Join PBS Utah for a captivating remembrance of the lives of pioneers determined to forge a new beginning in the American West. Pioneer Diaries tells the stories of the men and women who scratched a living from the desert and endured incredible struggles to build lives and communities from nothing.   What emerges is a unique portrait of Utah in its earliest years of settlement, told through the words of those who lived each step of the journey and laid the foundation of the communities we enjoy today, nearly 170 years later.


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Jean Rio Baker

Pioneer Diaries opens with the eloquent words of Jean Rio Baker who left behind a comfortable life in England to dedicate herself to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and to build a new homeland in the American desert. Her diary begins with the heart breaking story of Baker and her family burying their son at sea.

Jean Rio Baker Title

“I this day took leave of every acquaintance I could collect together; in all human probability never to see them again on earth. I am now (with my children) about to leave forever my native land, in order to gather with the Church of Christ, in the valley of the Great Salt Lake in North America.”

“Sunday. A beautiful morning. The body of my dear boy is removed to a snug little cabin under the forecastle where the male adults of my family have watched it all night. The second mate, with the assistance of Uncle Bateman, have just sewn up the body of our dear little fellow, ready for burial. At eleven o’clock the tolling of the ship bell informed us that the hour had come, that the mortal part of my dear child was to be committed to the deep.”


The story of Baker’s journey to Utah, and eventually out of Utah, reveals a monumental test of courage and faith. It was a bitter trial with a steep cost. She lost many of those closest to her, gave up her wealth, and struggled through famine and poverty. In the end, while she admits losing faith in the words of men, Baker would move forward with an unshakable faith in God.


Solomon Nunes

Mormon pioneers came by the thousands, along with immigrants from all corners. Some travelers passed through to the gold fields of California or the cooler climates of Oregon.  Others came for the sake of exploration along the frontier. Solomon Nunes Carvalho was a photographer and painter who was hired by explorer John C. Fremont to visually document Fremont’s last exploratory expedition to the west. Though most of Carvalho’s photography of the journey was eventually lost in a fire, his articulately crafted memoir survives.

Carvahlo’s diary provides a rich account of his time in the Utah Territory. It details his rescue by the generous settlers in Parowan after the party he traveled with fell ill and was nearly lost in the snowy mountains. His resounding descriptive words detail his return to the town to thank those who saved him, and how he touched their lives in return.


“The morning after my arrival, I arose very early, and taking my sketch-book along, I sauntered around the city. I saw a man walking up and down before an adobe shanty, apparently much distressed; I approached him, and inquired the cause of his dejection; he told me that his only daughter, aged six years, had died suddenly in the night; he pointed to the door, and I entered the dwelling.”

“Laid out upon a straw mattress, scrupulously clean, was one of the most angelic children I ever saw. On its face was a placid smile, and it looked more like the gentle repose of healthful sleep than the everlasting slumber of death. Beautiful curls clustered around a brow of snowy whiteness.”

“I entered very softly, and did not disturb the afflicted mother, who reclined on the bed, her face buried in the pillow, sobbing as if her heart would break.”

“Without a second’s reflection I commenced making a sketch of the inanimate being before me, and in the course of half-an-hour I had produced an excellent likeness.”

“A slight movement in the room caused the mother to look around her. She perceived me, and I apologized for my intrusion; and telling her that I was one of the governor’s party who arrived last night, I tore the leaf out of my book and presented it to her, and it is impossible to describe the delight and joy she expressed at its possession. She said I was an angel sent from heaven to comfort her.”


Living on the Frontier

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Please join PBS Utah on this moving exploration of the lives of the Utah Pioneers. Through their own stories, the strength and dignity of the settlers of the Utah Territory is brought to life. Their personal and deeply intimate portraits, reveal the beauty of the land and the heartbreak of their struggles.

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