With Pioneer Day approaching, consider taking one step back in time and one step forward by visiting some historical pioneer sites. The following is a list of pioneer sites in the Western United States ranging from off-the-beaten-path to well-known gems.
Filled with a plethora of pioneer artifacts, photographs, antiques, documents and histories, the Pioneer Memorial Museum, which is run by the Daughters of Utah Pioneers, is a six-story treasure house of information located in the heart of Salt Lake City. While the artifacts — including a horse-drawn steam engine, a large collection of old firearms and John Rowe Moyle's wooden leg — are a must-see, there is a wealth of genealogical information waiting to be tapped from both the written and photographic archives.
While much of the content housed in the museum comes from Mormon pioneers, the museum houses content from any type of pioneer. Not to mention, it's the largest museum in the world on one subject. According to Denice Wheeler, Daughters of Utah Pioneers "Legacy" publication editor, "The value of (the Pioneer Memorial Museum) is that anybody of any religion or race can probably come in and find stories about their family names." For more information, call 801-532-6479 or visit dupinternational.org.
A tribute to the longest military march in U.S. history, the San Diego Mormon Battalion Historic Site gives visitors the opportunity to relive the lives of the battalion members. Complete with Disney-designed interactive technology that allows tour guides to have conversations with characters projected onto walls, the building is intricately modeled with forests, log seats and even a campfire.
The 500-member battalion is credited with blazing nearly 2,000 miles of trails, from Ohio to California, and building much of the San Diego settlement. The site allows visitors to don similar packs and even includes a resource room of artifacts and interactive kiosks, where you can research battalion ancestors. Sherie Seegmiller, a full-time missionary at the site, said, "They did amazing things with almost nothing. Brigham Young promised them they would never be forgotten, and we want (visitors) to experience that here." For more information, call 619-298-3317 or visit oldtownsandiegoguide.com.
Built between 1863 and 1876, the tabernacle was constructed from local hand-hewn red sandstone bricks in a colonial Georgian style, complete with a rectangular-shaped spire and a clock and bell located inside the steeple. The building was constructed by pioneers, and through their work on the building, men supported their families during the rough early years of the settlement. According to Melanie Raymond, a full-time missionary at the site, the tabernacle presents a big take-home lesson about "the faith and the diligence and determination that these people had to have to stay in this harsh, isolated area."
While miracles were plentiful at this time, none transcends to the heart of the tabernacle more than that of Peter Neilson. During the St. George Tabernacle's construction, glass for the windows was ordered and delivered to California. Before picking up the panes, David H. Cannon was charged with raising $800 for the purchase. After soliciting the settlers' meager funds, Cannon collected merely $200 cash. Faithfully, Cannon put together a team to prepare to leave to California, praying that the $600 balance would come before departure. Seven miles away, Neilson, a Danish immigrant, spent a sleepless night. Either from a dream or an impression, he arose before dawn, pulled out the $600 in gold coins he'd been saving so he could increase the size of his tiny house and trekked to Cannon's house, where he handed a sagging bandanna full of the coins to Cannon just before his morning departure. For more information, call 435-628-4072 or visit stgeorgetemplevisitorscenter.info.
Perhaps one of the most tragic stories of the western migration is that of the Donner Party. Unable to cross the Sierra Nevada Mountains before the winter of 1846, the party of 87 members, including farmers, merchants, parents and children, were trapped in snows topping more than 22 feet. The party suffered enormously from starvation, cold and loss of life, with roughly half the members surviving.
Throughout the winter, some of the party lived in three cabins, which are still standing inside the state park. Those who stayed in the cabins ended the winter literally eating the roofs over their heads, which consisted of ox hides. Also encompassed within the park are the Emigrant Trail Museum, a lakeshore interpretive trail and a pioneer monument with a base 22 feet high to represent the snow from the winter of 1846. Visitors can view a film about the Donner Party, which is played every hour. For more information, call 530-582-7892 or visit parks.ca.gov.
Each fall after harvest, couples from Arizona settlements traveled 400 miles to be married in the St. George Temple. The trail is named for the romantic nature of the adventures, and visitors who walk along the path can see the names of travelers carved into the rocks. The first known trip was made in 1881 along the winding steep canyons, rivers and barren plateaus. Visitors can get a sense of the enduring testimony of Arizona's first settlers and the pattern of sacrifice that aided the settlement of the Arizona and New Mexico wilderness. For more information, call 435-673-2517 or visit stgeorgetemplevisitorscenter.info/temple/honeymoon.html.
The first permanent Icelandic settlement in the United States was established between 1855 and 1860 after 15 pioneers from Iceland immigrated to Spanish Fork, Utah. By 1914, more than 400 Icelanders had joined the community. Because these pioneers had little money to help themselves or others, they found it necessary to work together as they built their new homes. They are credited with "preserving the folklore and customs of their mother country more than any other nationality that pioneered in Utah," according to an entry from the Utah Icelandic Settlement's blog, citing Kate B. Carter as the author of the quote.
This lighthouse monument, dedicated in 1938 and designed to reflect a seafaring background, honors the original Icelandic settlers, and in addition to the lighthouse, includes a rock brought from Iceland, eight bronze plaques describing the settlement's history and a granite monument listing the names of nearly 400 Icelanders who traveled to Utah before 1914. According to Vina Foster, monument caretaker, "Visitors will come away knowing that your ancestors and the hard work and the sacrifice that they gave for us is how we have such a good life here now. Without all of them, we wouldn't have what we have today." For more information, visit mormonhistoricsitesfoundation.org/projects/iceland.htm.
John R. Moyle is a famous Mormon pioneer who walked 22 miles every Monday morning and then walked the 22 miles back every Friday night to help build the Salt Lake Temple. Even after losing a leg, Moyle remained resolute and continued the walk on a handmade, carved wooden leg. Moyle, who worked as a stonemason, would eventually inscribe the words "Holiness to the Lord" on the east side of the temple. This park is located at the site of the Moyles' home. It contains several old cabins, a milk house and even a protective fort. Visitors can learn about Moyle and his family and the first settlers in Alpine. Tours are available by calling 801-830-3502.
Four well-known historic trails converge at what is today known as Capser, Wyo. These trails include the Oregon Trail, the Pony Express Trail, the California Trail and the Mormon Pioneer Trail. Better yet, the National Historic Trails Interpretive Center is a one-stop venue to learn about all four trails. With interactive exhibits, including a handcart and a virtual wagon ride complete with hydraulics to simulate rolling over rough terrain, the center is a gateway to the actual trails.
Located on a bluff overlooking the Platte River, the center has a panoramic view of where the immigrants would have followed. Visitors can stop at the center to learn about the trails and then drive to the actual sites they learned about. According to Mike Able, the center's director, "These trails ... still exist. You can see the path, the wagon tracks still after all these years. This is a treasured resource of our heritage. A part of our history in the West." For more information, call 307-261-7780 or visit casperwyoming.info.
A memorial of Western pioneer life, Pipe Springs National Monument features two historic masonry cabins, a larger historic building called Winsor Castle, an orchard and garden, and a half-mile trail, which offer glimpses of both American Indian and pioneer life in the old West. With tours every half hour, visitors can learn about the pioneers' early relations with Native Americans as they explored not only the simple life of individual pioneers, but also the intricate nature of a church business enterprise. Originally settled by the LDS Church as a large cattle ranching operation, it is now run as a national monument within the Kaibab Paiute Indian Reservation. Visitors who go during busy seasons have the opportunity to participate, watch and learn about both pioneer and Native American cultural crafts and traditions through demonstrations. For more information, call 928-643-7105 or visit nps.gov/pisp/index.htm.
Jacob Hamblin joined the LDS Church in 1842 and moved West. Before his death, he would accomplish many feats, including traveling more than 30,000 miles on horseback in an effort to preserve peace between pioneers and Native Americans in the Southwest, became the first man to complete the 600-mile journey to encircle the Grand Canyon and made 13 trips from southern Utah to the Hopi Pueblos in Arizona as an LDS missionary. While these are only a few of Hamblin's many accomplishments, visitors to his historic home can learn who the man called "Friend of the Indians" really was. They can also view what Hamblin and his large family's lives entailed and take a stroll through the nearby orchard. For more information, call 435-673-2161 or visit stgeorgetemplevisitorscenter.info.