Though Pioneer Day is often appreciated mainly as another day off work and another chance to barbecue and set off fireworks, the holiday has deep historical roots in the state of Utah, as well as a pretty profound purpose.
Set to commemorate the arrival of Brigham Young and the early Mormon pioneers in the Salt Lake Valley (July 24, 1847), the holiday is a tribute to the life and sacrifices of the pioneers, as well as the settling of the state of Utah by those pioneers. Pretty important, right?
Just in case you’re looking for a little more pioneer-related fun for your holiday, we’ve put together a list of six movies sure to bring on the pioneer spirit, or at least make you appreciate modern conveniences a little bit more. Enjoy!
This 2011 film released by Excel Entertainment Group and directed by T.C. Christensen details the struggles, triumphs and many miracles experienced by members of the Willie Handcart Company of Mormon pioneers. Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the pioneers of the Willie Handcart Company left late-season and were forced to trek through dangerous and bitter winter weather. This film highlights the miracles that carried them through the tribulation to their final destination in Salt Lake.
Under the direction of T.C. Christensen (of “17 Miracles”), “Ephraim’s Rescue” details the heroic true story of Ephraim Hanks, who helped to rescue the struggling Martin Handcart Company during their trek to the west.
This powerful film gives background on Ephraim’s conversion to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as well as his call to come to the rescue of the struggling handcart company and perform the work of angels. Though not available for free streaming, this film can be borrowed on DVD through Netflix, rented online through Amazon.com, or purchased at Deseret Book, Walmart or Amazon.com.
‘Joseph Smith: Prophet of the Restoration’
Full movie: https://youtu.be/1xVw6PsSinI
Directed by T.C. Christensen and distributed by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, this film is a little less about the pioneers specifically, and more about the events leading up to their westward trek, including the early restoration and persecution of the Church itself.
Narrated by his mother, “Joseph Smith: Prophet of the Restoration” details the life of the Prophet Joseph Smith and the pivotal events in his life that lead to the establishment of the Church and eventually the journey of its members to the Salt Lake Valley. The film can be viewed on DVD or YouTube at the link above.
Full movie: https://youtu.be/ogZLZhnSNOA
Originally played in the Legacy Theatre of the Joseph Smith Memorial Building in Salt Lake City, “Legacy” was directed by Kieth Merrill and distributed by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This film is about as pioneer related as you can get: though fictional, the film is based on historical events and details the experiences of young LDS convert Eliza Williams as she makes the journey from New York to Missouri and Illinois, before ending her trek in Utah. Faced with sickness, inclement weather and persecution, Williams’ testimony and faith are strengthened through her trials. “Legacy” can be streamed for free through YouTube at the link above.
‘A Pioneer Miracle’ (also known as ‘In the Arms of Angels’)
Another work of T.C. Christensen, this 15-minute film is fast and moving. “A Pioneer Miracle” tells the story of 8-year-old Belle Richards, who, after disobeying her father’s counsel, finds herself and her brother in serious danger. With divine intervention, the pair survive a terrible rockslide, imprinting on Belle a lifelong lesson of faith, prayer and the importance of obedience. “A Pioneer Miracle” is available for purchase on Amazon.com both as a digital copy and as a DVD.
‘The Work and the Glory’
Directed by Russell Holt and inspired by the book series by Gerald N. Lund, “The Work and the Glory” give a detailed glimpse into the life of the Steed family, who have recently uprooted from their Vermont homestead to tackle life in upstate New York. The story leads up to the pioneer journey as the family struggles with questions of faith, family loyalty and love. There are also two film sequels to the story: “The Work and the Glory II: American Zion” and “The Work and the Glory III: A House Divided.” All installments of the film series as well as the entirety of the book series are available for purchase on Amazon.com.