July 24, Pioneer Day, is celebrated yearly in "Mormon Country" and increasingly on an international scale among Latter-day Saints. On this date in 1847, the first Mormon pioneers (143 men, 3 women, 2 children) led by Brigham Young, entered the uninhabited Salt Lake Valley. They began the pioneer settlement of more than 400 communities in the intermountain West, Canada, and Mexico. Before the completion of the transcontinental railroad in 1869, 80,000 Mormon refugees and converts went west in perpetual immigration. Six thousand lost their lives and were buried along the way.
"In the annals of the American Frontier," wrote historian Purnell H. Benson, there is "no more thrilling story." On July 24 this story is commemorated annually by a huge parade in Salt Lake City and is also celebrated frequently in drama (e.g., the Promised Valley musical), poetry, and song. The holiday is typically marked by sunrise services and, throughout LDS communities, by Old West reenactments. In Church programs, commemorative addresses are given and family journals and reminiscences are revived. The close conjunction of the festivities of July 4 and 24 tends to focus on the Mormon exodus as a quest for religious freedom. But like the Puritan movement and the Jewish aliyah, it was at root a quest for the sacred. It grew out of the vision of a consecrated community, the kingdom of God on earth. The festivities of July 24 attempt to regain and extend that vision.