The Sons of Utah Pioneers commitment to honoring our pioneer heritage
This article originally appeared in Vol.55, No.1 (2008) of Pioneer Magazine.
By Angus Belliston, 1994 sup President
What’s really so special about the pioneers?
Why do we talk about them so much? Why do we find it so pleasing if we happen to have a pioneer heritage? Is their story really worth all the attention it receives, all the monuments we raise, all the celebrations in their honor? What is so special about these folks who (after all) were just ordinary human beings like the rest of us ?
Early Mormon Pioneers
There were coundess pioneers in the Territory of Deseret—their significance to us isn’t a question of scarcity. The classic definition of a “pioneer” uses May 10, 1869, when the Golden Spike was driven at Promontory Point, as the cutoff date to qualify as a pioneer. Perhaps 60 to 80,000 came to the valley, or were born here, before the railroad came. Some of these people were indeed great by any standard. Some were the leaders whose stories have been told over and over. But most were simply the ordinary followers of these leaders, whose stories may never be told and who will be remembered only by some of their grateful posterity as they gather in family reunions. But these ordinary folks were great men and women too who persevered through uncommon hardships because they had faith in their God, in their prophets, and in their cause.
Perhaps we could illustrate with an example from many special events in the history of the Sons of Utah Pioneers organization why these noble pathfinders of the American West, whether famous or common folk, are worth our remembrance, even our veneration—and why we should be striving to replicate in our own lives their uncommon virtues.
In 1993 a throng of Welsh descendants gathered at the invitation of the SUP in the BYU Marriott Center to celebrate the life of Dan Jones and the history of their own pioneer ancestors, who bore names like Parry, Thomas, Morgan, Price, Evans, and Jones. During the day the crowds had enjoyed a tour of Welsh homes in Utah Valley and an Eisteddfod program of poetry and music. SUP and LDS church leaders gathered in the Missionary Training Center to present to the First Presidency a handsome new painting of the great missionary: “Dan Jones Awakens Wales.” This painting now graces the main lobby of the MTC, where it inspires new missionaries to spread their message with the courage and enthusiasm of Dan Jones.
The evening service in the Marriott Center featured a special video documentary of Wales, narrated on site by Elder Jeffrey Holland. The Tabernacle Choir sang many numbers, some in the Welsh language. Lord Ellis Thomas, the Welsh member of the British House of Lords (accompanied by Her Majesty’s Consul General for Western America), addressed the congregation. Finally, First Counselor in the Presidency, Gordon B. Hinckley, provided a stirring memoir about Captain/Elder Dan Jones.
Another tribute to this early pioneer was the theme of President Hinckley’s next general conference address. Dan Jones had come out of obscurity! Surely his memory, and the memory of all such stalwarts, both of the known and the unknown pioneers, deserves our faithful remembrance!
What Worth, Their Legacy?
The Sons of Utah Pioneers has been pleased to recognize numerous other great personalities, significant events, and many places with monuments and markers. All these serve as enduring reminders of our pioneer legacy. But of what worth is the legacy, if it endures only in our memories? Of much greater lasting significance is the legacy that lives in the lives of those who follow after.
Now let us repeat the questions we began with: “What’s really so special about the pioneers? Is their story really worth all the attention it receives?”
All of us know the pioneers were indeed very special in many ways. And their stories are really worth all the attention they receive, and more. So may we remind ourselves often by reading and re-reading; may we teach our children and grandchildren by telling and re-telling stories about these wonderful, faithful people who
“ … have given [you] a land for which [ye] did not labour, and cities which [ye] built not, and [ye] dwell in them; [and] the vineyards and oliveyards which [ye] planted not and [of which ye] do eat.” (Joshua 24:13) Q