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The City Journals

Daughters of Utah Pioneers is keeping history alive, one meeting at a time

Mar 04, 2021 11:59AM ● By Sarah Morton Taggart

A family with 10 children once lived in the Drown Cabin, Midvale’s oldest pioneer-era building.

By Sarah Morton Taggart | [email protected]

Midvale is bursting with new development, but a group of women are continuing their work to keep the memory of early settlers alive. 

In February, 10 Daughters of Utah Pioneers logged on to follow along with a lesson on pioneer cooking and the family history of a pioneer named Amanda Thompson Baker. 

Other DUP “camps” in Utah haven’t met since early 2020, but members of Midvale’s Bingham Junction Camp have maintained this crucial connection. 

“We were really proud,” said Marilyn Cox, president of the camp. “We continued to meet during the summer and fall on Jan’s beautiful patio. We hit a brick wall after October.”

Jan Litster normally hosted meetings indoors, but keeping members safe required some changes. All attendees wore a mask, and with no more than a dozen members in attendance they were able to space out the seating arrangement. The usual refreshments were not served.

“I miss the refreshments the least,” Cox said. “I miss just being with people and talking with people. For widows who are told we can only gather with people we live with, it’s hard.” 

At least two member of the camp have contracted COVID-19, but so far there has been no loss of life. “It did take me a long, long time to get my strength back,” Cox said. “I had two nights where it was really scary.”

In addition to meetings, members of the camp have stayed involved in other projects that keep history alive. 

Litster is leading a project to renovate the historic Drown Cabin. The oldest known structure in Midvale, the cabin was built by the Bennett and Drown families in 1866. At one point, a family with 10 children lived there. It has been moved from its original location to a green space near 7700 South and 750 West. Anyone is welcome to visit the cabin, but the interior is closed to the public until upgrades are made to the floor. 

Meanwhile, Cox is helping to digitize pioneer histories for the Pioneer Memorial Museum. Currently, anyone can order a copy by calling or mailing in a form, and the histories are then printed and mailed. When this project is completed, anyone will be able to instantly download digital copies to their home computer.

“I do encourage everyone to be researching their history,” Cox said. “Some daughters have done a lot of history work during this shutdown. The museum has gotten more histories than ever before during the shutdown.”

The collection includes over 42,000 pioneer histories, yet there are still gaps. 

“So many of the women are not listed because their history is just their husband’s history,” Cox said. “The women who did write their own story have a file under their name. The woman’s history has to have additional information to what’s in their husband’s file.”

Upcoming lessons for the Midvale camp include a presentation on pioneers in the Civil War era and one on the five Native American tribes living in Utah when the pioneers arrived.

“We have 25 minutes to give a lesson that’s researched to the very end,” Cox said. 

“You just pique people’s interest and hope they go back and learn more,” added Litster. 

Anyone wanting to become involved with the camp can contact Cox at (801) 891-7157 or Litster at (801) 631-2895. Becoming an official member of DUP requires documentation that you are descended from a Utah pioneer—someone who came to or was born in the Utah Territory before May 1869, when the Transcontinental Railroad was completed. Others can join as associate members and attend meetings, but cannot be elected to an officer position. 

“We’d love more members,” Cox said. “That is our major goal during regular times. Having to be socially distanced makes it hard, but our group has been a good size for continuing patio meetings.”

Litster agreed, but added, “If we had more (members), we would make it work.”

The pioneers have a reputation for being rugged survivors, but they didn’t do it on their own. 

“They survived by working together,” Cox said. “No pioneers survived by themselves. You had to be with the group.”