The youth in our church periodically re-enact the experiences of the Mormon pioneers who crossed the plains in the mid 1800’s to escape persecution.
It’s a large undertaking. We had nearly 300 youth participate, organized into families of 10 with a “Ma” and a “Pa”. Each family is organized into a company of 4-5 families. We dress in pioneer clothing and walk in honor of a pioneer.
We packed all of our worldly possessions into 5 gallon buckets.
Elizabeth Sarah Elizabeth Dummer was born in 1860 in England and traveled with the William S. Seeley Company in 1868 when she was 8, along with her parents. She was my great, great grandmother.
Jeff and I acted as Pa and Ma for one of the families. The kids from our ward (congregation) were divided among 4 families and we happened to be lucky enough to get Tyler in our family. We love our family!!
Here we are looking pretty and clean (I even had make up on!) as we packed our handcart Thursday morning. As we set off, the boys set a fast pace. We were constantly telling them to SLOW DOWN as we were jogging behind the cart.
The first day we traveled about 7 or 8 miles. It only took 1 mile, however, for us to realize we’d packed our cart ALL WRONG. We weren’t the only one. We were constantly picking up stuff that fell off and tossing it back in, only to have it fall out the other side. Jeff spent his time on the trail plotting how to master packing a handcart.
There were 25 handcarts in all, so the company wound around on the hills. What I strange sight we are! On that first day I found myself laughing to myself about what a strange bunch we are! Is it any wonder the world considers us so… PECULIAR? Who would ever think 300 teenagers would CHOOSE to spend three days dressed in pioneer clothes and dragging handcarts around the countryside. OK, well, maybe a good portion of them were STRONGLY ENCOURAGED by their parents and others to attend. Regardless. WHAT were we doing here? WHAT were we hoping to accomplish?
What I learned that first day was APPRECIATION and COMPASSION for those who made the trip originally.
As I mentioned, we went 7-8 miles that first day. The weather was moderate. We had ready access to water and good shoes. Well, most of us had good shoes:
We knew our journey would end that night with a good meal.
With less than 1/2 mile to go that day our boys all started cramping up. Huge cramps. Stop everything cramps. The handcart wheel ran over the foot of one of our strongest girls. We were in a BAD way. We knew it was pretend and so we we were tempted to just QUIT. At one point, Jeff sat along the side of the road and I wasn’t sure he was going to get up again. We ended up being nearly the last cart to make it into camp that night where we nursed our blisters.
That night we learned about James and Amy Loader. They joined the Church in England in 1851 and 1848, respectively. James joined the Church 3 years after Amy because he’d been told he would lose his job, which in fact happened. They were in their 50’s when they left England with six of their children and their families. They saved enough money to travel with a wagon train to Zion but were asked to travel by handcart instead so that the extra money could be used to help other families who did not have the means to emigrate. It was a trial of their faith. They did not think that they could physically withstand the demands of the trip by handcart. But they did it.
As members of the ill-fated Martin Handcart Company, they were right to be concerned. James became very sick and weak. He knew that he would not likely survive to see Utah. He spent every spare moment whittling tent pins. He knew that winter storms would soon be upon them and that he might not be able to be there to protect his family, so he did what he could while he was alive to care for them.
The pioneers were obedient. They did what they had to do to protect themselves, their families, their faith. They were COURAGEOUS in a way that I don’t think we really understand today. They ENDURED hunger, exhaustion, dehydration, illness, death. They pressed on when it seemed impossible.
They put one foot in front of the other and walked.
That is what I learned on the first day.