“We gather together this evening to welcome the rodeo back to the Utah State Fair Park,” Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said in his remarks at the new Days of ’47 Arena before dedicating it on July 19.
“This is one more example of the state, county and city joining with generous donors to open this arena for the rodeo and other attractions that will bring enjoyment and good times for all."
The recent construction of the 10,000-seat arena means the Days of ’47 Cowboy Games and Rodeo has found a permanent home at the Utah State Fair Park.
Elder Ballard thanked Kem Gardner, chairman of the Days of ’47 Cowboy Games and Rodeo, for his part in the creation of the arena. “We join together in expressing our appreciation to you and your family and thanks to all others who have made this day possible. You have spearheaded a project that will allow thousands of Utahns through coming years to reflect on the grand pioneer legacy of this state.”
The gifted pioneer forefathers and mothers who entered the Salt Lake Valley 170 years ago were greeted by a barren land, Elder Ballard said. But their expertise, skill and hard work “laid the foundation for our ever-rising city skyline and our beautiful state.
“Today we celebrate those pioneers who came from many nations, cultures and religions. Their legacy of faith and trust in God lives on, and it is our privilege as citizens of Utah to remember and honor our pioneer heritage by seeing that their grit, determination and unfailing faith never, ever dies."
Elder Ballard explained that the skills exhibited by rodeo cowboys today were an integral part of cattle ranching in early western history. “Here in Utah, the ‘rodeo’ actually began when Jim Bridger and Miles Goodyear brought the first livestock to Utah in 1840,” he said.
The first Days of ’47 rodeo was a Wild West Show, held on July 24, 1894. The performances included Native Americans, cowboys, rough riders and an old main coach, he said, and a Shoshone group from Fort Hall performed a war dance. A celebration in 1919 featured a parade of cowboys, bands and army tanks. In 1943, the Days of ’47 became the official title of the events.
“So one way or the other, The Days of ’47 Rodeo has been celebrating Utah’s heritage since 1857,” Elder Ballard declared.
“There was nothing easy about pioneer life. But on the other hand, our pioneer forebears found ways to have a good time together — and the rodeo was central in those early days to times of celebration and it continues today in many of our communities during this time of year,” Elder Ballard said.
In closing, he welcomed everyone to the rodeo and thanked the Mormon Tabernacle Choir for performing at the official opening of the Days of ’47 Arena. Elder Ballard then gave a dedicatory prayer on arena.
Utah Gov. Gary Herbert and Gardner also spoke preceeding the rodeo. A wagon train of men and women representing pioneers of the past and present, as well as Native Americans and refugees, rode around the arena in a Parade of Champions. Cowboy poet Waddie Mitchell read an original commissioned poem.
"The spirit of those early pioneers, as diverse as they were, and the spirit of the West is alive and well with us here tonight as we start this Days of ’47 celebration," Gov. Herbert said in his remarks. "Nowhere is it more evidenced than in this spirited competition in our Days of ’47 Rodeo."