July 24 marks the annual Utah holiday of Pioneer Day, serving as a reminder of social and technological progress that has shaped society along the Wasatch Front.
Aside from Native Americans and fur trappers having already lived and explored in parts of the region, the pioneers settled land that was mostly uninhabited due to the arid climate.
It took over a century and a half, but settlers have developed Utah into a viable home. U.S. News rates Utah as third in the country for best states to live in, Utah also placed third in education, second in economy, and first in fiscal stability.
Professor and Chair of Weber State University’s History department Dr. Sara Dant shared her thoughts on these landmark changes throughout history.
“When Brigham Young brought that original group of pioneers, they were fleeing persecution and trying to escape what had been a very ugly experience in Nauvoo,” Dant said. “And at the time, he thought, to paraphrase, this would be the place because it was outside of the United States.”
Sue Bybee, president of Weber County Daughters of Utah Pioneers Museum, works regularly with artifacts depicting pioneer life. Some of the artifacts she specializes in are historic handcarts, which are a prominent feature of Pioneer Day celebrations.
“That is what they would use to pack up their stuff to take across the plain,” Bybee said. “Five people were assigned to every handcart, to pull it across the plain, and that could be grown-ups or children. So, they just took what they absolutely needed.”
Other artifacts located at the Weber County DUP Museum include spinning wheels, black-powder rifles, swords, wringer wash-machines, a phonograph and records, handcrafted furniture and instruments, a glass film projector, hurricane lamps, hair-flowers and handmade canes.
“They made all their own stuff,” said Bybee, “You had to do everything yourself because you didn’t get to go to the store to buy material, or lace, or anything like that.”
Dant said one of the first priorities of the pioneers was agriculture. Without agriculture, the early settlers wouldn’t have had the food to survive in the earliest days of the state’s history.
“The pioneers brought with them a lot of their agricultural tools that they had been using in the mid-west,” Dant said. “One of the things that they needed to innovate when they got here was irrigation because this is arid [land]. We are the second driest state in the union. You cannot dry farm here, which means you cannot rely on the rain. You have to irrigate.”
Dant also marveled at the now-primitive tools pioneers used to build settlements.
“It’s not like they had bulldozers and things like that,” Dant said. “They were doing that all by hand. It’s a pretty remarkable feat really.”
Since the days of the pioneers, Dant explained how our transportation and technology have rapidly accelerated.
“If you think about how long it takes to send something across the country, then, it could take months,” Dant said. “We had the Pony Express, then trains, automobiles and planes. Each one, they shrink the size of the country.”
Dant also said our communication methods have improved greatly since the pioneers first settled the state.
“First you have letters and mail, they get transported on the back of a horse,” Dant said. “One of the things that soon follows railroads is the telegraph, and the telegraph gives the opportunity to communicate across great distances without having to have some physical piece of paper because the signal travels across the wire.”
Today, in the age of the internet, the time needed to communicate through a distance is often now instantaneous. Products and agriculture are commonly mass produced and transportation systems have accelerated, but each year, Pioneer Day allows an appreciation for history and new changes.