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  • Writer's pictureDavid

1,300 Miles Along the Mormon Trail

Every summer in the sun and heat of central Wyoming—pandemic times excepted—you can find hundreds of young men and women donning pioneer-era hats and bonnets and pulling handcarts up challenging hills. Why? It's called "Trek" and is meant to provide the youth an opportunity to overcome adversity, focus on serving others, feel gratitude for the sacrifices of those who have come before, and learn and appreciate the history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (see Handcart Trek Reenactments: Guidelines for Leaders, p. 1). The site for many of these Trek experiences is the Martin's Cove Mormon Handcart Historic Site near Alcova, Wyoming. Just a stone's throw from the famous Oregon/Mormon Trail landmarks of Independence Rock and Devil's Gate, Martin's Cove is a location central to one of the greatest rescue stories of the American West.

In 1856, Salt Lake City had been settled for nearly 10 years with many pioneers of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints still arriving. Often, converts to the faith from Europe would sacrifice all their belongings to sail across the Atlantic, take a train as far as the tracks would go, and travel overland the rest of the way in order to join the Saints in Salt Lake. From 1856 to 1860, a new method emerged in overland travel: the handcart. Rather than a large, bulky, and expensive wagon that required a team of oxen, horses, or mules, the travelers had a small, lightweight wooden cart that could be pulled along by two or three in front and pushed by two or three in back. In all, about 3,000 of the 70,000 Mormon pioneers arrived by handcart. But in that first year, two handcart companies faced significant hardship.

The Willie and Martin companies left Iowa late in the season, knowing that it increased the possibility of a difficult journey to Salt Lake. Brigham Young found out in early October that immigrants were still on the trail. He knew companies had started, but had assumed that, this late in the season, they had stayed near present-day Omaha, Nebraska, for the winter. So, on a balmy October afternoon, Brigham Young issued a call for support to assist the immigrants. Two weeks later, it began to snow on the handcart companies. By the time help arrived and assisted them to Salt Lake, 250 men, women, and children died. The rescue efforts were truly heroic. Martin's Cove was one spot along the trail the rescuers took the Martin Company to try to get some shelter from the biting wind and snow.

In preparation for Trek for the youth from several local congregations, church leaders encouraged the youth to set some ambitious goals to better themselves and remember the sacrifice of early Church members at the same time. (Trek was ultimately canceled both last summer and this summer.) The entire Mormon Pioneer Trail from Nauvoo, Illinois to Salt Lake City, Utah, is about 1,300 miles. So the youth were challenged to set and achieve goals around that number before mid-July when the Trek would have occurred. Specifically they were challenged to each help index 1,300 genealogical records. They could set other goals, too. For example, my wife set a goal to do 1,300 sets of circuit training exercises, our daughter set a goal to make a list of 1,300 things she is grateful for, and our son set a goal to read 1,300 pages.

One of our sons asked me if he could have some sort of map to help him track the progress of his goal. He wanted to know when, for example, he had reached the equivalent of Chimney Rock or Martin's Cove on his journey to 1,300. Using my Mormon Trail bookmark as a basis, I turned the Mormon Trail route into a series of 130 open circles—one circle for every 10 miles. That way, every time he completes 10 indexing records or my daughter writes another 10 things she is grateful for, they can fill in a circle and mark their progress.

Download Your Own Bookmark Here!

If you'd like your own "1,300 Miles Along the Mormon Trail" bookmark, simply download the PDF or JPEG here and print one out! It fits three to a page, and I recommend printing it on heavy cardstock for durability. May your own journey be filled with success!

Sources and Further Reading

Handcart Companies, from

Saints, Volume 2 chapter about the Martin and Willie Handcart Companies, "Not Doubting Nor Despairing"

Wyoming Historic Sites of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

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