A History of Sons of Utah Pioneers

A History of Sons of Utah Pioneers

by Dr. Thomas G. Alexander

In July 1907, descendants of Utah’s pioneers organized the Sons and Daughters of Utah Pioneers. Senator and Apostle took the lead in forming the organization. President Joseph F. Smith of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints addressed them at their first meeting.

However, the idea of organizing a Sons and Daughters group really got nowhere. Seven years earlier in April 1901, fifty-four women under the leadership of Annie Taylor Hyde, a daughter of President John Taylor, had already organized the International Society of the Daughters of Utah Pioneers.

In 1928, however, a group of Provo men recognized that what they really needed to do was to organize the rather than a joint organization that conflicted with the DUP which was already organized in 1901. In 1928, Walter G. Taylor, David Loveless, and a group of like-minded men organized the George Albert Smith chapter of the Sons of Utah Pioneers in Provo. The George Albert Smith Chapter survived as the lone chapter until 1933 when Lawrence T. Epperson of Provo, who was a member of the chapter, moved to Salt Lake City. Epperson met on March 19 in Salt Lake City with others, and they wrote a constitution and by-laws to incorporate the Sons of Utah Pioneers. A copy of the constitution reveals that the ideals of the Sons of Utah Pioneers now are similar to those of the founders.

Epperson served as president of the organization until 1935 when the members elected Nephi L. Morris, a Salt Lake City businessman and president of the Salt Lake Stake, as president. In August 1935, Nephi Morris organized the first national encampment. Morris also proposed a twelve-year plan to organize and retrace the original pioneer trek from Nauvoo to Salt Lake City. Nephi Morris and others working with him planned that the capstone of the twelve years was to be the July 1947 commemoration of the centennial of the pioneers’ entry into the Salt Lake valley.

Significantly, the early SUP organization attracted both Mormons and non-Mormons. Herbert S. Auerbach, a prominent Jewish businessman, served as second vice-president and later as SUP president, and LDS President George Albert Smith served on the board of directors. President Auerbach donated a collection of Joseph Smith memorabilia and papers to the LDS Museum then housed on Temple Square.

In 1935, the SUP had 2,000 members organized in 69 camps. At first, the local organizations that we call chapters now were called camps. The SUP apparently adopted the name from the Daughters of Utah Pioneers. The SUP called the leader of each camp a captain rather than a president as we do now.

In 1953, the SUP adopted a new constitution. The constitution changed the name from camps to chapters, and the chief executive officer in each chapter was called the president. At the same time, in 1953, the SUP adopted the official name: The National Society of the Sons of Utah Pioneers.

During its early years, the SUP had a newsletter called the SUP News. In 1936, Judge George A. Goates changed the name of the newsletter to The Pioneer. The newsletter continued in that form until 1993 when under President the term Pioneer became the name of the SUP quarterly magazine. Angus proposed to have a quarterly magazine with well-written and researched articles rather than simply short sketches and news.

For 13 years after 1993, the SUP had no monthly newsletter. News appeared as pages in the Pioneer magazine. In 2006 under the leadership of President Grant Barton, the SUP began publishing a monthly newsletter under the name Trail Marker. Grant Barton, himself, served as editor until several years later when Reed Farnsworth took over the editorial work. Don Lee also began editing the reports of chapters on their monthly meetings.

The organization passed through difficult times during the Depression of the 1930s and World War II, but members continued to undertake a number of significant projects. During the war, membership dwindled and a subsidiary organization called the Salt Lake Pioneer Luncheon Club attracted members. This luncheon club was later renamed the Salt Lake Pioneer Chapter. In 1967 the Salt Lake Pioneer Chapter began organizing the annual July 24th Sunrise Service at the Salt Lake Tabernacle. This continues today.

In 1946 SUP members elected Wendell J. Ashton, publisher of the Deseret News and Director of the Public Communications Department of the LDS Church, as president. Ashton completed the plan proposed by Nephi Morris twelve years before and promoted the 1947 reenactment of the pioneer trek from Nauvoo to Salt Lake City, albeit by automobile rather than ox wagon.

The SUP also cooperated with other organizations during Wendell Ashton’s presidency to finance the construction of the This Is The Place Monument at the mouth of Emigration Canyon. The centennial committee hired Mahonri M. Young, a grandson of Brigham Young to design and sculpt the monument. Wendell Ashton also inaugurated a column in the Deseret News called “Know Your Utah,” in which he wrote vignettes to help Utahns understand their state in preparation for the 1947 centennial. Until 1947, all of the presidents of the Sons of Utah Pioneers had lived in Salt Lake City.

In 1947, however, the members elected Rulon S. Draney of Ogden as president. President Draney’s successor in 1948 was Judge Jesse P. Rich of Cache Valley. These two presidents inaugurated life memberships, a pioneer story-writing contest, and even barbershop quartets. Later, the life membership payments were organized into a trust fund. At the time, you could buy a life membership for $50.00. Since 2009 a lifetime membership has cost $500.00.

Many of you may not know that the SUP organized the current Mormon Battalion organization to commemorate the original Mormon Battalion organized in 1846 to fight in the Mexican-American War. SUP President Fred E. H. Curtis, who served as president for two terms, 1949 and 1950, organized the Mormon Battalion. Curtis was the first commanding officer of the Mormon Battalion at its incorporation in October 1954. In 1950, President Curtis promoted a Mormon Battalion Trek from Grand Canyon to San Diego, and from there to Fort Moore in Los Angeles. Mormon Battalion members had helped construct Fort Moore after the Mexican War.

In 1953, Richard A. Lambert, who was SUP President at the time, represented both the Sons of Utah Pioneers and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at the dedication of the Mormon Pioneer Memorial Bridge at Omaha, Nebraska. The bridge commemorated the trek of the Mormons from Council Bluffs, Iowa and Florence, Nebraska to Utah.

After Richard Lambert served as president, in 1953, members elected Nicholas G. Morgan as president. President Morgan was particularly interested in establishing new monuments. Among the monuments he promoted were the transcontinental telegraph (on Salt Lake City’s Main Street) and monuments to Daniel L. Jackling, Thomas L. Kane, Eliza R. Snow, and Karl G. Maeser in the Utah state capitol building. He also helped promote the Abraham Lincoln statue in New Salem, Illinois, and a monument to Lycurgus, the Greek lawgiver, in Sparta, Greece. He also worked for the restoration of Pioneer Park and the Old Statehouse which the state reconstructed south of the state capitol building.

During the Korean War the SUP organization declined in membership. In 1954 when Horace A. Sorensen became national president, the organization had only eleven active chapters. President Sorensen served for three terms as president—that is until 1957. He worked on increasing the number of chapters, and by the end of his term the SUP had 30 chapters.

In 1953, Horace Sorensen and his wife opened the Pioneer Memorial Museum on Connor Street in the southeast section of Salt Lake City. The SUP located its national headquarters for 20 years at the Connor Street site. In 1957, the Sons of Utah Pioneers loaned some of the artifacts from the Pioneer Village to the Lagoon Amusement Park in Farmington. Lagoon built a number of 19th century replica buildings to house the collection. Eight years later, in 1975, the SUP agreed to sell the Pioneer Village to Lagoon for $285,000. David Freed and Boyd Jensen of Lagoon Corporation negotiated with SUP for the village. In May 1976, after Lagoon completed construction of the village and the relocation of the artifacts, President Spencer W. Kimball spoke at and dedicated the village. President Orson D. Wright who had worked on the agreement to sell the village also spoke.

During the 1950s and 1960s, the SUP worked closely with the Mormon Battalion organization to promote monuments at a number of sites connected with the original battalion. These included the grave site in Detroit, Michigan, of Col. Phillip St. George Cooke who had commanded the Mormon Battalion, and a commemoration at Sutter’s Fort near Sacramento. SUP President J. Rulon Morgan served as Grand Marshal of the parade at the commemoration of the Sutter Fort site.

Under the leadership of President Eugene P. Watkins, in 1969 the SUP contributed more than $19,000 for the construction of the Mormon Battalion monument in Presidio Park in San Diego. The monument committee asked SUP to contribute $18,000, and SUP oversubscribed their contribution by $1,000. At the dedication of the monument on November 22, 1969, President Hugh B. Brown of the First Presidency offered the dedicatory prayer and Elder Mark E. Peterson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles offered the invocation.

In 1971 under the leadership of President Verl G. Dixon, a Provo resident, the SUP dedicated the Mormon Workers Cabin at the California Gold Discovery Site at Coloma, California. A group of Mormon Battalion soldiers had gone to Sacramento and Coloma to work for John Sutter. A number of them participated in the discovery of gold at the Coloma site. Henry Bigler, a Mormon Battalion veteran, recorded the event in his diary, and the discovery brought about the 1849 gold rush to California.

In November 1972, the SUP and the Mormon Battalion organization assisted at the dedication of a new LDS visitor’s Center in San Diego. SUP President Orson Wright offered the benediction at the Services. President Harold B. Lee offered the dedicatory prayer. The Mormon Battalion served as honor guard during the dedication.

In 1972 the LDS Church asked the SUP to raise and contribute $25,000 for a memorial monument at Brigham Young’s grave site on First Avenue in Salt Lake City. The donation campaign took place from 1972 to 1974, and the SUP actually oversubscribed and raised $27,000 for the monument. The monument was dedicated on June 1, 1974. It was titled “All is Well,” and the noted Utah sculptor Edward J. Fraughton sculpted the monument. At the dedication, speakers were President N. Eldon Tanner of the First Presidency, Governor Calvin L. Rampton, and SUP President Orson D. Wright of the SUP. The Tabernacle Choir provided music for the service.

The SUP desperately needed a permanent headquarters. In 1978, the SUP had to leave the headquarters on Connor Street which had served for 20 years. Horace Sorensen, who owned the site, decided to sell it. Under the circumstances, the SUP relocated its headquarters to 3357 South 2300 East in the old Sherman School. This was clearly an interim move since the Sherman School was not adequate for the organization.

Fortunately, the $285,000 obtained for the sale of the Pioneer Village to Lagoon served as the nest-egg for the construction of a permanent headquarters building. Orson D. Wright served as chair of the headquarters building committee with Joy F. Dunyon, Adolph Johnson, and Glen Lloyd as the committee. Glen Lloyd, a Salt Lake City architect, designed the building. The SUP looked first at a site on Capitol Hill north of the DUP building. The State of Utah agreed to purchase the land and furnish perpetual care for it. The deal fell through because one homeowner refused to sell to the state, and the state declined to use eminent domain to acquire the property. After searching for land, the SUP found the site at 3301 Louise Avenue in the Canyon Rim area. Workers constructed the building between 1980 and 1981. President Gordon B. Hinckley dedicated the building on August 23, 1981.

The SUP organization has undergone a number of changes over time. In 1972, the organization began electing a president-elect under a bylaw change the previous year. In 1981, under the leadership of past president K. Grant Hale, the SUP organized the Past Presidents’ Council. The Past Presidents’ Council began holding luncheon meetings to provide advice to the Executive Council and the National Board. During the early years, the Past Presidents’ Council elected a president of the council. In 2000, a by-law change made the immediate past president the president of the Past Presidents’ Council. In the mid-1980s the SUP organized a Financial Advisory Council to advise the Executive Council and the Board on financial matters. In 1980, the SUP began the Pioneer Name Memorialization Program to raise money for the new building to be used in addition to the money received from Lagoon.

Under the leadership of Horace and Ethel Sorensen, the SUP constructed a railroad museum at Corinne. SUP wanted to use the railroad cars and engines for movies, and the Corinne site was not suitable for that. In 1979 the SUP donated the Corinne Railroad Museum to Heber City where it was located near the terminal of the Heber Creeper now known as the Heber Valley Historic Railroad. The SUP donation was valued at $3 million. The railroad runs from the station at Heber to Vivian Park in Provo Canyon at various times during the year.

At times, the SUP has faced legal challenges. In 1987 Salt Lake County levied $18,000 in property taxes against the SUP. The problem persisted until 1988 when President Everett H. Call and the National Board succeeded in getting the county to recognize SUP’s non-profit status.

In 1989, the SUP organized the Grandson’s Organization. President Morris Bennion and David Martin originated the idea. Membership in the Grandson’s required the contribution of $1,000 which was placed in a trust fund designated for funding ancestor research on the progenitors of senior seminary students and for other worthwhile SUP programs. In 2000 there were 35 members in the Grandson’s organization, so they had a trust fund of $35,000.

During the early years, the SUP gave most of its awards, generally consisting of honorary memberships, to presidents of the LDS Church. In 1990, however, we began designating Modern Pioneers. Some of the first included Maurice Abravanel and Jon Huntsman, Sr. In 1993, President Belliston regularized the Modern Pioneers and Tomorrow’s Pioneers initiatives. These designations are given by the national organization and by chapters.

In 1993, in addition to inaugurating the Pioneer magazine, President Angus Belliston promoted a number of other initiatives. One of these was the Brigham Young statue in the Capitol rotunda. President Belliston served on the committee and helped raise the $150,000 to finance the sculpting of a larger than life-size statue of Brigham Young for the Utah state capitol building. The committee commissioned Kraig Varner to sculpt the statue.

President J. Elliot Cameron worked closely on the commemoration of the centennial of Utah statehood in 1996 and the sesquicentennial of the arrival of the pioneers in Utah in 1997. President Richard Frary served during the 1997 sesquicentennial trek from Nauvoo to Salt Lake City in which a number of SUP members participated. A number of other developments have taken place since 2000. In 2007 President Jay Smith inaugurated the Diamond Jubilee Fund to raise money for building and organization needs in commemoration of the 75th year since the organization of the SUP. We raised in the neighborhood of $60,000. During the 2007-8 year, President Grant Barton recommended that $28,000 of that money be used for the second “Eyes Westward” monument near the This Is The Place Heritage Park in Salt Lake City. (The first “Eyes Westward” monument is near the river in Nauvoo, Illinois.) President Barton’s recommendation was approved. President Booth Maycock saw the project through to completion.

In 2011 during President LaMar Adams’s term the headquarters building experienced a flood as the sewer backed up into the basement. The cleanup and reparation were very expensive, and, in 2012, President Richard Christiansen inaugurated the Legacy Fund of $50,000 to provide for the repair and restoration of the headquarters building. The building is now in excellent shape, and numerous organizations rent its rooms for various activities.


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