Taming the Past to Conquer the Future : The Pioneer Jubilee of 1897
Journal of Mormon History
University of Illinois Press; Mormon History Association
This article argues that the Pioneer Jubilee of 1897 functioned as an occasion for Utah's social, political, and economic leaders and citizens to advance the newly minted state's integration into American society, to further erase the tensions and animosity between Mormons and non-Mormons, and to improve Utah's image and reputation in the country's cultural imagination. Embedded in a series of commemorative activities and celebrations, a pioneer narrative served as the primary vehicle to further this cultural and social assimilation and to improve non-Mormon perceptions and attitudes about Utah and its residents. While the Pioneer Jubilee was intended to celebrate the past, the commission constructed a narrative that was concerned with the issues of the present and future, particularly negative attitudes about the state's population. This narrative of political and economic triumph and acculturation, presented to McKinley and pervasive throughout the Jubilee, was largely stripped of any overt acknowledgment of, or association with, Mormonism, the LDS Church, and the social and religious controversies and tensions that had contributed to the 1847 migration. The commission deliberately sidestepped any direct references to the Mormon character and features of the migration itself in order to enhance the attractiveness of the narrative to a non-Mormon population residing inside and outside of Utah. By stressing ideas of providential design, struggle and hardship, the transformation of the land, and the onward march of American civilization across the continent, the commission advanced a celebration that could easily please Mormons and non-Mormons alike. For a territory, now state, that had been largely looked down upon by a critical and anxious nation, this was an opportunity for its politicians, businessmen, and average citizens, no matter their religious affiliation, to show the compatibility of the state with the country's social and political values and to integrate itself into the American cultural imagination.