WASHINGTON CITY – It was July 24, 1847, when Brigham Young led the Mormon pioneers to the Great Salt Lake Valley on what some would call one of the greatest treks in American history. The spirit was kept alive Thursday as the popular Days of ’47 Parade, which made its very first appearance in Southern Utah, honored the courage, foresight and faith of the Mormon pioneers.
Pioneer Day is Utah’s official state holiday, celebrated on July 24 of every year to commemorate the thousands of pioneers who carried a firm commitment of America’s belief in freedom of religion as they made their passage from Emigration Canyon into what became known as the Utah Territory.
Though Washington City has historically held a Pioneer Day celebration, this was the first year the city coordinated with Days of ’47 Inc., which currently holds the distinction of being one of the oldest parades in America, according to the organization’s website. The Days of ’47 first began in 1849, two years after the pioneers entered the Salt Lake valley, and with the exception of a few years during times of war, has continued consecutively ever since.
In years past, the Washington City Pioneer Day festivities were operated by volunteers gathered by the local members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and although the Days of ’47 Dixie Celebration has formed as a nonprofit entity independent of the church, the festival continues to celebrate pioneer heritage with church-supplied volunteer support, booths and games.
Pushing toward our Future: Parade and festivities
The day kicked off at 7 a.m. with a flag-raising ceremony, followed by a community breakfast at Veterans Park in Washington.
Hundreds of excited community members of all ages anxiously lined the streets in anticipation of handcarts, wagons, horses and more. The parade route started at Washington Elementary School, located at 300 N. 300 East, then traveled south to Telegraph Street, making its way west down Telegraph before its end at 100 N. 100 West.
Celebrating Utah’s rich history, the parade included several entries devoted to the Mormons’ early handcart treks as well as Native American dancers, classic cars, the military and elaborate floats.
After the parade, horse trainer James Thompson and “Kye the Wonder Horse” stuck around to give festivalgoers an up-close experience with the 19-year-old Polish Arabian horse.
“Kye was lame up until six years ago,” Thompson said. “They said he could never be ridden again when I started to train him. Since then, we’ve been in about 80 events a year. We took first place in the Dixie Roundup last year; we took first place in Iron County Fair the year before that; and year before that, first place in the Great American Stampede in Cedar City.”
Kye was sporting a beautiful handcrafted saddle, which Thompson said his father made in the 1950s.
There was no shortage of food during this year’s festivities, with plenty of vendors offering mouthwatering treats like snow cones, cotton candy, ice cream, pronto pups, funnel cakes and homemade pies.
The fun continued with an array of events and activities held at Veteran’s Memorial Park. From traditional foot races to dunk tanks, there was fun for all ages at the event. While some of the smaller children went panning for gold and had their faces painted, others took part in the cakewalk and ring toss. Some of the older kids and adults enjoyed participating in the football throw, stick pull, knife throw and strongman hammer, while others sat back and enjoyed the ongoing live entertainment.
The show goes on: Fireworks
The celebration culminates Thursday evening with a fireworks show at 9:30 p.m. Fireworks will be set off near the Washington City Community Center, located at 350 N. Community Center Drive.
Keeping the pioneering spirit alive: Live TV and streaming coverage
The parade was streamed live on St. George News and aired live statewide on KCSG-TV, DirecTV 44, Dish Network 37, Baja Broadband 6, Reliance Connects 6 and Comcast 116. The fun-filled two-hour broadcast included live guest appearances with full coverage of the parade and activities. The event will be rebroadcast Saturday at 9 a.m. and Sunday at 6 p.m.
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- Pioneer Day event guide for Southern Utah
- Where can you light fireworks for Pioneer Day?
- Be part of a live studio audience; Southern Utah LIVE
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