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California's history

Re-enactors, in period attire, gladly tell of their state's past

From San Francisco to the Mexican border, Californians are clamoring for re-enactors of their state's early history, and the Church is happy to oblige.

Schools, state parks, county fairs, museums, historical and ethnic organizations have requested the participation of the Church pioneer re-enactors, trained through multi-stake public affairs councils statewide, in special events. Many times they are the featured performers.

Pioneer living history, where actors in authentic period dress recreate historical characters and events, has become very popular throughout the state. Schools realize that when students can listen to the characters and have "hands-on" pioneer activities such as rope making and quilting, that students not only learn and remember more, but also have fun doing it.

Members from Victorville and Hesperia stakes form a pioneer band to perform at the San Bernardino County Fair.
Members from Victorville and Hesperia stakes form a pioneer band to perform at the San Bernardino County Fair. Photo: Photo courtesy California public affairs

Parents are discovering a great activity at fairs where Church re-enactors have set up entire pioneer villages for hours of family fun. By far the most favorite pioneer craft is making pioneer dolls.

Historically, the California Mormon Pioneers made significant contributions to the state that are now coming to light through these living history events.

In 1846, as California was transitioning to a U.S. possession, three migrations of Mormon pioneers became the catalysts to California's transformation from a rancho economy to agriculture which became, and still is, the state's greatest source of wealth. These pioneers helped thrust California into the mainstream of United States economy and into the national and international spotlight. That year, pioneers of the ship Brooklyn landed in northern California, contributing to the bustling city of San Francisco and the region's commercial farming industry. In January 1847, men and women of the Mormon Battalion arrived in San Diego, and later in Los Angeles, and surrounding regions, not only participating in the discovery of gold at Sutter's Mill, but building the three main roads into California including the Carson Emigrant Pass over the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

In 1851, Former members of the Battalion led more than 400 pioneers from Utah, including African-American pioneers originally from Mississippi, to Southern California and became the first colonists to settle in the region after statehood — a milestone in history. The cultivation and irrigation techniques of this new colony out-produced Los Angeles, San Diego and Santa Barbara fields combined.

Mormon Battalion marches from Los Angeles City Hall at Olvera Street 75th Anniversary celebration.
Mormon Battalion marches from Los Angeles City Hall at Olvera Street 75th Anniversary celebration. Photo: Photo courtesy California public affairs

As the re-enactors portray the various phases of this history, they are also building bridges of understanding for the Church. A significant relationship has been created with Hispanic leaders. In Los Angeles, organizations of Olvera Street, the historical Mexican plaza in the heart of the city, have invited re-enactors to their parades and even the Cinco de Mayo celebrations to tell the public of the good relations between the Hispanic rancho families of early California and the Mormon pioneers. They also jointly participate on the 4th of July at the nearby Mormon Battalion monument recreating the first Independence Day celebration in Los Angeles in 1847. Multi-ethnic events such as these are happening throughout the state.

"Not only are we teaching our pioneer history, but we are preparing hearts to receive the gospel," remarked Dennis Holland, chairman of the Church's state historical committee. "The misconceptions about the Church are erased as visitors learn that the pioneers lived as they believed, that each man was their brother."

During any given week all over California, there are members donning their pioneer outfits, hitching up their wagons, and pitching their tents, all to promote the Church and the California Mormon pioneers.

Mormon Battalion march in Swallow's Day Parade, San Juan Capistrano, Calif.
Mormon Battalion march in Swallow's Day Parade, San Juan Capistrano, Calif. Photo: Photo courtesy California public affairs
LDS boy waits to teach pioneer games to other children. Church members across the state re-enact history at local events.
LDS boy waits to teach pioneer games to other children. Church members across the state re-enact history at local events. Photo: Photo courtesy California public affairs

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