by Thomas G Alexander
In July 1907, descendants of Utah’s pioneers organized the Sons and Daughters of Utah Pioneers. Senator and Apostle Reed Smoot took the lead in forming the organization. President Joseph F. Smith of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints addressed them at their first meeting. However, the idea of organizing a Sons and Daughters group really got nowhere. Seven years earlier in April 1901, fifty-four women under the leadership of Annie Taylor Hyde, a daughter of President John Taylor, had already organized the International Society of the Daughters of Utah Pioneers.
In 1928, however, a group of Provo men recognized that what they really needed to do was to organize the Sons of Utah Pioneers rather than a joint organization that conflicted with the DUP which was already organized in 1901. In 1928, Walter G. Taylor, David Loveless, and a group of like-minded men organized the George Albert Smith chapter of the Sons of Utah Pioneers in Provo.
The George Albert Smith Chapter survived as the lone chapter until 1933 when Lawrence T. Epperson of Provo, who was a member of the chapter, moved to Salt Lake City. Epperson met on March 19 in Salt Lake City with others, and they wrote a constitution and by-laws to incorporate the Sons of Utah Pioneers. A copy of the constitution reveals that the ideals of the Sons of Utah Pioneers now are similar to those of the founders. Epperson served as president of the organization until 1935 when the SUP members elected Nephi L. Morris, a Salt Lake City businessman and president of the Salt Lake Stake, as president.
In August 1935, Nephi Morris organized the first national encampment. Morris also proposed a twelve-year plan to organize and retrace the original pioneer trek from Nauvoo to Salt Lake City. Nephi Morris and others working with him planned that the capstone of the twelve years was to be the July 1947 commemoration of the centennial of the pioneers’ entry into the Salt Lake valley.
Significantly, the early SUP organization attracted both Mormons and non-Mormons. Herbert S. Auerbach, a prominent Jewish businessman, served as second vice-president and later as SUP president, and LDS President George Albert Smith served on the board of directors. President Auerbach donated a collection of Joseph Smith memorabilia and papers to the LDS Museum then housed on Temple Square.
In 1935, the SUP had 2,000 members organized in 69 camps. At first, the local organizations that we call chapters now were called camps. The SUP apparently adopted the name from the Daughters of Utah Pioneers. The SUP called the leader of each camp a captain rather than a president as we do now.
During its early years, the SUP had a newsletter called the SUP News. In 1937, Judge George A. Goates changed the name of the newsletter to The Pioneer.
In 1953, the SUP adopted a new constitution. The constitution changed the name from camps to chapters, and the chief executive officer in each chapter was called the president. At the same time, in 1953, the SUP adopted the official name: The National Society of the Sons of Utah Pioneers.
Also in 1953, Horace Sorensen and his wife opened the Pioneer Memorial Museum on Connor Street in the southeast section of Salt Lake City. The SUP located its national headquarters at the Connor Street site.
In 1967 the Salt Lake Pioneer Chapter began organizing the annual July 24th Sunrise Service at the Salt Lake Tabernacle.
Under the leadership of President Eugene P. Watkins, in 1969 the SUP contributed more than $19,000 for the construction of the Mormon Battalion monument in Presidio Park in San Diego. The monument committee asked SUP to contribute $18,000, and SUP oversubscribed their contribution by $1,000. At the dedication of the monument on November 22, 1969, President Hugh B. Brown of the First Presidency offered the dedicatory prayer and Elder Mark E. Peterson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles offered the invocation.
In 1971 under the leadership of President Verl G. Dixon, a Provo resident, the SUP dedicated the Mormon Workers Cabin at the California Gold Discovery Site at Coloma, California. A group of Mormon Battalion soldiers had gone to Sacramento and Coloma to work for John Sutter. A number of them participated in the discovery of gold at the Coloma site. Henry Bigler, a Mormon Battalion veteran, recorded the event in his diary, and the discovery brought about the 1849 gold rush to California.
In November 1972, the SUP and the Mormon Battalion organization assisted at the dedication of a new LDS visitor’s Center in San Diego. SUP President Orson Wright offered the benediction at the Services. President Harold B. Lee offered the dedicatory prayer. The Mormon Battalion served as honor guard during the dedication. The LDS Church asked the SUP to raise and contribute $25,000 for a memorial monument at Brigham Young’s grave site on First Avenue in Salt Lake City. The donation campaign took place from 1972 to 1974, and the SUP actually oversubscribed and raised $27,000 for the monument. The monument was dedicated on June 1, 1974. It was titled “All is Well,” and the noted Utah sculptor Edward J. Fraughton sculpted the monument. At the dedication, speakers were President N. Eldon Tanner of the First Presidency, Governor Calvin L. Rampton, and SUP President Orson D. Wright of the SUP. The Tabernacle Choir provided music for the service
The SUP had to leave the headquarters on Connor Street which had served for 20 years. Horace Sorensen, who owned the site, decided to sell it. The SUP relocated its headquarters to 3357 South 2300 East in the old Sherman School. Fortunately, the $285,000 obtained for the sale of the Pioneer Village to Lagoon served as the nest-egg for the construction of a permanent headquarters building. Orson D. Wright served as chair of the headquarters building committee with Joy F. Dunyon, Adolph Johnson, and Glen Lloyd as the committee.
Under the leadership of Horace and Ethel Sorensen, the SUP constructed a railroad museum at Corinne. SUP wanted to use the cars and engines for movies, and the Corinne site was not suitable for that. In 1979 the SUP donated the Corinne Railroad Museum to Heber City where it was located near the terminal of the Heber Creeper now known as the Heber Valley Historic Railroad. The SUP donation was valued at $3 million. The railroad runs from the station at Heber to Vivian Park in Provo Canyon at various times during the year.
After searching for land, the SUP found the site for the new building at 3301 Louise Avenue in the Canyon Rim area. Workers constructed the building between 1980 and 1981. President Gordon B. Hinckley dedicated the building on August 23, 1981.
The SUP organized the Grandson’s Organization. President Morris Bennion and David Martin originated the idea. Membership in the Grandson’s required the contribution of $1,000 which was placed in a trust fund designated for funding ancestor research on the progenitors of senior seminary students and for other worthwhile SUP programs. By 2000 there were 35 members in the Grandson’s organization, so they had a trust fund of $35,000.
In 1990, however, the SUP began designating Modern Pioneers. Some of the first included Maurice Abravanel and Jon Huntsman, Sr.
The Pioneer newsletter became the Pioneer Magazine, and was published quarterly. In 1993, President Belliston regularized the Modern Pioneers and Tomorrow’s Pioneers initiatives. These designations are given by the national organization and by chapters. President Angus Belliston promoted the Brigham Young statue in the Capitol rotunda. President Belliston served on the committee and helped raise the $150,000 to finance the sculpting of a larger than life-size statue of Brigham Young for the Utah state capitol building. The committee commissioned Kraig Varner to sculpt the statue.
President J. Elliot Cameron worked closely on the commemoration of the centennial of Utah statehood in 1996 and the sesquicentennial of the arrival of the pioneers in Utah in 1997. President Richard Frary served during the 1997 sesquicentennial trek from Nauvoo to Salt Lake City in which a number of SUP members participated.