Mormon youths participate in pioneer handcart reenactment

Local members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints gained a greater appreciation for the early Mormon pioneers by participating in a handcart trek July 22-24. The three-day journey encompassed a rugged 13 mile stretch of varied terrain located just outside Sherman, N.Y. Participants included more than 40 youths and approximately 20 adult leaders.

The youths pulled handcarts in order to more fully appreciate what it might have been like for the pioneers who migrated by handcart to the Salt Lake Valley, Utah, from 1856 to 1860. Many of the youths and leaders are decedents of such pioneers. Members of the now worldwide church revere these early pioneers and relished in the opportunity to recreate a pioneer “trek” of their own.

Bradley Miller of Warren is a local Stake President, similar to a Catholic Bishop. Miller oversees various Latter-Day Saint congregations, called Wards. These denominations include Erie, Meadville, Franklin and Warren in Pennsylvania and Olean and Jamestown, New York. Said Miller, “We took youths from the entire region on this trek; while we may not have been walking in the exact same westward paths that our ancestors walked, in a way, these youths walk in pioneer shoes every day! Many of our kids experience daily being one of the only Latter-Day Saints in their school or one of the few so-called “Mormons in their town I think that means they are modern pioneers in their own right!

“They also hear in church about these people a couple hundred years ago who, like them, were asked to sacrifice for their beliefs and go through hardships. This trek was a chance for our youths to have some very spiritual experiences as they put themselves in the position of not only imagining what it might have been like to pull a handcart across the country, but in this case, they actually did so!”

Many of the handcarts used in the reenactment weighed several hundred pounds. Youths were grouped into pseudo-family units in order to deal with hardships along the trail, with adult leaders being called affectionately, “Ma” and “Pa.”

One of these leaders from Erie, Matthew Gruwell stated, “I work with young adults as an educator, but Trek was something entirely new to me! I guess you can say I was appointed to be Trail Boss and it was a very humbling experience having a responsibility like this. It’s something that I never would have thought could be so difficult, but yet, so rewarding. But the young people made it fun and worthwhile. They committed to pulling the carts dozens of miles in rough terrain and they left all electronics at home and committed to the program. The final night, we had a special campfire to share our thoughts on the journey and to witness to one another of how good the Lord has been to us. Hearing these young people speak, each in turn, being able to testify of what they learned and to just how much God has blessed them in their lives made the entire trip worth it!”

It is evident that the experiences the youths had will equally last a lifetime.

“I was pretty tired that first day,” remarked Weston May, age 14 of Erie. “We did seven muddy miles and we were worn out! But after a while, you start thinking about how people really did this to cross the plains. So many of them died or even had to bury their children. I would think: “If they could do all that, I can make it through until dinner!”

“Sometimes we were just putting one foot in front of the other and calling out obstacles to one another to stay united. We prayed a lot and we also sang songs along the way. It made me think that being a pioneer would have been kind of fun too. It was really great!”