Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Martin/Willie Handcart Company Pioneer Trek

Our ward decided 2 years ago that they wanted to take the youth (12-18 years old) on a re-enactment of the Martin/Willie pioneer trek.  The Mormon's were leaving the east where they were being persecuted to head towards Salt Lake City, Utah.  This was Zion.  Newly converted members of the church coming from England and other countries outside the US also wanted the temple blessings being promised in Zion and decided they too wanted to make the trek.  They had a late start and people did not know they were coming, so once they hit Independence Rock, so late in the season, with little resources and only handcarts, the Saints suffered greatly.  Cold weather, including blizzards hit, food was running out and many died. When the prophet learned of these Saints traveling to Zion, he immediately went to work to send out rescue parties to assist them.  The rescue parties eventually caught up with them, offered some aid and then helped them into the Salt Lake Valley.

Mark and I were asked to be a "Ma and Pa" to a trek family and take the 5 day journey to Wyoming.  The trek happened this past week.  On Wednesday morning (12:30am to be exact) we boarded a bus with about 55 other people and headed off for a 12 plus hour bus ride.  We arrived at the Willie 6th crossing site where we set up our tents.  We took our first turn at pulling a fully loaded handcart for a mile warm up.  It was fun, but also lots of work.  Once back at camp, the rain came down (and I mean down pouring).  Everyone took refuse in their tents, however due to the wind, many tents suffered water coming in and getting things like sleeping bags wet.  This was not the greatest way to start things out.  The rain ended, we enjoyed dinner and spent the night square dancing.  We then learned about Levi Savage, who warned the Saints if they were to take this journey many would die, but told them he would do everything he could do to help them with the journey.  

 The next day we took off for our longest, 10 mile trek.  This was an amazing experience.  The weather was a bit overcast and felt great.   We got to listen to missionaries talk about the trek, then about half way through our walk, they pulled the men out of all our groups and talk to them about how many men died on trek due to sacrificing their rations for their wives and children and also leaving to fight in war with the Mormon battalion.  We watched them walk up a long hill, leaving only the women and girls to pull their carts for the next 30 minutes.  Suddenly the sun came out and was hotter than had been for days.  The trail was deep sand and up hill.  My "family" had 4 girls and me.  We all got into position on our cart and began up the hill.  It was a difficult pull, but I knew we could do it.  As we crested the top, the men were all standing there paying honor to us women for the "loads" we carry everyday.  They all stood with their hands on their hearts.  Once we reached the top, I took off back down the hill to help those behind me.  When I reached their cart, they looked so tired and warn out and I was happy to share my talents with them.  Soon other followed and we were up that hill in no time.  The men all then took hold of the carts and off we went for the remainder of the journey.  Along the way "babies" belonging to "families" were dying and needed to be buried.

The next part of the trek was a re-enactment of a husband and wife who gave everything they had to the church in order to allow others to come to Zion.  they only kept enough money to purchase their handcart and supplies.  They had with them their son and a young girl they brought from Denmark with them, whose family could not afford to come with her.  Along the trek, the father became ill and could push the handcart no longer.  He asked his wife to leave him and continue on, which she would not.  Instead she loaded her husband into the cart and began pulling him in the blizzard for 27 hours.  The missionaries had one "ma" pull her large "pa" in the cart while we were all at the top of the hill watching.  She struggled to get the cart moving due to his large stature.  She eventually got the wheels rolling, but continued to struggle.  Tears were shed both by her, her husband (unable to help his wife with such a burden) and for those watching.  Eventually the missionary allowed other to run down the hill to help and talked about how the Lord will allow us to struggle until we can struggle no more and then he sends help.  He talked about sometimes as parents we rush in to help our children too fast without allowing them to struggle and other times we see people struggle and move in too slowly before helping them.  It was a very moving and powerful experience to be a part of.  We then continued on our journey.

We had to cross 3 river crossings.  Just as we reached the water, the clouds moved in, the wind began blowing and rain drops began falling (hard).  Come to find out there was a mud pit we had to cross prior to the water.  By the end, hail began to fall and it was freezing!  My hands were so cold and my wet skirt was stinging as it slapped my legs.  I kept thinking about how my "family" was going to get warm,with all their wet clothes and what those without more than 1 outfit would do for the remainder of the trek.  I truly gained an appreciation for what parents must have felt as they watched their young children freeze to death with nothing they could do to help.  What a helpless feeling.  Thankfully by the time we got back to camp, someone had come forward to "rescue" us.  They knew we were out in the storm so they built fires and took our muddy carts from us and cleaned them off and took all our items out of it.  After warming by the fire, the sun came out and dried everyone off, we had dinner and then a fireside learning about more pioneers that sacrificed so much.  

The next day we drove to Martin's Cove and did the 6 mile trek there.  We saw Devils gate and walked Rattlesnake pass.  We saw the cove pioneers went to to get out of the blizzard after rescuers found them.  So many still died while there.  We got to cross the Sweetwater River, in which at the time was frozen and rescuers stood in carrying people across to help them avoid the cold and further suffering.  This allowed the men and boys in our group to carry girls and women across.  Once back at camp we enjoyed some fun arm wrestling, leg wrestling and stick pulls.  Then after dinner we learned about the pony express, got letters from our families and held family testimony meetings.
above: our family
 Above: Kacey at a memorial statue of one of the rescuers
 crossing the water...

 fun and games

Our last day there, we went to Rocky Ridge where 13 members all died in one night while on trek.  they were buried there and it has now been dedicated as sacred grounds.  Thankfully in 1992 the temple work was done for all those that gave all in an effort for those great blessing and never made it.  they call that the  "second rescue" with the first being the physical rescue.  The missionaries there talked about how in our times we are now in the "third rescue".  This is where times have gotten so hard for our youth that we need to be doing everything we can to help them along so they too can receive blessings promised to them.  Again, it was an amazing experience.  We then loaded on the bus for another long 12 hour drive on a big, stinky (no showers for anyone all those days) bus.  We got home at about 1am on Sunday morning.  We then were part of  our church Sacrament program, with testimony bearing and singing the song, "Come, Come Ye Saints", which was the anthem for the Saints during the trek.  

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