Hayden Lake Stake prepares to haul handcarts over pioneer route

By Gloria J Warnick
Latter-day Sentinel

Members of the Hayden Lake Stake will be trading in their cars, trucks, bikes and skateboards for handcarts this summer.

Authentic handcarts like this one will be part of the Hayden Lake Stake reenactment pioneer trek this summer. Contributed photo

A reenactment pioneer trek is scheduled for the Hayden Lake youth this summer, from June 20-23. They will traverse similar terrain traveled by the famous Willie and Martin Handcart Companies over 155 years ago.

The original two handcart companies were comprised of poor European emigrants and consisted of 980 people and 233 handcarts. They started in Iowa City, Iowa, and literally pushed and pulled their belongings from Iowa to Salt Lake City, Utah without the benefit of horses or covered wagons.

Because this company started their trek late in the season, they had to build their own handcarts. The journey was filled with mishaps and misfortunes. With the lateness of the season and the harsh travel conditions, 220 members of the two companies died on the high plains, the majority freezing to death in early snowstorms near the Continental Divide in central Wyoming. Many others suffered the amputation of fingers, toes, and legs due to frostbite.

Under the direction of President Brigham Young, rescue parties from Salt Lake City were organized and helped avert further tragedy. Over the years, faith-building stories from the survivors have been passed from generation to generation.

This June, over 200 people will leave their cell phones and other electronic devices at home, and will push or pull a handcart with their belongings 18 to 20 miles. They will leave Bing Canyon near the Columbia River on the Washington side in rough terrain and have the opportunity of learning to work together as they push their handcarts to Zion. This contemporary Zion will be a place of rest, with green grass and running water. In keeping with the spirit of the trek, no modern-day equipment will be seen or used by members of the trek. The delivery of mail is expected via pony express.

A total of 20 handcarts, owned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will be packed with 5- gallon buckets of belongings for each of the eight youths and two adults assigned to it. It will also have enough water necessary for the trip. Advance supply wagons (actually Jeeps and pickup trucks, not seen by the walkers) will shuttle in tents and advance supplies, a luxury the original pioneers did not have.

A couple assigned to be a “Ma and Pa” will walk the entire distance with the eight youths assigned to each cart. The trek will feature many of the same games and music that the pioneers enjoyed. The day will end with a campfire and stories of the pioneers who made the original walk.

The youth participating in this shortened version of the trek are being prepared in ways the original pioneers may have considered a luxury. Square dancing, quilting, and even a 5-mile hike, using the same shoes they will walk in, have been planned. Other precautions, such as supply checks and health certificates must be completed before a youth can participate.

Approximately 60 adults will be leaders on this trek. They have been banded together under the direction of Hayden Lake Stake President Dirk Baird and Counselors Grant Oyler and Dave Asper. Dave and Kathy Freeman have been called as trek leaders.

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