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Panaca residents celebrate Pioneer Day just 10 days after bombing rocks town

The Pioneer Day celebration in Panaca, Nevada, usually begins in the morning with a “dynamite wakeup,” but not this year.

The explosive start to the day, literally, was too soon for the Lincoln County community still coming to terms with a bombing that displaced several families on July 13.

“They dispensed with that this year,” Vicki Tibbitts said.

She drove from her home in Utah for the parade with her husband, Gary, who was born and raised in Panaca.

“Maybe the bombing was just a little too recent,” Gary Tibbitts said.

The Tibbitts family, like many connected to the town, use the event as an opportunity to hold family reunions, and said the parade shows the character of the town.

“A lot of the charm of small towns is the parades that they have,” Vicki Tibbitts said.

The bombing rattled the agriculture town near the Utah border, about 165 miles northeast of Las Vegas. Glenn Franklin Jones, 59, was killed in the bomb attack authorities believe he orchestrated at the Panaca home of a former hospital chief nursing officer. No one else was seriously hurt.

After the bombing, children were afraid to leave their parents’ sides, residents have said.

But not on Saturday. Although the Panaca Pioneer Day celebration is a tradition for the entire family, the festivities appeared to be all about the children.

After a community breakfast, the town’s children gathered for the annual “kids games” of three-legged and potato-sack races. Then came the “money scramble,” in which kids scramble to pick up money under the playful assault of fire hoses.

Hundreds of people, nearly the entire town, showed up for the short parade and its handful of floats. People threw pieces of candy to the children out the windows of classic vehicles and fire trucks, and children scampered into the street to collect them.

For the town, there’s a special significance to Pioneer Day, which commemorates Brigham Young and the first group of Mormon pioneers arriving in the Salt Lake Valley on July 24, 1847. Panaca is Nevada’s oldest permanent settlement and was founded by Mormon settlers Francis and Jane Vail Johnson Lee.

They were ordered to head west in search of water, and found the Panaca Springs, according to the settlers’ great-great-grandson Regan Clark, 57.

Clark was visiting his mother from California — she’s lived in Panaca for 81 years — and exchanging old football stories with his friends.

“Today it’s just been like a high school reunion,” he said.

Juan Escobedo, 70, a retired teacher, raised nine kids in Panaca. He attended the parade and a community dinner at Lincoln County High School with his grandchildren.

Just Friday, he said, the town’s last pioneer was interred in Panaca.

“That’s the sadness of it,” he said. “The children of the pioneers, they’re all very old.”

That may be why this year’s parade theme was “Still Pioneering.”

“The parade represents this is a settlement of Mormon pioneers,” he said. “They became Nevadans instead of Utahns. They created a really wonderful place because of that spring.”

Panaca’s children who move away will still be drawn back around Pioneer Day every year because they’re drawn by the “unity of the family,” Escobar said.

“Most of the children I met 30 or 40 years ago all come back,” he said. “They love the tradition.”

Review-Journal writer Blake Apgar contributed to this report. Contact Wesley Juhl at wjuhl@reviewjournal.com and 702-383-0391. Find Juhl on Twitter here: @WesJuhl

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