MOSES LAKE — On July 24, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will celebrate the 170th anniversary of the early Mormon pioneers entering the Salt Lake, Utah, Valley. Earlier this month, to honor their forebears, about 270 youth from the Moses Lake Stake of the Church donned pioneer garb and pushed and pulled pioneer-style handcarts near Cle Elum, Wash., over a three-day handcart trek reenactment.
Sleeping under the same stars their ancestors followed west, the youth also experienced the sweltering heat, fatigue, blisters, and many other trials and hardships the early pioneers faced, over the 25-mile trek. Well over a century earlier, between 1847 and 1868, immigrants from Europe and members of the church living in the Eastern and Midwestern United States moved westward to the mountains of Utah in a complicated, yet coordinated mass migration, known as the Mormon Exodus.
After several years of wagon trains, church leaders realized that small, two-wheeled handcarts would significantly cut the expense of traveling by horse or oxen. Many of the early converts to the church, with strong faith, but very little means, took to the faster, lighter mode of travel. From 1856 to 1860, 3,000 men, women and children, in 10 companies made the journey to the Salt Lake Valley by handcart. These Mormon pioneers have become an important symbol in LDS culture, representing the faithfulness, dedication, and sacrifice of early generations.
The original pioneers were allotted only 17 pounds of clothing, bedding, utensils, and provisions per person, and traveled about 15-20 miles per day to accomplish the 1,300-mile journey west, from Illinois to Utah. These Moses Lake pioneers were organized into roughly 30 “families,” with a “Ma” and “Pa” heading up each handcart, and pulled up mountains, pushed through meadows, and crossed over rivers. They played pioneer period games and activities, and ate authentic food, including beef jerky, parched corn, frybread, quail, and buffalo meat.
One “Ma” wrote: “I felt like I was stepping back in time, dressed in pioneer clothing, cooking in Dutch ovens, and sleeping on the ground. It was almost too much. We pushed on despite the challenges and difficulties. This gave just a taste of what the early pioneer Saints endured when they were originally driven from their homes. It’s hard to imagine three months of obtaining clean water, lack of food, extreme weather, and illness without modern medicine and always on the move. During this trek we learned to rely on God and our faith. We learned for ourselves the faith necessary to travel with our families across the Western United States. Our appreciation for those early pioneers and everything in our comfortable lives has deepened and grown.”
Another trekker reported: “We’re feeling a deeper connection to our ancestors, Mormon and non-Mormon, and the hard things they did to make a better life for us. Our ‘family’ felt that walking so far and cooking and sleeping outdoors was the most difficult physical thing they’ve ever had to do. In doing so, we felt a sense of accomplishment that can carry over to other difficulties in life. I think many felt our connection and dependence upon God deepen and strengthen. We saw how profoundly important it was for everyone to work together for a common goal. When everyone was pushing, even a little, things went easier.”
The Moses Lake LDS Stake is comprised of 12 geographic wards. The Pioneer Day commemoration will conclude on Saturday, July 22, 2017, at 5 p.m. at the LDS Grape Drive chapel. All are invited to attend.