Hundreds of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the greater Chattanooga area gathered on Saturday in Ooltewah, to celebrate Pioneer Day. Pioneer Day is an annual event celebrated by LDS congregations throughout the world to commemorate July 24, 1847.
On this date, the first Mormon pioneers entered the Salt Lake Valley. Led by Brigham Young, among those pioneers were 143 men, three women and two children, according to LDS Church history.
“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” (The Encyclopedia of Mormonism).
Their journey was hard. They endured unimaginable suffering. At times, conditions were so terrible – snow 12 to 18 inches deep – temperatures 11 degrees below zero. Food was scarce. Supplies were limited. Many lost their limbs to frostbite. Others lost their husbands, fathers, sisters, brothers, children, friends and family to “starvation, exposure, exhaustion and dysentery” (Ensign, December, 2006).
They came from Europe – from many nations and all parts of America, including Missouri, New York, Iowa, Illinois and elsewhere. Fleeing persecution and pulling handcarts, many crossed the wide Mississippi River, the Great Rocky Mountains and everything in between. With faith in every footstep, they walked and walked and walked, heeding a prophet’s call.
It was President Brigham Young who looked over the Salt Lake Valley and said, “It is enough. This is the right place.” And so it was. With fresh courage, they made the desert blossom like a rose. They made “the air with music ring,” as the world-renowned Mormon Tabernacle Choir now sings from the Crossroads of the West at Temple Square, (Come, Come Ye Saints, Hymn 30). https://www.mormontabernaclechoir.org/videos/come-come-ye-saints-mormon-tabernacle-choir.html
How? Why? Because, as Elder Gerrit W. Gong of the Presidency of the Seventy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teaches, “With our Savior, we end with more than we began.” The Savior is “the bread of life.” He is “the living water.” “His is a world of loaves and fishes, of abundance” (Gong, 2/17/17). https://www.lds.org/broadcasts/article/evening-with-a-general-authority/2017/02/and-jesus-said-unto-them-i-am-the-bread-of-life?lang=eng
Just ask Sherree Tharp of Ooltewah, Tennessee. She is the descendant of Cornelius Jasper Stover and Palestine Palmina McDaniel of Gilmore, Georgia who joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1879. As said by their family history, Cornelius and Palestine were taught about the restored gospel of Jesus Christ by Elder Joseph Standing and Elder Rudger Clawson, who were serving as LDS missionaries in the Southern States Mission more than 138 years ago.
On July 21, 1879, just two months after Cornelius, Palestine and her mother Lucy Osborne McDaniel were baptized, Elder Standing and Elder Clawson were assaulted by a mob as they were traveling on foot to a missionary conference. Elder Standing was shot and killed. A monument was later erected in his honor in Varnell, Georgia, north of Dalton. Today, the memorial is maintained by the LDS Church. Although by the world’s standards Elder Standing’s missionary service was cut short, it is of consequence that he shared the restored gospel of Jesus Christ with Sherree’s great-great grandparents.
Sherree’s great-great grandparents migrated to Colorado in the fall of 1879 when the Saints in the Southern Mission were encouraged to do so. They had 11 children. From two of their 11 children, as of 2005, Cornelius and Palestine had more than 1,000 descendants who were and/or are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. More than 200, and counting, have served full-time missions for the LDS Church. Clearly, Elder Standing’s service to The Lord was magnified. He ended with more than he began.
The same can be said of Cornelius, Palestine, Lucy – and Sherree. In 2008, Sherree, who grew up in Colorado, and her husband, Doug, a convert to the LDS Church, moved from Illinois to Ooltewah, Tennessee. Sherree and Doug Tharp have three children – Cort, Jaycee and Mylee – and one grandchild, Shaylee. Jaycee and Mylee serve in the Tennessee National Guard. Doug is retired Navy, and works at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s technical training center in East Brainerd. The Tharps consider it a blessing to live so close to Elder Standing’s memorial as it reminds them that the Savior’s world is a “world of loaves and fishes.” As for Elder Clawson, he later became a member and President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
No matter our journey, or where we live or who we are, each of us has an important role in remembering and sharing the good news and glad tidings of Jesus Christ. That’s what participants at Saturday’s Pioneer Day learned. They learned we are all pioneers – with a journey to make.
The journey home ain’t always easy. We’ll have a “hard time” getting there, as one pioneer put it. But along the way, “we’ll see things we’ve never before seen – great herds of buffalo and big cedar trees on the hills, and maybe even vast expanses of sunflowers in bloom” (Our Heritage, Chapter 6) because “the earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof” (Psalm 24:1).
Activities at Chattanooga’s Pioneer day included family history research, stick ball, rug weaving, button pull, doll making, and a BBQ lunch. The Mormon Tabernacle Choir also hosted a Pioneer Day concert at Temple Square that may be accessed at https://www.mormontabernaclechoir.org/articles/pioneer-day-concert-with-alex-boye-a-huge-hit-with-audiences.html. Festivities, including fireworks and Days of ’47 parades, are scheduled across the State of Utah where Pioneer Day is an official holiday.