Local teens reenact pioneer handcart journey
Craig Colorado State of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
Last week, 55 teens and 38 adults from across northwest Colorado and southern Wyoming gathered to understand a small part of what settlers experienced during the westward migration in the 1800s.
They camped along the Sweetwater River in Wyoming for three nights and pushed two-wheeled, hand-drawn carts loaded with food, water and personal items, similar to those used by early pioneer members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The youth and the adult leaders endured winds, heat and epic mosquito invasions, but finished the trip smiling and singing.
These trekkers walked about six miles each day, less than the average of 10 miles per day completed by the original pioneers. They made multiple stops along each day’s route to discuss the original handcart emigration and the trials that some handcart parties suffered, including severe weather and starvation. Participants also wore period-style clothing as part of the reenactment.
One of the routes used for this reenactment intersects both the Oregon and California trails. These routes were used by half a million people over the course of several decades.
One of week’s last hikes included a visit to the Linford monument, where John Linford, an immigrant to the United States originally from England, died and was buried with eight others. Grant Linford, a great-great-great-great grandson of John, was present that day, and he shared his thoughts about the sacrifice his ancestor made.
Grant also recognized the perseverance of Maria Linford, who continued on to Utah with her children. Maria and many other pioneer women often had to pull the handcarts alone when the remaining men became sick, exhausted, or, like John Linford, died on the trail.
In honor of their efforts, the teens of this modern trek elected to hold a women-only handcart pull up one of the steepest sections of that day’s trail. The young women put their legs and lungs into the effort, and early finishers circled back to help each other after pulling the first carts to the top of the hill.
“I went on trek because (my brother) said it was fun and would be a good experience,” said Hannah Crookston of Craig. “I also wanted to learn about my ancestors. What I learned was no matter what physical hardships they went through, they stayed thru to the faith they had in Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. I will remember the whole experience. It was hard, exhausting and hot, but fun.”
Another route used for this modern handcart trek was in the Martin’s Cove area, also along the Sweetwater River. This loop included a side hike into the “cove” where cold and hungry pioneers survived below-zero temperatures while awaiting assistance from wagon trains and riders sent out from Salt Lake City.
In addition to bringing the handcarts, the youth also pulled a rickshaw to help transport one of the young women who had recently had knee surgery. In an echo of those rescues in the 19th century, the youth brought the rickshaw up the steepest hike of the trip, including carrying it up and down a series of steps, to ensure that everyone made the entire journey.
On the final night, reenactors were treated to a demonstration by Layne Wardell of Rangely of technology used by mountain men of the era.
Trekkers that night learned to square dance, line dance and two-step with calling and instruction from Mike and Betta Boatright of Craig. The Boatrights arrived with a sound system and walked the expedition through dances the early pioneers would have enjoyed. Nineteenth century travelers brought fiddles and whistles with them as they traveled west to provide music and lift the group’s spirits.
The trip concluded with a meeting at Rock Creek Hollow, where the group shared their testimonies of Jesus Christ with each other in encouragement and love. The hardships of the trek were balanced by the spiritual insights gained from the experiences of the week.
“I learned that I am blessed to have what I have,” said Zachary Crookston, Hannah’s brother, also of Craig. “I am not expected to pull a handcart across the country in the extreme elements to find a new home. But we do have our challenges today, and they can be every bit as faith-building as those of the pioneers.”
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints operates three historic sites in central Wyoming: Martin’s Cove, Sixth Crossing, and Rock Creek Hollow.
Monuments and memorials at these locations commemorate the pioneers for their sacrifice, faith, and determination, as well as those who rode out from Salt Lake City to rescue those in need. Visitors are welcome and can walk the trails for themselves, experience pulling handcarts, learn about the emigration routes from displays at the sites’ visitor centers, and camp nearby.
Exhibits, interactive kiosks and artwork further enrich the historic experience. More than 60,000 members of the church traveled across the plains on the way to the Salt Lake Valley between 1847 and 1868. The first groups came from early church settlements and cities in the midwest of the United States, but many others came from farther east, including many groups and individuals converted by church missionaries in Europe.
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