On July 21st, 1847, after a grueling journey of 108 days, Erastus Snow and Orson Pratt had the distinction of being the first Mormon pioneers to descend from Emigration Canyon into the Salt Lake Valley, after following the remnants of a rough road through the Wasatch Mountains most recently blazed by the Donner-Reed Party. Pratt’s words capture the grandeur of that moment, “After issuing from the mountains . . . and beholding, in a moment, such an extensive scenery open before us, we could not refrain from a shout of joy . . . the grand and lovely scenery was in our view”. Although the Mormons were not the first Euro-Americans, or even emigrants, to pass through Emigration Canyon into the Salt Lake Valley, their arrival represented a dynamic transition in the history of Utah, which the Mormons would dominate from that point onward.
The day after Snow and Pratt first glimpsed and scouted the valley, the Mormon pioneers already began to reshape both the route through Emigration Canyon and the valley itself. On July 22nd, a crew from the advance wagon party lead by Stephen Markham cut a road through Donner Hill in just four hours, creating quick and suitable route around the hill that taxed the Donner-Reed Party’s animals the previous year. On the same day, led by Orson Pratt, eight members of the advance party made their way down into the Salt Lake Valley to locate a suitable location for planting. Finding the soil to be more fertile closer to the mouth of Emigration Canyon, the party discovered an area near City Creek, a “beautiful creek of pure water” according to Pratt, that would become the first settling point for the Mormon pioneers. On July 23rd, while the advance company began plowing acres of land and damming City Creek, Brigham Young, ill with “mountain fever”, made the journey over Little and Big Mountains and camped near what Orson Pratt called Last Creek, prepared to take the final 6 miles of the journey the following day.
On July 24th, now celebrated as Pioneer Day, the ailing Brigham Young descended into the Salt Lake Valley in one of Wilford Woodruff’s wagons, entering sometime after noon, and as recorded in Woodruff’s journal, “expressed his full satisfaction in the Appearance of the valley as A resting place for the Saints.” Brigham Young triumphantly entered the City Creek camp at 2 PM, finding 5 acres of potatoes planted, which the Saints irrigated at noon from the creek, thus beginning the great work of molding the Salt Lake Valley into a suitable home for the Mormons. Although the infamous words of Brigham Young, “this is the place” were not recorded until 33 years later by Wilford Woodruff in a speech commemorating the Mormon church’s 50th anniversary, “This is the Place” monument, completed in 1947 by Brigham Young’s grandson Mahonri Young, immortalized the Mormons’ arrival into the Salt Lake Valley on those July days in 1847, which would transform the land and history of Utah forever.