The Days of ’47 remains a big part of today’s actions for those in the pioneer valley of Salt Lake City. Since the initial landing in the Great Basin, the settlers worked hard at creating a land of their own.
From farming to raising cattle and establishing a city, the young workforce put forth a lot of effort to create a forever home for their people. The belief in religious freedom drove the pioneers across the Midwest to their new home and only two years after the Vanguard Company landed in the Salt Lake Valley, the inaugural Days of ’47 Parade was held.
The Days of ’47 Parade is a reenactment of the covered wagons and hand carts traveling along the trail and would become a tradition carried out for many years to come. The parade took on a different name during the course of the years since the great migration. It would take a different name in 1931 where it would be called “Covered Wagon Days” and would include a parade as an annual event.
In the 1940s, it solidified the name “Days of ’47 Parade” and has remained that since. Since its inception, the Days of ’47 Parade has only not been conducted twice, once in 1943 because of World War II and in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. These two special occasions were for the betterment of the people at the time and will go down in history as the only times that the parade had to be cancelled.
Prior to the parade being established, it was tradition on July 24 – the day that the pioneers first landed in the Great Basin – to hold a large community feast. The tradition of the feast lasted through 1869. The last living pioneer to make the trip across the Midwest was Hilda Erickson who passed away January 1, 1968, at the age of 108.
Today, the Days of ’47 Parade is conducted with a more inclusive attitude where the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints not only sponsor floats and work to involve more people, but also has extended the parade to involve the Native American tribes in the area as well as providing a respectful military presence to the display.
Despite trying to be all-inclusive, in 2014, the Mormon Building Bridges, a group which works to improve relations between the LDS and LGBT communities, tried to enter the parade but was not allowed because they were deemed to be too controversial. This denial led to the Salt Lake City Council considering a boycott of the parade, but instead made a public statement denouncing the actions by the parade organizers for excluding Mormon Building Bridges. This escalated when, “Council member Erin Mendenhall chose to decline her invitation to participate in the parade when after submitting the bio of her guest, a gay stay-at-home father married to a man, the organizers of the parade returned that only immediate relatives were eligible as guests of the Council. Previously, the Council had been informed they could bring “one adult guest”, according to Mendenhall’s letter of passing of Days of ’47 Parade.
Although there have been bumps in the road over the years that have led to learning tolerance, accepting things that cannot be controlled such as the pandemic, the community still rallies around their history and enjoy celebrating their heritage. The parade has even reached television and is broadcast live on KSL-TV, an NBC affiliate.
TREKKING: A GLIMPSE INTO THE PAST
In present day, many members of the Latter-day Saints faith recreate the treks made during the pioneer movement to the Great Basin which provide a glimpse into the past.
“In the mid-1800s, these lands in central Wyoming were part of the Oregon, California, and Mormon Trails as well as the Pony Express. The virtually unaltered landscapes provide stunning vistas that immerse visitors in the setting where approximately 70,000 Latter-day Saints traveled west. These sites are particularly significant because they witnessed one of the most dramatic rescues of overland emigrants in American history. The Mormon Handcart Historic Sites include three separate locations: Martin’s Cove, Sixth Crossing, and Rock Creek Hollow,” states the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints website regarding the handcart treks.
Martin’s Cove has become a famous trekking location for present day Mormons to travel. The trek has agreements with the Bureau of Land Management and the State of Wyoming to allow the “pioneers” to travel on foot through Devil’s Gate to Martin’s Cove. The area known as Martin’s Cove holds two campgrounds for the trekkers on property that has a famous ranch and where Fort Seminoe once stood.
Martin’s Cove would become famous for the year where three different wagon companies would start later than they should have and endured harsh weather during their journey. The weather led to rescue actions taking place as well as people having to leave supplies behind at Fort Seminoe with guards to protect it until Spring. The Hunt, Martin, and Hodgetts companies would make the final steps toward the Great Basin on November 9.
Other areas that are allowed for trek include Sixth Crossing of the Sweetwater River. The Sixth Crossing is the final crossing before the handcart companies climb Rocky Ridge which is identified by the 600 feet climb in under three miles. Today, the Church has agreements with BLM to allow small numbers of trek units to traverse Rocky Ridge between July 1 and September 15. The area of Rocky Ridge is known as one of the hardest portions of the trek and was quoted by James Willie, a company captain, “[Rocky Ridge] was the most disastrous day.” The Church still owns land near Sixth Crossing and allows handcarts to be pulled and trekkers to camp in the campgrounds already established by those who traveled through in the past.
One of the last areas to open to trek with handcart companies is Rock Creek Hollow. Rock Creek Hollow was a favorite camping location for travelers along the trail. It is stated in verbal history that the Willie handcart company camped at Rock Creek Hollow after crossing Rocky Ridge, but there is no factual evidence of this. Trekkers are allowed to overnight camp at Rock Creek Hollow where they can visit the monuments created to memorialize the dead that did not make the entire trip.
Trekking allows for the opportunity to experience what those before us went through with realistic reenactments.