11 Things You Didn’t Know About the Mormon Pioneers


In celebration of Pioneer Day, here are 11 things about the experience on the trail you may not have known.

1. Pioneer Day is July 21st?

Orson Pratt and Erastus Snow at the end of the Mormon Trail

The fist Mormon pioneers to arrive in the Salt Lake Valley were Orson Pratt and Erastus Snow, who came as part of the scouting party. July 24th celebrates the day Brigham Young arrived with the main party.

2. The First Pioneers Came Even Sooner

Fort Pueblo where LDS Pioneers stayed

Though they didn’t arrive in Salt Lake, one group of Saints made it as far as Pueblo, Colorado, a full year sooner than the rest of the pioneers. A group of Latter-day Saints from Mississippi and Tennessee left to meet up with the remainder of the Church but did not receive word that they had stopped in Winter Quarters.

3. Were the Pioneers Going to California?

Map of Upper California where Mormon Pioneers were travelling

Many early Saints wrote in their journals they were going to California. Was there some confusion? Why did they stop so soon? In the mid-1800’s, however, most of the Mexican territory west of the Rocky Mountains was referred to as “Upper California” — what most of those journals likely meant.

4. Scout Parties Did What?

Buffalo often grazed along the Mormon Trail

The Mormon pioneers often sent scout parties ahead to ensure there was no danger on the trail. But they often ended up being used to scatter Buffalo. The Buffalo would graze in giant herds and would not move for oncoming wagons. The scouts ended up chasing the Buffalo off the trail so the wagon train could continue.

5. Pioneer Neighbors

Mormon Pioneer Brass Band

We often imagine the pioneers entirely alone along the Mormon trail, but there were many frontier settlements along the way. In fact, to raise money many men worked as laborers in camps along the way. And a pioneer band often found opportunities to play for money.

6. “Chief Grumbler”

Photo of Brigham Young


While the pioneers demonstrated an admirable attitude, they weren’t free from complaining. To cut down on it, Brigham Young jokingly appointed a “Chief Grumbler,” who was the only one in camp with the legal authority to complain about the conditions.

7. Most Likely to

Solomon Chamberlain received award for most even tempered

Just like for the high school yearbook, the Pioneers engaged in elections for funny awards. One man, Solomon Chamberlain, was voted the most “even-tempered man in camp,” because he was always grumpy.

8. What’s for Dinner?

Many of the pioneers came from other countries and weren’t well acquainted with the local wildlife. One elderly Danish man wanted to help provide meat for the camp, some of his senses were going, and he had totally lost his sense of smell. He returned to camp carrying an animal he had killed with his cane — a skunk. The group picked up and made camp elsewhere that night.

9. Pioneer Feminists

Mormon pioneer woman pushing handcart

The women of the Mormon Trail were not complacent to be bossed around. They held a meeting where they resolved that when the women were called for prayers, if the men wouldn’t stop talking to each other, the women would leave, and hold prayers themselves.

10. “This is the Place” Myth

Did Brigham Young Really Say This is the Place

When Brigham Young arrived in the Salt Lake Valley, he never said the famous quote attributed to him. Wilford Woodruff did quote Brigham Young as saying, “It is enough. This is the right place, drive on,” which is close enough. But Woodruff only wrote that 33 years after arriving in the Salt Lake Valley, and only after Brigham Young had died.

11. Miraculous Health

handcart pioneers in a blizzard

The pioneers put their comfort, wealth, and lives on the line when they left. And while some did pay the ultimate sacrifice along the trail, the Pioneers were ultimately very blessed. By following the Lord’s instructions, the pioneers mortality rate was almost as low as those living comfortably back in civilization.

Tell us in the comments what fun facts you enjoy about the pioneers.

Christopher D. Cunningham is the managing editor for Public Square Magazine and contributor to Third Hour. He loves emphatically celebrating the normal healthy development of his sons Albus and Whitman, writing about the Church of Jesus Christ, finding the middle ground on most controversies, and using Western Family generic brand lip balm. Christopher is a proud graduate of Brigham Young University-Idaho, and a resident of San Antonio, Texas.