers remember and rejoice in the heritage that they have been bequeathed.

Strictly speaking, this holiday celebrates the exodus of the early Latter-day Saints from Nauvoo, Illinois to the Salt Lake Valley.

Yet a more equitable view of Pioneer Day might seek to honor pioneers from all walks of life – and I’m sure that celebrating those who have pushed the boundaries of the known world is not forbidden on July 24th.

The act of placing the pioneer’s promises and patriarchal expectations in the past, or limiting them to a limited group of people flies in the face of what Pioneer Day really means in all its purity.

President Dallin H. Oaks, a current leader in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, recently declared: “The pioneer legacy is a legacy of inclusion. […] We need to identify the eternal principles they applied for our benefit and then apply those principles to the challenges of our own day. [… ] In that way we honor their pioneering, and we also reaffirm that heritage and strengthen its capacity to bless our own posterity and millions of others in this troubled world. We are all pioneers when we do so.”

RISE

Perhaps Daniel Reynolds speaks for all of us when he sings:

“I can’t lie – I’ve been played by powerful people who get their way. But I, in time, will climb my mountain…

I, in time, will rise.”5

Surely, this is the heritage of all pioneers.

SOURCES

  1.     Imagine Dragons, Cutthroat: Cutthroat lyrics © Imagine Dragons Publishing, Songs For Kidinakorner, Songs Of Universal Inc.  SONGWRITERS: Songwriters: Benjamin Arthur Mckee / Daniel Coulter Reynolds / Daniel Wayne Sermon / Daniel Platzman
  2.     https://wchsutah.org/people/hugh-moon1.pdf
  3.     https://wchsutah.org/people/hugh-moon3.pdf (pg. 10)
  4.     https://www.thechurchnews.com/leaders-and-ministry/2021-07-20/president-oaks-pioneer-legacy-inclusion-super-duper-day-219802?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=cn-social&utm_campaign=facebookpage-en&utm_content=churchnews-en&fbclid=IwAR0tQYNg-Med-grFHDaiDFlPQswp5EmpCaZkMW_djvxa_DSpgzrEOjYeKPk

5.      Imagine Dragons, Cutthroat.