By Alan Hedges
Special to the Times
Every four years the youth from the Ely Nevada Stake plan and undertake an event, called the Pioneer Trek. The purpose of this activity is for the youth to reenact some of the faith-building experiences of the pioneers who journeyed to the Salt Lake Valley in the mid-1800s.
The Mormon Trail or Mormon Pioneer Trail is the 1,300-mile route that members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints traveled from 1846 to 1868.
The 19th-century Mormon migration beginning in 1846 in Illinois, then through Iowa and Nebraska and eventually to a place of refuge in the Rocky Mountains, was one of the most remarkable episodes in the history of the United States’ great western migration. Unlike the thousands of pioneers streaming west to California and Oregon looking for a better life, the Mormon pioneers migrated involuntary, the result of expulsion from Illinois and Missouri by hostile neighbors. Later, the Mormon pioneer trail would be filled with converts coming from Europe.
To cut down on expensive wagons and oxen, some 3,000 of the pioneers subsequently used low-cost wooden handcarts that were light enough to be pulled across the Great Plains. A cart held about 17 pounds of baggage per person.
An estimated 70,000 people made the difficult journey to Utah from 1847 until the transcontinental railroad was completed in 1869. Pioneer ancestors who made the trek are honored and often spoken of, seen as an example of courage and sacrifice as inspirational.
Douglas Fullmer, Ely Nevada Stake President, offers some insight into what the youth can experience:
“We reenact the pioneer trek to help us remember the sacrifices of those that went before. All people presently living in the Western United States are living in the communities, using the roads and infrastructure that was started by those pioneers in the 1800’s. I think that doing a pioneer trek helps us to teach the coming generation of the sacrifices that were offered by them.
“The trek also helps us to connect youth to the fact that they can do hard things. Hard things are going to come into each of their lives. When they think of the hard work required of our ancestors, they can learn for themselves that they can also do hard things. They can endure long physical work. They can persist when things are going not quite as planned or expected. “I hope the youth come home from this experience with a fresh perspective of things that really matter in life.
I hope they realize that they don’t miss their cell phones and video games, they establish deeper friendships with those they work along side of and recognize in themselves the capacity to cheerfully endure hard work looking toward a worthy goal.”
Lloyd Phillips, Trail Boss on the trek, echoes President Fullmer’s comments of accomplishing hard things; “This experience will serve as a benchmark for our youth. When they face adversity later in their lives they will say, ‘I’ve come to this place before, and I know how to beat it.’”
Several youth, upon completion of the experience, mentioned an increased recognition of the importance of family bonds, of depending on each other, pulling together, and of strengthened faith. Their ancestors who completed the 1,300 mile journey a century and a half before them would likely agree.
Trucks and trailers bring up the hand carts and supplies. Minivans and SUVs unload the youth. Shouts and laughs echo up the canyon as a group of fifty-five 14-18 year-olds and their chaperones, or “Ma’s and Pa’s”, load up hand carts in preparation for a 27 mile trek from Cave Lake, and over the mountain to the Cleveland Ranch in Spring Valley. The youth divide themselves and their belongings into six “families”, each with its own handcart, individual and group supplies, food, water, and a “Ma” and “Pa”. They will arrive three days later tired, dirty, closer to each other than they imagined, and perhaps a bit more introspective.