Unique 'Pioneer Day' event celebrates heritage of Black, Jewish, Native American and LDS pioneers

YUCAIPA, Calif. — More than 3,500 people in the inland region of Southern California experienced a unique pioneer day celebration on May 5, held in Yucaipa, Calif.

Based on the history of the colony in San Bernardino established by LDS Church members in 1851, San Bernardino Heritage Day included music, food and activities with volunteers and visitors representing LDS, black and Jewish pioneers, as well as Native Americans, Spanish rancho families and Polynesians in period dress.

"It was important that we teach this significant pioneer history," said Charles C. Rich, event chairman and great-great-grandson of apostle Charles C. Rich who served in the colony. "It is culturally diverse and most members could represent their own heritage."

Pioneer journals indicate that, as colonists began building homes in 1851, they learned of an imminent attack by mountain Native Americans. The valley's Cahuilla chief prevented the attack and befriended the pioneers. Jewish merchants began arriving, one traveling with a Mormon wagon train, bringing the region's first Torah. Spanish Rancho families frequented the colony and converts from Polynesia also arrived.

Colonist Mary Ann Rich, wife of apostle Charles C. Rich, wrote that the citizens "worked almost as one family, they were so united," according to an Ensign article.

Following the colony's legacy of "true community," elected and religious leaders participated in Heritage Day ceremonies. Yucaipa Mayor Greg Bogh, a member of the Yucaipa stake and descendant of apostle and colonist Amasa Lyman, greeted guests. San Bernardino Mayor Carey Davis, a member of the San Bernardino California Stake, reviewed the pioneer history and explained the first two city mayors were apostles Amasa Lyman and Charles C. Rich. Elder Kevin Miskin, an Area Seventy, encouraged visitors to remember the sacrifices of the pioneers.

James Ramos, former San Manuel Indian Tribal Chairman and current San Bernardino County supervisor, performed Cahuilla and Serrano songs.

"It is important for us to remember how the city and county developed through the diverse cultures and people coming together," he told the crowds.

Rabbi Hillel Cohn, from Temple Emanu El in Redlands, told stories of Jewish Pioneers.

"In our blessed valley, Jews and Saints have a history of over 150 years of mutual respect, shared values (and) respect for differences," said Steve Becker, also of Temple Emanu El.

Activity booths taught pioneer, Spanish and Native American skills, such as blacksmithing, gold panning, and making arrowheads and tortillas. Live chickens were displayed near the Olive Tenney school house, showing how pioneers hatched hundreds of baby chicks. Children "helped" chase loose chickens.

Pioneer music was heard throughout the day from the concert booth where performers used dulcimers and other pioneer instruments. Spanish and Polynesian dancing groups performed on stage, along with a presentation recounting Black pioneer history. A new musical debuted about the San Bernardino Colony, written and performed by the Ontario California Stake.

California Living History Missionary Ed Allebest, who taught pioneer history while riding in wagons with guests, said Heritage Day "was a delightful history-learning, skill-building, memory-making experience."

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