Division of Archives and Records Service

The Beginning of History in Utah

Rae Gifford
July 20, 2017

In July of 1897 Utahns gathered to celebrate the Pioneer Jubilee. This was not the first time people had celebrated the anniversary of the Mormon Pioneers entering the Great Salt Lake Valley.

 Anniversary events reportedly had been happening for years. Yet, it was the first time that Utahns began to look at the event as a celebration of history rather than an anniversary.

For the first time, the organizers worked to put on an event that would not only celebrate pioneers, but would tell the story of what was finally being recognized as history.  The original pioneers were declining rapidly in numbers and taking their stories with them. Events that had seemed contemporary in the previous decades, were becoming hazy memories to older generations, or just hearsay to newer generations. If the original pioneers were to have an official place in the halls of history, the generation of 1897 was going to provide it. The Jubilee was an opportunity to celebrate pioneer heritage while capturing evidence of the events that had formed society throughout the inter-mountain region.

Organizers intended the Pioneer Jubilee to celebrate, memorialize, and preserve history.  Parades, concerts, and baseball games celebrated the anniversary. Unveiling of the Pioneer Monument memorialized the pioneers. Photographing the surviving pioneers, gathering and displaying artifacts, and creating the Book of the Pioneers captured evidence of the pioneer story.

For the first time Utahns began to look at and document their own history and, today, we still see the effects of that Pioneer Jubilee celebration held 120 years ago. The current State Historical Society and the Daughters of the Utah Pioneers organization both were a result of increasing historical awareness that was so evident at the Pioneer Jubilee. Many Utahns are familiar with the annual Days of ‘47 parade that takes over Salt Lake City and many other towns throughout the state on July 24th. That celebration and others can trace their roots to the Pioneer Jubilee. This was just our first steps along the path of understanding our larger history. This step led to exploration into the fields of mining history, Native American history, military history, and so many more.

Come celebrate the 120th anniversary of the Pioneer Jubilee with us. Visit our short digital exhibit which examines the documents of Utah’s Pioneer Jubilee Celebration, the Book of the Pioneers, and the founding of the State Historical Society. Understanding that first celebration can help us understand the evolution of the way we view the pioneers and our state’s founders and even our larger history.