Handcart Trek: Corsets and Army Boots

corset-bootThis weekend our stake held their fourth “trek” youth conference, of which members of my family have participated in three. This is my second trek, accompanying my daughter who is autistic.

Eldest daughter, as passionate about fiber arts as I am about the history of polygamy, decided we would be greatly benefited by participating in authentic period costume, including corsets. Now that I know what it is to wear one and how it shapes the body, I can see the corsets on all the pioneer women in pictures from the 1800s. Speaking for myself, my reaction went from “You have got to be kidding!” to “Not bad.”

The handcart trek experience is becoming one of the experiential touch points of being a Mormon young person. In contrast to all the intellectual hand wringing I see on the internet, the trek experience is down to earth and visceral. This is no simple lecture about how hard life was for the early Saints. It is days of sleeping on the hard ground, pushing and pulling a cart carrying your few possessions, not knowing ahead of time what will happen, how long the road will be, or what natural delights and perils await on the path ahead.

We had the chance to trek in the Northern Virginia countryside on a large cattle ranch. The real possible danger was underscored by the permission forms each participant (and/or their parents) had to sign in order to participate.

Youth Conference

Handcart treks are typically held as a Youth Conference for the young people of an entire stake. Out west many stakes opt to recreate the trek experience at Devil’s Gate, site of the dramatic 1856 rescue of the Martin and Willie handcart companies, along with the Hodgett and Hunt Wagon companies. Demand for the facilities at that site is so great that a stake can often only hold handcart trek once every six years, meaning any individual young person is likely to only experience trek one time. Elsewhere, stakes that are equipped to stage a handcart trek tend to do so once every four years.

The purpose of Youth Conference is to bring together the young men and young women in an extended weekend of focused time to build their character and testimonies, and strengthen the bonds between the individual young people.

Why Handcarts

Only ten companies of handcarts made the trek across the west to Utah. It was a desperate attempt to allow Saints to gather to Zion when economic resources were slim. The vast majority of pioneers traveled in wagon companies, either bought and purchased by the travelling pioneers themselves (up to 1860), or provided by the Saints already in Zion (from 1861 on, with the Down and Back Companies).

But though the handcart experience was not widespread among pioneers, it is iconic of the lengths to which the faithful would go to gather to the Zion where their children could be raised in the gospel, surrounded by like-minded Saints.

From a practical perspective, a handcart is the perfect size for a group of 10-12 young people to push and pull across the countryside, laden with the few possessions they need for a couple of days. There is no need for oxen or horses (or the skills required to successfully manage them).

The rules of the handcart are simple: Pull on the bar, push on the back. The extra bar attached to the axle is positioned in the front to pull up hills or on level ground and switched to the back to be pulled against to brake when traveling down hills. Above all, stay away from the wheels, which can rip and crush in 2015 just as easily as they could rip and crush in the 1850s.

Crossing the Sweetwater

One of the scenes most handcart treks will reenact is the crossing of the Sweetwater in the fall of 1856. The handcart companies – starving, caught in snow, and lingering at the edge of death, faced one last crossing of the freezing Sweetwater River. Had the rescuers not arrived, all the surviving handcart pioneers would have likely died from that final river crossing. But three of the rescuers spent the day in the icy river carrying the stricken pioneers across the river on their backs. These three were teenagers, George W. Grant, David P. Kimball, and C. Allen Huntington.

Each of these young rescuers suffered severe health problems as a result of their saving service that day, health problems that would ultimately cause each to die before his time.

In homage to the sacrifice of those three teenage boys, the young men participating in trek are given an opportunity to carry the other trek participants across a shallow river. In my experience, when this is an option rather than a requirement, most all the boys volunteer to carry over members of their party.

The Women’s Pull

Another iconic feature of the pioneer experience was the large number of women who traveled without having a husband to help. Mary Fielding Smith is perhaps the best-known individual woman, insisting on traveling west after her husband Hyrum was murdered, despite the objections of her company leader, Cornelius Lott. There are also the wives of the 500 who joined the Mormon Battalion, who continued to Utah alone.

Of these, my ancestor Elvira Annie Cowles lost a wheel, and had to travel 10 miles on foot to fetch the blacksmith in the next company. Next, one of her animals died, and she took the yoke on her own shoulders to keep up with the company until someone provided her a replacement animal.

During trek, it is common for there to be a time when the young men and their gear are sent off to a different place. The handcarts, with a slightly lighter load, are then only manned by the young women. During this portion of the trek, it is often necessary for the young women to pull the handcarts up a hill. Sometimes a team of girls is unable to get their cart over the rocks and roots along the incline, and girls from either preceding or following carts will gather to their side, to assist as desired.

At other times when help is offered, a team will refuse, maintaining that they can do it without assistance.

In the treks I have participated in or heard about, the young men are witness, but are forbidden from directly assisting or even talking to the young women during the pull. The most they are permitted to do is fan the young women or place rocks or sticks behind the wagon wheels, to prevent the heavy load from slipping backward down the slope.

Food along the Trail

Another key experience is preparing food during the trek. You had what you prepared for yourself in the morning and what you prepared again at night, when you set up camp. During travel, itself, you had access to water.

[If you were lucky, like us this past week, the trail was lined with bushes filled with ripe berries. We were able to gather cupfuls of raspberries and blackberries from the thorny bushes.]

Of course, fixing food usually depended on having heat. So the first task was to chop wood and start a fire. Once that was going, the ingredients for the meal could be prepared and placed in an appropriate cooking vessel. For our treks, each cart had a pair of dutch ovens, as well as other large pots for boiling water.

There’s nothing so good as food around a twilight fire after a hard day of travel and physical labor. I hear there are some trek experiences where one meal is inadequate, supposedly to give the youth an appreciation for the near starvation experienced by some companies. But I think wise stake leaders ensure that the youth don’t have too much reason to become “hangry.”

Entertainment

It goes without saying that there were no cell phones or tablets permitted during trek. The only electronic intrusions were the infrequent and harsh sounds of walkie talkies, conveying important details regarding escaped livestock or severe weather conditions.

Along the trail there was storytelling and singing. The young men traveling near our cart were exposed to the songs the young women sing at camp, many of the songs dealing with young men. This was particularly amusing during the women’s pull, when the young men couldn’t say anything.

In camp the second day there were a series of stations arranged: tug of war, footraces, pulling taffy, washing in the river, and other aspects of life in the 1800s. One year a demonstration showed how chickens were transformed from farm animals into dinner. Another year a demonstration illustrated how logs were cut using two-handled saws. This year a demonstration showed how the filthy, sweaty fleece fresh-shorn from a sheep is transformed into wool, then spun using an authentic 1800s walking wheel.

Around dinner, the youth talk with one another, sharing the lore of teens and inventing new stories. In between the fanciful, the youth speak of the issues of their times, their thoughts about friends and loved ones who don’t understand the nature of God and the plan of salvation.

Miracles

One of the things hardcart trek makes possible are miracles. In one of the more concrete examples from our past weekend, there was a young woman who honestly fears and hates bugs. Within a few moments of leaving the car at the drop-off site, she realized that the Northern Virginia countryside in midsummer is absolutely alive with insects. And so she said a short prayer, begging God to protect her from having to touch any bugs.

This young woman was with the first handcart to enter the woods where the women’s pull occurred. Other girls mentioned that, for the first several handcarts, the ticks were practically raining from the trees above (making my group very glad we were the last handcart). When I mentioned this, the young woman who had been with that first handcart was confused, for she hadn’t seen any ticks.

I could go on, but suffice it to say that there were plentiful opportunities for insects and humans to interact. And most of us came home with a goodly portion of evidence that we had been in nature.

Yet this young woman didn’t have a single bug bite. That was absolutely a miracle.

Aftermath

I don’t know of anyone who wishes they hadn’t gone on trek. Even my daughter who went on the first trek in Northern Virginia loved it, though they got lost until 1 am the first day and were only fed watery broth (and then had the chicken killing as an “experience”). The reason I went twice is because my autistic daughter absolutely wanted to repeat the experience. More than any other youth experience, I’ve observed that trek gives each individual a chance to test themselves and conquer, to work together as part of a team and to find friendship and companionship in an emotionally safe and supportive environment.

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About Meg Stout

Meg Stout has been an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ (of Latter-day Saints) for decades. She lives in the DC area with her husband, Bryan, and several daughters. She is an engineer by vocation and a writer by avocation. Meg is the author of Reluctant Polygamist, laying out the possibility that Joseph taught the acceptability of plural marriage but may have privately defied the commandment for love of his wife, Emma.

32 thoughts on “Handcart Trek: Corsets and Army Boots

  1. Meg, do you know where this practice of “women pulling the handcarts without men” originated? I find no historical basis in any of the 10 mormon handcart companies. It could not be related to the Mormon Battalion, since that occurred 10 years prior to any handcart company. Mary Fielding Smith was not in a handcart company. And while certainly some women traveled to Utah without a husband, I found no instances of a group of mormon pioneer women pulling handcarts without men. Yet it seems to be a common practice in these handcart trek reenactments.

  2. MIBS, good question. Our stake does the women’s pull also. I have a friend who is somewhat expert in church history; I’ll have to ask him about it.

    My suspicion is that it is a vaguely feminist exercise, and therefore pretty much an anachronism, but that may be the Neanderthal in me speaking.

  3. Trek is an assemblage of various aspects of the overland migration, not just the handcart experience. As I explained in my post, there’s a reason for using handcarts for youth conference, rather than full wagons with teams.

    Kent, if in an alternate universe we had married, I’d be giving you heck right now. With all the righteous fury of a woman who presumably would have borne your children and who knew my history and knew that women did far more than your Neanderthal brain leads you to presume. And since some of those historical women would be the forebears of our alternate universe children, I’d have them on my side.

    Of course, if in an alternate universe we had married, you would not now be making such a #$%^&*()(&^%$#@! comment.

  4. By the way, @#$%^&*()_)(*&^%$#@ isn’t intended to represent any particular adjective, but is irritated shorthand for my typical “[insert adjective]” terminology.

    On a slightly calmer note, the women’s pull also represents the many women who continue firm in the faith when their men have abdicated. While the Mormon faithful are blessed to have a much larger proportion of faithful men amongst their congregations, the fact is that far too many women struggle forward without a faithful man at their side.

    The women’s pull and the reaction of the young men to it also serves a practical purpose as a sieve. You may be sure that any young man who doesn’t honor and respect the effort of the women in the pull will be noted as a jerk. Young men who wish to have anything to do with the more desirable young women will behave in a manner that doesn’t alienate them in a fundamental manner.

  5. In regards to the women’s pull: I would suggest that it is just as much for the benefit of the Young Men as for the Young Women. A male friend of mine got very emotional when he described the effect it had on him. In a world where fewer young people in general are marrying and having families, where fewer young men are owning up to their responsibilities, where child poverty and fatherlessness are common, women and children are being thrown under the bus. For my friend, the women’s pull was a physical manifestation of that. It wasn’t a feminist thing or a macho thing, it was an object lesson in the necessity of both sexes working together toward common goals.

    And for the YW, how many times do we, as leaders, really challenge the girls in their activities the same way the YM are in scouts? We don’t tend to expect them to do hard things, and that is not doing them any favors. Life is hard, and they will be required to do difficult things. Something like a women’s pull teaches them that yes, you CAN do hard things. You are strong. Don’t give up. And then, when they’re done, they think, “If I can do that, I can do anything.”

    My ancestor Cynthia Stewart Hill didn’t have to cross the plains alone, but there was plenty that she had to do by herself when her husband was away, which was often. One of her children was born when her husband was away, and he was away when that child died four years later. It was incumbent upon her to support the family herself, which she did by spinning and weaving flax to make men’s linen suits. You can’t replicate that kind of hardship for a 14-year-old girl to impress upon them the kind of crazy stuff that life may throw at them, but you can make them pull a wagon for a few hours.

  6. The first time my stake sponsored a treck in Virginia I was surprised. But, my youngest child enjoyed it. My type one diabetic child who is three years older was too old for the trip. That was the good thing. Because the treck experience is not the place for a diabetic child to spend three days, that child would never have had the opportunity. one trip to a youth conference at the Virgina ranch was a part of that child’s experience.

    Yesterday as my Man and I listened to the testimonies of the treckers we heard one. One young man who mentioned the spirit and voiced his appreciation for the gospel of Jesus Christ. I kept waiting to hear someone say what a wonderful experience it was and how much they enjoyed it. None did. Did they feel spirit or do they just need to learn what a testimony is.

    The treck experience is not at all like pioneer life. The pioneers crossed Iowa and Nebraska. Then as the trip began to get difficult they took the least challenging route through Wyoming. There were to no big hills to climb. There were no trees and the humidity was low.

    The real pioneers crossed the great planes and the Rocky Mountains at the same time as travelers going to Oregon and later the 49ers headed for California. In the 1850 there was a cholore epidemic on the overland trail.

    The handcart companies plan was to cross quickly in the summer months and most of them did. Those who did not were late leaving, they had poorly constructed handcarts and were filled with people who were older than other companies. Had they waited until Spring they could have planned better and had better handcarts for their trip. What followed was a terrible tradgedy. Most of those who made the trip west traveled on a well established road. If they did not know where they were going it was because they did not look at a map.

    Trech is something somebody made up. Why not do something truly like the pioneers and find something new and different to do.

  7. It’s not quite accurate to say the young men who carried so many across the Sweetwater all died before their time due to the exertions of the rescue. While two died relatively young, one lived to be 65 and another 85. (There was an entire article in BYU Studies once devoted to this very question.)

  8. “and knew that women did far more than your Neanderthal brain leads you to presume.”

    You’re making a few presumptions yourself.

    Having the men stand aside and watch the women struggle on their own with a task that is a lot easier if you have a lot of upper body strength may indeed teach some lessons. You mentioned one: The women you abandon are going to really struggle as a result. If that is the lesson that is actually called out — and it hasn’t been in my stake’s Trek — then the exercise can have some real value.

    In my stake, I’m afraid, the lesson that seems to be drawn is “We don’t need no stinking men.” If it’s otherwise in your stake, then you’re blessed.

  9. Hi Kent,

    You’re the one who supposed that the women’s pull was a construct arising from feminist impulses and admitted to the possibility that this arose from your Neanderthal in you. I do apologize if your inner Neanderthal resides somewhere other than your brain.

    Given that the group I was with was singing YW Camp songs, I don’t see how the take away could possibly be that we don’t need the men. The lyrics to one of the songs go:

    A man without a Mormon girl
    Is like a ship without a sail
    It’s like a boat without a rudder
    It’s like a fish without a tail.

    A man without a Mormon girl
    Is like a wreck upon the sand
    There’s only one thing worse in this universe
    And that’s a Mormon girl – what?
    I said a Mormon girl- what?
    I said a Mormon girl without a man-
    We ought to know!

    In my stake, the women’s pull (to repeated choruses of “Push!! Push!!”) is seen as a personal challenge, a thing to be very afraid of, and yet a thing (when conquered) to put in one’s bucket of “I can succeed” for the other trials in life that arise. One of those trials, for many women, will be the other event that involves repeated choruses of “Push!! Push!!”

    For my own children and intimates, I was able to share the story of Elvira Annie Cowles [Holmes Smith], left behind when Jonathan Holmes volunteered for the Mormon Battalion. Likely the largest trial for her was the death of her baby at Winter Quarters while Jonathan was in California. Even though he was 1500 miles away, we know that the day their little Lucy Elvira died, he fell ill. The only other time he mentioned feeling unwell was the time he was bucked from a donkey and landed on his head. Personally, I like to think that he felt Elvira Annie’s pain across the hundreds of miles, that his spiritual connection to her, despite their physical separation, was of some support to her as she buried their child on the bluff at Winter Quarters.

  10. Meg,

    “I do apologize if your inner Neanderthal resides somewhere other than your brain.”

    Since you’re doubling down, perhaps it’s fair for me to repeat myself:

    ” Having the men stand aside and watch the women struggle on their own with a task that is a lot easier if you have a lot of upper body strength may indeed teach some lessons. You mentioned one: The women you abandon are going to really struggle as a result. If that is the lesson that is actually called out — and it hasn’t been in my stake’s Trek — then the exercise can have some real value.

    In my stake, I’m afraid, the lesson that seems to be drawn is “We don’t need no stinking men.” If it’s otherwise in your stake, then you’re blessed.”

    I’m glad you are blessed.

    I hope you can see that the latter takeaway, the one your stake has avoided, could be interpreted as a construct arising from feminist impulses.

  11. Hi STW,

    Did the BYU Studies article mention the fourth young man who assisted in carrying the people across the river? I couldn’t find the reference.

    Do you have the link to the BYU Studies article? I admit I was referencing General Conference talks and Church Religion manuals for my authority on the fate of the three teenagers, thus I wasn’t digging nearly as deeply as is my wont.

  12. Hi Kent,

    Obviously women who use the women’s pull to claim women don’t need men are completely ignorant of the overland trail antecedants that prompted the women’s pull. I suspect such women may be among those who proudly wore purple to General Conference a year or so ago. I think I’ve made it abundantly clear that such women are fundamentally lacking in understanding of the scriptures, the hierarchy of the Church, God’s plan for His Church and families, and history. Other than that, I presume that they are wonderful people. And I know that, given that they are here on earth, I once loved them deeply. I will continue to extend them that same love.

    On the flip side, I think some of these women are reacting to a culture that glorifies men and treats women as lesser beings. Thus I don’t fully judge them (at all, since that isn’t my role) and I don’t even form a strong opinion of their error since I don’t know them and their pasts.

  13. Hi Geoff,

    You may have forgotten that Kent and I attended BYU and were in the same ward as freshmen. I apologize that our mutual knowledge of one another may have led to discourse that you interpreted as culture wars.

  14. “Obviously women who use the women’s pull to claim women don’t need men are completely ignorant of the overland trail antecedants that prompted the women’s pull.”

    Precisely. If that is the lesson intended, then it really is an anachronistic feminist construct, no? Demonstrating yet again that anything that can be done right can very likely also be done wrong.

    This may be too much of a tangent, but I am close to some women who are victims of sexual abuse. I think we could find broad agreement that this is close to the worst expression we know of a corrupt attitude toward men’s roles. (Honor killings may be worse.) At times, these victims’ attitudes reflect a definite misanthropy. This is unfortunate. That attitude, of itself, is mistaken and harmful. But it is also very understandable in these individuals. Would that my own faults and follies were restricted to ones deserving of such understanding from those around me.

    Geoff B.,

    I thought my response to MIBS was reasonable, on topic, and relevant to current issues and controversies in the Church, and my further posts should have made clear that basis for my concerns is reasonable. If that’s not the kind of conversations you want to have here, you could have fooled me.

  15. I live in Washington and my son just went on trek. I have also heard talks given after recent treks. The Women’s pull has evolved.
    I lived in Utah for a few years growing up and went on the Pioneer Trek. There was no river crossing. We did have a women’s pull but everything on that trek was done with a lot less fanfare than trek’s these days. There was no definite reason given for the Women’s Pull back in the day. There were vague ideas of sometimes women were alone because of maybe a, b, or c reason. But this was also the 1980s. Women and men’s roles were much different. Part of the reason (or maybe just the result) was that boys thought they were doing all the work, and girls didn’t know they could do it without the boys.
    The result was that the boys had a little more respect for the girls, realizing that these girls were tougher and stronger than they realized. I was a girl and my parents had never signed me up for a sport…ever.
    The point was as a 15 year old girl I participated and I thought it sucked and wondering (loudly) when the boys would do it without the girls, so it would be fair. There was no spiritual experience about it for me. My mother was the one who told me later that based on what my brother had said, the boys gained respect for girls who they hadn’t viewed as pulling their weight before. So perhaps that was a part of why overall it has been something that they have kept, although it is a different experience for different kids.
    My son didn’t mention the women’s pull. He said that the trek was hard for everyone except him because he works out every day.

  16. Rachelle,

    Thank you for that link! My google-fu wasn’t up to par.

    I’ll update my post to reflect the more correct information once I’m at a decent computer.

  17. Hi jks,

    When my eldest daughter did trek, the young men in her “family” refused to let the young women pull after seeing them work so hard on the women’s pull.

    Even for our trek, the young men were responsible for getting the cart back down the slope. That particular mini-mountain is wicked steep, so getting the cart back down isn’t easy in the least. Going up the cart wasn’t backslipping because the young men were adding stones and branches to brace the wheels – this is something you can’t do when descending the mountain.

    Another factor is that there tend to be a few more women than men. In our “family” there were six young women and 4 young men.

    When I was young, youth conferences were major events at college campuses, likely similar to what occurs now at Especially for Youth (EFY) sessions.

  18. I was at my first semester at BYU in 1997, when they were doing the actual recreations of coming across the plains. I wanted to go and do that so much.

    Now, I’m old, fat, and need to sleep on a mattress for the survival of the known universe to continue. The thought of Trek scares me!

    I was horrified by the whole “women’s pull” aspect of this, and I still am, a bit. But, when the first group of trekkers came back from our stake 10 years ago, the SP asked the boys to share their experience in watching the girls and women work so hard. That particular year, they had a girl who was in a wheel chair that they helped go up the hill. All of these boys were changed by the experience, for the better. So, I think it was good.

  19. As Yvonne and Joyce mention, some who might wish to participate in Trek have handicaps. The permission forms definitely identified conditions that would make Trek an unsuitable activity (e.g., too dangerous). And any condition that required medication triggered the need for a doctor’s note.

    That said, an aspect of Trek that could definitely be emphasized is to recall the covenant the Saints made to one another to not leave anyone behind.

    Inasmuch as things happen that make it too dangerous for a particular individual to participate in some specific aspect of trek (e.g., the women’s pull), it would be possible to exempt them from that portion of trek, saying that this was like the many who could no longer participate through death.

    As for the time when they take the boys off to the side, it would be possible to tell them they are needed to help repair Jonathan Holmes’ wagon. For the Mormon Battalion company who had wintered at Sutter’s Mill and found gold, this wagon repair appears to have been code for another activity, which was building a cairn for the three men who had been murdered at Tragedy Spring.

  20. IMHO, I think we should be clear and open with our youth, when reenacting a handcart trek. A simple “this womens’ pull event is not based on any historical event. It didn’t happen. This activity is just symbolic of… (fill in the blanks)” would be sufficient.

    On a related note, there is counsel for handcart trek activities available at http://www.lds.org (search for “trek safety”). Unfortunately, there have been past instances of handcart reenactments where youth are forced to go hungry or thirsty, or inadequate safety precautions, or making the youth suffer, justified as an attempt to teach them a lesson in some way. Quote: “youth do not need to suffer through these same trials to gain an appreciation for the sacrifices of the handcart pioneers.”

  21. Thank you for the information regarding trek safety at lds.org.

    There are numerous individual women who had to make the migration alone. I don’t know why it needs to have been “many women forced to carry on without men exactly like how we do modern youth conference trek.”

  22. Again, it’s just my opinion. There is an openness for historical information related to the church these days, because of the internet. And in cases where we have new or better information regarding our history, we should convey that. I don’t think anyone would be shocked to find out there never was a “group of women pulling handcarts without men” in mormon history, but the church has been accused of hiding or misrepresenting history. An interesting discussion on this is found under lds.org, under “gospel topics” and on that page, “what about historical questions?”.

  23. Hey, Man in Black Socks,

    Have you (by chance) read my Faithful Joseph series?

    Just wondering since you speak of how in cases where we have new or better information abour our history, we should convey it.

  24. Rather than have my experiences related second hand, I’ll give my impressions of the woman’s pull 12 years ago on my trek.

    I never thought that there was a group of women that went at the trail alone. It was always a representation of what some faithful women went through because their husbands were on missions, dead or called away. It also recalled polygamy. For some of those women, they had sisters to rely on since their mutual husband couldn’t guide every wagon/cart.

    Our group struggled the most up the hill. That year, the camp boss decided to “add realism” by saying that during key parts of the trail there was danger of Indians and we must keep quiet or risk Indian attack. He chose the woman’s pull for one of those key times. (Some misguided sense to keep boys and girls quiet? Keep the girls from complaining too loudly? Try to keep the spirit close through quiet and sweating, panting and grunting? I don’t know.) Unable to ask help from our boys, we backslid a couple times before the ‘absent boys’ decided on their own that placing rocks behind the wheels wouldn’t violate the idea of women’s pull since they weren’t actually touching the cart. They also decided that fanning us wasn’t against the rules.

    We were on that steep hill for so long. Breaking every now and then to catch our breath and pray fervently for strength (and quietly because… indians). Eventually, groups of young ladies down the hill ran up to help us. I’m not sure if I cried or not. Lots of hard hugs passed back and forth. The idea of a loving sisterhood was vibrant, clear and very dear.

    After reaching the plateau, and availing ourselves of electrolytes, most of our young ladies ran back to help those who had helped us. And hiss at the young men fanning themselves. I’ll admit having a low opinion of those boys because ours were so exemplary.

    Our boys appreciated us. Before the pull the work was 50/50. Afterwards the young men stepped up determined that the young women didn’t have to pull if they didn’t want to. Many, though not all, still wanted to help and the ratio afterwards was more 60/40 70/30. We felt equal to the boys, but deeply cherished.

    Our pull demonstrated to me that I could count on the help and support of the sisters of the church. That a righteous young man will do all in his power to help and that while girls could do it, having both sexes is easier and ultimately part of God’s plan.

  25. For some time I was soured on what I perceived as an over emphasis on hand cart pioneers, particularly those stranded in the Wyoming snow. An ancestor crossed the plains by handcart, but he was preceeded by many others who walked in front of or drove wagons. The women left to manage families and wagons by the departure of the Mormon Battalion, who then went on to face starvation at Winter Quarters, most likely represents a greater number of people than were engaged in the near disaster of the Sweetwater experience. The movie ‘Seventeen Miracles’ changed my perpective. I believe there was a screen notice at the end of the movie that although near extinction was threatened, the rescue came in time to hold deaths to a near average of other parties, both wagon and hand cart. It is the concentration of miracles and suffering nigh unto death that made that ‘trek’ iconic. From what I have read and heard, most ‘trek’ experiences open new dimensions for participants, if nothing more than spending a week free of social media and ‘selfies’.

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