Friday, July 23, 2010

Pioneer Day- July 24th

Chapter 9 of Mamma's Boarding House is entitled Pioneer Day.   Pioneer Day has been celebrated in Utah since 1847.  In the summer of 1847, the weary Latter Day Saints, who had crossed the vast American plains seeking refuge from persecution settled in the dessert of the west.  It is hard to image it's barren welcome now, but those who saw it, raised it, and established it will never forget.  Generation after generation tells their family tale if they have one.  And up and down Utah every town closes for the day and celebrates the "founding of Utah."

Johns descriptions of the celebratory events are spot on.  Even today those same events take place from town to town.  In the book Price:City of Diversity, author Mr. Watt gives a brief supporting description of Prices Pioneer Day Celebration.
"The epitome of entertainment was the celebrations of the Fourth and Twenty-fourth of July held each year.  The celebrations for each were similar.  A gun salute began the celebrations; by mid-morning the people of Price viewed a parade and then at the town hall heard lectures or witnessed a musical program.  In the afternoon children's races were organized and oftentimes a children's dance as well.  In the evening a dance was held.  Beginning about 1900 these patriotic and other celebrations often included spirited horse races in the afternoon.  Everybody loved these events and people would come from all over the county to watch and celebrate together."

So in celebration of the intrepid Mormon Pioneers I offer you some of  the chapter Pioneer Day from Mamma's Boarding House.

Mamma always entered at least two floats in the Pioneer Day Parade and usually won a prize.  The floats had to depict some scene from early Utah pioneer history. During the week before the parade, barn doors were kept locked while people decorated their entries.  Each float was kept a secret until the day of the parade. 

The boarders and I worked on the two floats Mamma entered that year.  Captain Strang made an exact replica of one of the two wheeled handacarts which the Mormon pioneers of the Handcart companies pulled across the fifteen hundred miles of plains and mountians to Zion in 1856.  (side note on history-the pioneers of 1847 drove ox pulled wagons.  The handcart companies were a decade later and suffered deeper hardships) To make it authentic as possible, we loaded it with bedding, a folding tent, cooking utensils, the allowed one hundred pound sack of flour, and other articles.  Mamma added a spinning wheel on top of it. Judge Gibson, dressed in buckskins , was to pull the handcart, while Mamma dressed as a pioneer woman, walked beside it holding the hands of Aunt Cathie's children....

Uncle Mark, dressed in full cowboy regalia with a white stetson hat, bright colored shirt, and scarf, was mounted on a jet black horse.  He finally got all the floats lined up in their proper places and sent a deputy to fire the cannon on the Court House lawn, the signal for the parade to begin.

Bishop Aden always led the parade mounted on a white horse and carrying a large American flag.  Uncle Mark rode behind him carrying the Utah State flag.  They were followed by the ten-piece band wearing white flannel trousers, white shirts, and straw hats.  Red, white and blue bunting tied into sashes encircled their waists....

Pioneer Day in Utah has always been traditionally a family day...The Captain and Mr. Hackett loaded into the wagon of Mamma's biggest washtub filled with a cake of ice and bottles of homemade rootbeer.  Another washtub with a cake of ice held two big watermelons.  Aunt Bertha brought the crock jug of lemonade.  The others carrier the baskets, pots and pans containing the rest of the picnic lunch.  Earnie and I repacked the ice-cream freezer.  The last thing we loaded was the big Dutch oven containing boiling water and corn on the cob.  The wagon was so full that everyone but Earnie and me had to walk to the park.

On Pioneer Day all the women wore gingham dresses and the men wore levis or old clothes until the dance at night. This custom permitted everybody to sit or lie on the grass, and also to enter the contests in the afternoon.

We all went to the center of the park, where Bishop Aden and Reverend Holcomb were in charge of the races and contests for children.  Aunt Cathie's Timothy won a package of Cracker Jack by coming in third in the potato bag race.

When the last of the children's races had been run, Bishop Aden announced that the contests for adults would begin in thirty minutes.  We all went back to our table.  The Captain was the only one who ate more chicken.  The rest of us had ice cream, cake or watermelon.

Judge Gibson, who was to judge the contests for adults, looked at his watch.  "Time to get started," he said as he excused himself from the table.  The Judge announced through a megaphone that the adult races would begin with an egg race for the married and single couples....

Judge Gibson then announced the Fat Man's race....When Judge Gibson announced the Shovel contest...Six men of various ages reported for the contest.  The contestants had to stand inside two small wooden hoops place on the grass three feet apart.  Earnie and Boyd Silvers, standing in their hoops, took a grip on a long handled shovel held above their heads.  When the Judge counted three, the test of strength began.  The point was to bring down the shovel handle and make your opponent lose his grip or force him to step out of the hoop. 

There was a three-legged race, and a tug of war across the irrigation ditch.  Then came the best event of the day-the greased pig contest....Judge Gibson called for attention: "Ladies and gentlemen, this is the final contest.  We always hold it last so that those who participate may go home and change clothes.  The rules are the same as last year.  The winner must not only catch the greased pig, but hold it for thirty seconds."

The Judge took his watch from his pocket.  He looked toward Uncle Mark by the pen.  "On the count of three," the Judge shouted, "let the pig loose.  One, two, three!" Uncle Mark opened the pen, but the little pig wouldn't come out....Earnie dove for the pig and got his hands on it, but only for a second.  A boy of eight grabbed the pig, but held it only a few seconds before it wiggled free....Even little girls in frilly dresses joined in the chase.  As the excitement grew, the parents became as interested as the children.  Several of them made lunges for the pig only to get grease all over themselves.

I won't spoil the surprise of who wins the pig, but I will thank you for celebrating Pioneer Day.  Have a happy July 24th.


  1. Carrie I have never read Mama's Boarding House just the other books. Maybe I need to read this book in the near future :-D
    I loved reading about the old Pioneer Day Celebration - I love traditions that carry on!

  2. Mama's Boarding House is pretty good, might even be better than Papa Married a Mormon. It's pretty hard do find a copy, though. There used to be one in our public library, but it's apparently been pulled.