Since 1938, Kamas Valley residents have flocked to Kamas City over Pioneer Day weekend for the annual Fiesta Days celebration. Pioneer Day recognizes the arrival of the first Mormon pioneers in the Salt Lake Valley in 1847.
Over the years, Fiesta Days has evolved from just a small gathering up at the Mirror Lake in the Uinta Mountains to the week-long community celebration it resembles today.
Normally the weeklong series of events and activities culminates at the weekend with traditional events such as a rodeo, demolition derby and fireworks displays.
But 2020’s events have had to be completely restructured to cope with the challenges of th Covid-19 virus, and the organizers have battled hard to make sure there are some opportunities for residents to celebrate this important occasion. See here for a list of the events.
The theme for this year’s Fiesta Days is Family, Community, and the Pioneering Spirit
The list of events has varied enormously over the years, as these programs show.
Beginning in August, 1938 with a simple breakfast picnic at Mirror lake, which started at 6.30am sharp, by 1940 he events list had grown to include livestock shows and competitions, and sports events for juniors and seniors. One wonders if anyone remembers who won the Girl’s ball game between Kamas Valley and Park City.
The evenings were filled with music and dancing, and a showing of “The Singing Cowboy” Gene Autry’s new film, Goucho Serenade at the Kamas Theatre.
Pages from the 1940 Fiesta Days program
During World War II the festivities were suspended, but by 1957 Fiesta Days was reinstated and the date was changed to the week of 24th of July to coincide with Pioneer Day.
In modern times, the list of events has grown to include a rodeo, horse show, pageant queens, a cook-off, trap shoot, the melodrama and of course the demolition derby.
The events list for the 2008 Fiesta Days.
The melodrama has a long history. Kamas’s first dramatic company was formed in the Fort in 1877, under the direction of Ward Pack. Their first drama was “Black Eyed Susan”, with Sarah Neibaur O’Driscoll in the starring role. Sarah recalled “We first played in Kamas. We then played the same in Heber, Charleston, Wallsburg, and Coalville. I took part in twenty eight different casts and for fifty years have been clown for the people of Kamas and have enjoyed every minute”.
pics Sarah O’Driscoll and Edwin Crowther
While the faces have changed over the years the plot remains the same…a beautiful heroine, a rotten villain, a pure hero and a cast of many extras.
The rodeo and bull wars also have a deep heritage in the community, with challengers coming from all over to risk their lives.
Along with the Pageant Queens/Princesses, the parade is a staple for Fiesta days.
The Demolition Derby also has an intriguing past. It was created in the late 1960’s to replace the drag race that typically occurred along Center St in Kamas.
In 2020, organizers have had to restructure their plans several times, and come up with innovative ideas to keep people safe from the coronavirus, including the “Flipped Parade”, where the paradors will be stationary and the spectators will drive past them.
So why go to all this trouble?…
Perhaps going back to the beginning and looking at precisely what we’re all celebrating.
Pioneer Day is a Utah state holiday to commemorate the entry of Brigham Young and the first Mormon Pioneers into Salt Lake Valley on July 24th 1847.
The Daughters of Utah Pioneers defines a Pioneer as anyone who came to Utah, died crossing the plains, or was born in the Utah Territory before May 1869.
While many came in wagons pulled by ox or horse, some made the arduous journey in a handcart.
The Handcart Pioneers were nearly 3,000 members of Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-Day Saints, mostly from England, Wales, Scotland and Scandinavia.
Lacking funds for teams of oxen or horses, they made the journey using handcarts to transport their belongings.
They have become a symbol of the faithfulness and sacrifice of the pioneer generation.
Built to a design by Brigham Young, the handcarts resembled a large wheelbarrow which could be pushed or pulled.
Each cart weighed 60 pounds.
Five people were assigned to each handcart.
Each was allowed 17 pounds of personal possessions.
They slept 20 to a tent.
Provisions for each group of one hundred emigrants were carried in an ox wagon.
Ten companies of between 124 and 576 made the trek between 1856 and 1860.
One such pioneer was Richard Brooks Goodworth. He and his brother Frederick walked the entire distance across the plains at the ages of about six and seven.
His 10-year old brother Richard pushed the hand cart while his mother pulled it.
Perhaps now it’s clearer why it’s so important to the residents of the Kamas Valley to celebrate their efforts.