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The traditional May 10 commemoration of the completion of the transcontinental railroad may have been derailed by the coronavirus, but that didn’t stop Golden Spike National Historical Park from holding a celebration last week to welcome its newest resident.

Park officials and benefactors joined local dignitaries last Wednesday, May 6 to witness the permanent installation of “Distant Thunder,” the name bestowed upon a life-size bronze sculpture of a bison that now greets visitors to the park in Promontory.

The 6,000-pound piece sat on a trailer while a series of speakers talked about what the sculpture represents, and heaped praise upon everyone involved in the cooperative effort to bring it to the park.

Rios Pacheco, of the Northwestern Band of Shoshone, offered a traditional Native American prayer before putting the significance of the moment in context. Pacheco said the buffalo represents strength and sustenance and the connection of all people to the Earth, and is therefore a fitting tribute to the various cultures from around the globe that came together to build the railroad.

“This buffalo represents all the people throughout the world,” he said. “We are a family here.”

Congressman Rob Bishop, who worked with the National Park Service and the Interior Department to secure a permanent home for the sculpture at the park, said it was a long process involving plenty of red tape.

“This is such a great moment that we hoped to have had a long time ago,” Bishop said, “but it’s a great moment today.”

Bishop was also instrumental in the movement that granted National Historical Park status to the Golden Spike site last year, and said the new addition represents a key step in an ongoing movement to further raise the park’s profile in the eyes of the general public.

“This is our newest national park, and the only one here in northern Utah,” he said, “but this is not the end of it. We are looking at this as the step that’s going to help make this a destination spot for people coming out here to learn something important about our history.”

“Distant Thunder” was created by Michael Coleman, a prominent Western artist based in Utah County. Philanthropist and art collector Naoma Tate commissioned Coleman to create the sculpture through her involvement with the Golden Spike Commission, which was originally created to put on last year’s 150th anniversary celebration at the park. The sculpture was paid for by the Hal and Naoma Tate Foundation, named after Tate and her late husband.

“I think he ended up creating a magnificent symbol for the strength it took to come west, and the strength that it took for the people to survive here,” Tate said of Coleman’s work.

Following last Wednesday’s ceremony, a large crane hoisted the sculpture and swung it into place with the guidance of many hands on the ground. It is now prominently displayed in its permanent home in front of the park’s visitor center.

The sculpture was finished in time for last year’s big celebration and made a brief appearance there, but was removed from the premises and stored until a permanent spot could be secured for it.

Doug Foxley, co-chair of the Golden Spike Commission, said last week’s event marked the culmination of a years-long effort that involved dozens of people, and a lot of hard work and patience.

“We finally got permission to display it here, and thank heavens, “Distant Thunder” has a home on the range,” Foxley said.

With the current state of events in the world, Foxley said the event takes on a dual meaning that was perhaps unintended, but timely nonetheless.

“Our goal at Spike 150 was to remember the forgotten heroes, whether it was the African-Americans, Confederate or Union soldiers, Irish or other immigrant groups, whether it was the Mormon graders, whether it was the Chinese,” he said. “I would hope at this time as we are struggling, that we would also remember those who are working in emergency rooms, health care providers, those who are providing food, those helping us in the grocery stores. Let’s remember those unsung heroes of today whose names we do not know.”

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