BLACKFOOT — Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’s Blackfoot South Stake recently traveled to the Evanston, Wyoming, area, where they donned pioneer-era clothing and walked 30 miles over the course of four days while pulling handcarts loaded with gear.
“Part of our church history is the emigration of pioneers from Council Bluffs, Iowa, to the Salt Lake Valley,” said Chris Cannon, president of the Blackfoot South Stake, adding that many of those pioneers transported their possessions in handcarts.
Although the pioneers traveled much farther to get to their new home, the modern-day trek gives participants a chance to experience just a bit of what their ancestors did.
“We basically get to go out and do the same thing for a few days — turn off everyone’s electronics and experience what they did, and at the same time, have some fun and some spiritual times, too,” Cannon said.
Approximately 85 adults and 160 youth, including 17-year-old Nate Davis, participated in the trek that took place July 24 to 27.
It’s the second time Davis has gone on such a journey. He says he enjoys the spirit he feels during the trek and it has helped him develop a love for his ancestors “and what they had to go through to express their beliefs.”
The group spent months preparing both spiritually and physically for the journey. Those who went were also encouraged to choose and share information about one of their ancestors whom they consider to be a pioneer.
Elizabeth Barlow, 17, chose her great-great-great-great-grandmother, Henrietta McBride, who was one of the early church pioneers.
“She went through a lot of hardships in her life and never complained,” Barlow said, adding that she’s become a role model for her.
Davis chose his late great-grandmother, Bonnie Davis, who was the first person in her family to join the church.
“She lived with us for a couple of years. She’s always been strong in the gospel and I love her for that,” Davis said.
All of the participants were placed into “families” prior to the trek.
Barlow said she really enjoyed getting to know those she traveled with.
“I had a really amazing trek family. They were super nice and really inclusive. We all had a lot of fun together,” she said.
The participants walked 10 miles the first day, 8 miles on the second and third days, and 4 miles on the last day.They also got to try a variety of activities, including taffy pulling and hatchet throwing.
Davis said he really enjoyed the line dancing and square dancing they did on the third night.
“That was definitely a highlight for me. I got to dance with a ton of people and get to know a ton of people there. We had a good time,” he said.
There were also many opportunities for spiritual discussions along the way.
At one point in the trek, they had a women’s pull, in which the females pulled the handcarts up a hill by themselves. Many pioneer women had to achieve such feats.
Davis said watching the women and not being able to help them was the hardest part of the trek for him.
“It was probably the steepest hill. I had to sit on the edge of the trail and I couldn’t say anything,” he said, adding that the experience brought him to tears.
But watching the women successfully climb the hill also increased his respect for them, he said.
Barlow agreed that the women’s pull was the hardest part of the journey.
“It was really hard emotionally, spiritually and physically when we didn’t have support from (the men),” she said, adding that it gave her a better understanding of what it was like for some of the women pioneers who didn’t have men in their families who could help them on the journey.
The experience also made her reflect on her own ancestor.
“I realized, especially during the women’s pull, she did some really hard things and I can do them, too,” Barlow said.
Davis said the trek also taught him that he can do hard things.
“I really struggled. I’m not that fit,” Davis said. But he had made the journey before and he knew he could do it again. “With the Lord’s help, I was able to get through it and I had a really good time.”
That’s part of the purpose of the trek, which the stake does every four or five years.
“(We want to) give these kids a connection to their past, a better understanding of their own capacity, and, hopefully, they have some great spiritual experiences that will help them through the difficult times,” Cannon said.