Last week, Joka and Buster got such an opportunity. For 4 days, they lived the life of Pioneers trekking across the United States in the year 1856.
The original Martin and Willie Handcart Company traveled over 1300, from Iowa City to Salt Lake City, and took over 5 months. The youth from our Ward (Congregation) ages 12-18 and accompanying adults, learned of the trials, heartache and sacrifice made by the Willie and Martin Handcart Companies as they strove to be with the Saints in the Great Salt Lake Valley, to escape religious persecution, and help establish Zion. The kids trek covered 105 miles, 30 of which they walked pulling handcarts, and lasted 4 days.
What they could take...adults were allowed 17 lbs of belongings, including bedding, clothing and any personal items. Children were allowed 10 lbs. To put it in perspective, Joka and Buster were each given a 5 gal storage bucket to hold everything they wanted to take. Their list included 2 sets of clothes, 1 pair extra shoes, a hat, extra socks, and underclothes, mosquito repellent etc. (Their tents, sleeping bags, and food were hauled in a trailer.)
Regardless of what people may think of the theologies of the Mormons or more correctly known as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, the trek of the Mormon pioneers is one of the EPIC journeys of faith ever recorded in history.
Our youth started their trek at Martins Cove...
...and ended on the other side of Rocky Ridge. The hike up Rocky Ridge was approximately 5 miles long.
By the time the Willie Company reached this point, a vast majority of the men had died. To help our youth gain a greater appreciation of what had actually happened, all the boys and men lined the trail and were not allowed to help the women and girls pull/push the handcarts up Rocky Ridge. It had quite an impact on everyone, especially the young men who could see the girls struggling and wanted to help but couldn't. When the girls finally reached the top, all the boys threw their hats in the air and cheered!
Can you imagine pulling a handcart up that rocky hill, knee deep in snow with howling winds and sub-zero temperatures in the middle of a blizzard? That night 13 pioneers died from hunger and exposure.
Too weak to continue the pioneers stopped where they were. Three days later rescue parties arrived from Salt Lake with food and clothing. The Martin Company was several miles behind the Willie Company and they were rescued 9 days later.
Years later in a Sunday meeting in Salt Lake, several members of the church were criticizing the Willie and Martin Handcart Companies for being so foolish to leave so late in the season...
One old man in the corner sat silent and listened as long as he could stand it then he arose and said things that no person who heard him will ever forget. His face was white with emotion yet he spoke calmly, deliberately, but with great earnestness and sincerity.
He said in substance, "I ask you to stop this criticism. You are discussing a matter you know nothing about. Cold historic facts mean nothing here for they give no proper interpretation of the questions involved. Mistake to send the Hand Cart Company out so late in the season? Yes. But I was in that Company and my wife was in it and Sister Nellie Unthank whom you have sited was there too. We suffered beyond anything you can imagine and many died of exposure and starvation, but did you ever hear a survivor of that Company utter a word of criticism? Not one of that Company ever apostatized or left the church because every one of us came through with the absolute knowledge that God lives for we became acquainted with him in our extremities.
"I have pulled my hand cart when I was so weak and weary from illness and lack of food that I could hardly put one foot ahead of the other. I have looked ahead and seen a patch of sand or a hill slope and I have said I can go only that far and there I must give up for I cannot pull the load through it. I have gone on to that sand and when I reached it the cart began pushing me. I have looked back many times to see who was pushing my cart but my eyes saw no one. I knew then that the Angels of God were there.
"Was I sorry that I chose to come by hand cart? No. Neither then nor any minute of my life since. The price we paid to become acquainted with God was a privilege to pay and I am thankful that I was privileged to come in the Martin Hand Cart Company."
The speaker was Francis Webster...
If you could go back in time, what era would you like to go back to and why?