Pioneer Days: Living the History

July 24, 1847

At the mouth of what is now known as Emigration Canyon in Salt Lake City Utah,  a wagon belonging to Elder Wilford Woodruff of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles stopped amid the scrub-oak, Indian grass, and sagebrush that filled the mountains and valleys of the Great Basin.  Weary from months of travel and sick with mountain fever, Mormon leader and Prophet Brigham Young propped himself up in the bed of the wagon. Looking out over the valley with its great salt sea, he spoke the words that marked the end of one journey and the beginnings of countless others: “It is enough.  This is the right place.  Drive on.” Thus the Mormon Pioneers entered the Salt Lake Valley and began to build and shape the settlement of the American West.


July 24, 2015

One hundred sixty-eight years later, This is the Place Heritage Park was as busy as EVER! It was Pioneer Day! A State holiday where Utahns celebrate the pioneer settlement of Utah.  At This is the Place Heritage Park where Brigham Young uttered his famous words, the celebration couldn’t have bigger! Parades, watermelon eating contests, cannon fire, ringing of the anvil, Native American dancers, candy cannon, tours, and pioneer crafts all made the Park a destination for those celebrating that significant date in our history.

Watermelon Eating Contest!

Watermelon Eating Contest!

Pioneer Day with Ben Woodruff and his Golden Eagle "Holly"

Pioneer Day with Ben Woodruff and his Golden Eagle “Holly”

A Busy Month and a Half

Wow time flies! This last Month (and a half) has been super busy. Meetings, events, youth conferences, animal husbandry, family life….All a part of the great balancing act we call public history. So where do I start?

Tour Buses

Well, perhaps the I can start with my work with Tour Bus marketing…  Talk about a learning curve.  As part of my new responsibilities I am working with our Marketing Director to promote the Park as a destination for touring companies. We are planning on attending three trade shows/conventions early next year where we will spend all day pitching why This is the Place Heritage Park is…well, THE PLACE to visit. These include the National Tour Association, American Bus Association, and the US Travel Association’s IPW. This is totally new ground for me, but I look forward to learning more. Currently, we are working on an email pitch and some print media to send to tour operators in advance of the conventions. The months ahead are looking really busy!

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Pioneer Day

Best day to be at the Park! I helped with the Watermelon Eating contest, but also enjoyed the parade, and other celebratory programs surrounding the state holiday. Perhaps one of my favorite moments was watching kids and adults compete against Oliver-our Nubian/Nigerian Dwarf cross goat- in the watermelon eating contest. He didn’t win, but it was very close.

Youth Conferences-Pioneer Treks and Networking Socially

I can unequivocally say that the most rewarding part of my job is working with the youth groups that come to This is the Place. Our Networking Socially program gathers the youth and leaders (youth ages 12-18) and teaches them pioneer etiquette, manners, and social customs, comparing them with our customs today.  The Pioneer Treks, give the youth an opportunity to pull a handcart and learn stories through reenactment and first person interpretation of men and women who pioneered the settlement of Utah and the American West.

Most recently, we had a large group of 150 youth and leaders travel from Oakland California to participate in these programs. They were all members of the Tongan community there, but they drove the distance to learn more about early Pioneers. What was even more remarkable, is that they were prepared to have the full experience: They were all dressed in ‘period’ clothing. (Though I use that term loosely). Even though the clothing may not have been exactly period, they honestly tried, only wearing button-up shirts and slacks for the men, and the women wearing dresses, blouses, and skirts.


Because we hike a total of 4.5 miles and increase our elevation from 4800 ft to around 6000 ft, we were a little concerned about the youth and leaders coping with a) the altitude increase from Oakland to Salt Lake City, and b) the additional increase and strenuous hike.  While we did have a few incidents of heat exhaustion, I was once again amazed and the resilience of the Youth and how they banded together to complete the Journey.  This trek was by far the most compelling and edifying of any I have participated in.  Seeing how well this group of people of different nationalities and backgrounds than the pioneers were able to still relate and grow from the experience, and make it relevant to their own lives…it was incredible.  This program is not only an effective way to teach the youth of today, but it is for youth of all backgrounds.

Perhaps I will end on this note from the longest standing member of the National Executive Board of the Boy Scouts of America, Thomas S. Monson:

“What about our time? Are there pioneering experiences for us? Will future generations reflect with gratitude on our efforts, our examples? You young [people] can indeed be pioneers in courage, in faith, in charity, in determination.

What a great opportunity to be involved in such a great cause, and with such and amazing organization.

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Go West Young Man…


Back in the Rocky Mountains…and the beauty of the great Basin.

Perched on the mountainside at the mouth of Emigration Canyon in Salt Lake City Utah, sits a Gothic revival cross-gabled Farmhouse, built in 1863 by frontiersman and Mormon leader Brigham Young. As one of many buildings making up This is the Place Heritage Park, this home has been on my mind for several months now.  Shortly after arriving back in the Salt Lake area, I couldn’t wait to see it in person as if for the first time. In fact, driving the 45 minutes through Salt Lake City on my way to the park and Farmhouse, I couldn’t help but feel a peaked curiosity and anticipation of the opportunities before me. As I drove through the historic streets, passing excellent specimens of vernacular architecture, I saw stylistic elements and evidence of material cultural trends that only ten months ago would have escaped my notice.  What opportunities await me here at the crossroads of the west?

Upon arrival at This is the Place Heritage Park, I met with my supervisors and discussed what I will be doing for the next six months.  Over the following days, through various meetings, it was decided that I will be leading, building, and marketing Youth programming, assisting with reaching out to and developing programming for Touring companies, and serving in a consulting and somewhat supervisory role with the animal husbandry portions of daily programming. My focus will be marketing and developing the youth programming and tour programs.  I am especially looking forward to working with the youth programs.

After my meeting that first day, I met up with an old colleague and fellow tinsmith, and we walked down to Brigham Young’s Farmhouse… It was so exciting to cross over the threshold into the “central dining room,” and then explore the home with new eyes.  I followed Dr. Small’s example and began pounding (firmly but gently) on the walls of the dining room, hoping to determine by the sound if they might be adobe within. Surprisingly…they sounded hollow. This goes against my theory that the central portion might be made of adobe.  However…I’m not done yet. Sanborn maps, historic preservation documents, and journals await me in the LDS Church Library and Archives, as well as among the archives of the Utah State Historical Society. This research will continue, and thankfully with the blessing of my supervisors. Stay tuned for updates…046

….So all of this was within the first day.  Since then, I have participated in two youth programs, including as assistant trail boss on a handcart trek reenactment. Working with teenagers is difficult, especially when asking them to do difficult things.  We took 250 youth and adults 2.5 miles up the mountainside pulling and pushing handcarts laden with food, water, and other supplies for the day. Along the trail and throughout the day (an overall 4-5 mile journey) first person interpreters and participatory experiences in historical vignettes offered the youth opportunities to consider various moments in history of westward expansion and in many cases relating to their own personal heritage. What a powerful, affective experience. Tangible elements, addressing the intangible provide all participants with an opportunity to learn and appreciate their personal, as well as collective history.  I look forward to continuing as the new trail-boss for future treks.


Needless to say, these past few weeks have been quite the adventure. Research, youth programming, even some good old animal husbandry and horsback rides, coupled with a free admission day(6585 guests) and Day Care Appreciation Day (2100 kids)…I’m looking forward to Sunday…

To Be Continued…