As Utah prepares to celebrate this most significant state historical anniversary, I’ve had cause to reflect on the pioneers among my ancestors.
One branch of the family, tenant farmers from Scotland, came to Canada in the 1820s when the big landowners in their home country, who had benefitted handsomely from the many generations who had toiled to make their holdings fruitful, decided that sheep were more profitable than people.
They faced the terrors of the transoceanic crossing in steerage, then traveled inland by river before arriving at their destination – Ontario townships where land could be claimed if a family was willing to work to improve it.
Doing so was no picnic in the park, but the best news was that whatever they could build or produce was theirs to use or dispose of as they pleased. It’s not hard to see why they chose Canada, especially since the alternative was likely starvation in a teeming tenement.
That was also the grim prospect faced by Irish ancestors, who chose instead to take their chances coming here rather than become a statistic of the Great Potato Famine. They faced hardships and discrimination but persevered and eventually carved out a niche for themselves in the New World.
Another branch from northern Germany left because a father was not interested in seeing any of his six sons forcibly conscripted and then disappear into Prussia’s endless wars. They took a southern shipping route to New Orleans, then came up the Mississippi River to St. Louis. They found a home in the bustling German settlements of Illinois, a short wagon drive away.
The precise reasons for the moves of other family branches have not survived in oral tradition, but they, too, must have faced similarly compelling circumstances.
It’s important to remember that pioneering didn’t stop when wagons gave way to trains and then to planes. Our community, like most, has people who got here yesterday and descendants of those who arrived a century ago or more.
Regardless of the country of residence, every family tree has other pioneers as well: the first to get electricity, the first to own a car, the first to earn a college degree, the first in a certain profession, the first to acquire a particular skill, the first to learn how to operate a computer, and so on.
All pioneers, no matter the period or pursuit, have two things in common: they were, and are, all seeking to improve their situations along with the chance to enjoy the fruits of their labors.
If there is anyone who has these aspirations, the pioneer spirit to which we all owe so much will survive.
This country, in general, and our society were built upon these pillars. Here’s hoping that each of us will do everything we can to encourage today’s pioneers, be they our children or the newest refugee from some distant land, as they seek to blaze their own trails in this blessed place where we have both the right and the opportunity to choose what path to take.