Random thoughts on Pioneer Day

Patty Bartlett Session’s Cross Stitch Sampler

I was sitting in a Women and Music class at BYU when the most preposterous statement I have ever heard about pioneers was made. We were discussing Mormon music when a fellow classmate argued that those without “pioneer stock” could not truly sing Come, Come Ye Saints like somebody with pioneer ancestry can.

“Just like a white woman can’t sing Summertime like a black woman can.” she argued

My response: ummmm…what?

I think there is a fundamental difference in experience here that makes this argument specious at best but every July 24th I find myself wondering if there is some psychic wound that those with pioneer heritage carry with them.

I wouldn’t know about this as I am the offspring of two converts to the church. While I always enjoyed the Pioneer Day celebrations that my midwestern wards put on and the pioneer bonnets were in constant rotation when I played dress-ups as a girl, I never felt personally connected to the pioneers.

Until I had children. mr. mraynes comes from a rather prominent pioneer family and knowing the above story, he joked that bearing pioneer stock allowed me to tap into that psychic wound and appropriately sing Come, Come Ye Saints. Once again, I doubt the veracity of this wry observation. But I do feel strangely connected Patty Bartlett Sessions, who would be my children’s great great great great great-grandmother. Indeed, I feel her presence and her grit and determination in my own daughter. Though I am a little apathetic about pioneers in general, I like to take a moment on this day to honor this grandmother and the other pioneers who make my children who they are.

So what say you? Do you share a strong connection with the pioneers, whether in your ancestry or not? How do you feel about Pioneer Day?


Mraynes lives in downtown Denver with her husband and four children. She spends her time lobbying at the Colorado Legislature, managing all the things and preparing Gospel Doctrine lessons.

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9 Responses

  1. Rachel Hamrick says:

    I love the fact that ‘Summertime’ was written by two Jewish brothers from Brooklyn, New York.

  2. E.D. says:

    Based on my experience, the classmate’s line of reasoning isn’t that rare. I’ve heard plenty of claims that those with pioneer ancestors had stronger faith, etc. Of course, this mainly came from families that moved from the Mormon Corridor to central NY and were going through some serious culture shock.

    I didn’t know anything about Pioneer Day until the UT/ID families moved in when I was in junior high school. They wanted a picnic and a sacrament meeting about it. Let’s just say it wasn’t very popular given their attitudes about Pioneer Day, working mothers, and church procedures. Basically it was several years of constantly being told we were “doing it wrong” then they all eventually moved out.

    • Mraynes says:

      I’ve heard plenty of stories like this. my mother once had a boyfriend who broke up with her because she wasn’t from pioneer stock. It’s amazing how we all hang on to these little prejudices in order to validate our existence.

  3. Rachel says:

    This post goes quite nicely from Em’s on Pioneer (and other!) heritage from a few weeks back: http://www.the-exponent.com/our-heritage-or-my-heritage/

    I don’t have pioneer-pioneer ancestors either, though I do have plenty of great modern day pioneer relatives. My husband on the other hand, can claim direct descent from Orson Pratt, Karl G. Maeser and others. It is really important to him, which alternately frustrates me, and makes me grateful that he knows and values his family lines.

    It is also a little strange for me to think that the child currently inside of me will be able to claim those same ties. I wonder if it will make her Mormon life easier?

    I also recently read a philosophy book on remembrance, written by a European philosopher, shortly after the Holocaust. He asked if it is possible to say we Should remember something, if remembrance often comes when we are not trying, and, also if it is possible to remember something that we ourselves did not experience.

    Your post, and your classmates silly assertion, made me reflect on this. What does it mean for us to remember the pioneers, as individuals and as a community? Is it something that could tie us together in a good way, even if the experiences were not our own or our family members? Regardless, I know I can sing Come, Come Ye Saints with as much faith and fervor as the next person. 🙂

  4. spunky says:

    As a child, I envied the Jewish students who had extra time off from school for “special” holdiays. I asked my mother if Mormons had any “special” holidays we could celebrate (with an eye to getting out of school). When she said, “Pioneer Day.” I was disappointed– because it was already during summer. From that day on, I really saw no point in the day at all. And I am from pioneer stock (on one side)- and a convert on the other side. I always felt more in tune with the convert side than the pioneer heritage side of my family. Still do.

    I like the idea of celebrating perserverance and fortitude, which are some of the things I take from pioneer stories, but I feel no patriotism toward the “early converts” as some source of religious royality to which I must attest with any degree of allegience as being better than modern-day Mormons.

  5. Nona says:

    I come from pioneer stock and am also deeply deeply apathetic about pioneers. Missing Pioneer Day was one of the best things about moving out of Utah!

  6. Emily U says:

    I like Pioneer Day. I think origin stories are important, and the Mormon origin story has lots of appeal to it, imo. “Come, Come, Ye Saints” is a great hymn – one of the best in any tradition. I love singing it, and I also love singing “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” even though I’m not African American. A great hymn text will have themes that transcend the particulars of anyone’s personal experience to inspire a wider group. It will also have aesthetic appeal from the music it’s set to. ” Come, Come, Ye Saints” has all those things.

    I think finding inspiration in your ancestors is a good thing, just so long as it doesn’t lead to a superiority complex.

  7. Melody says:

    That classmate was a bit freaky, eh, Meg?

    I worked a 12-hour shift yesterday. In Utah. When I sent a text to my kids, wishing them a happy day, my son texted me back and invited me to his nieghborhood block party. I was exhausted by the time I left work at 9:30, but went anyway.

    Pioneer Day is awesome in my neck of the woods because you can eat peanut butter bars at 10 PM while watching children run around laughing as fireworks light the sky. And then your grown son gives you a hug and says, “love ya, mom.”

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