“Modern-day Trek,” Ensign, July 1997, 74–77
In 1846 the Saints left Nauvoo, Illinois, to find peace and religious freedom in the Rocky Mountains. Today, 150 years after the arrival of the Saints in the Salt Lake Valley, modern-day members are retracing the early pioneers’ steps.
The Mormon Pioneer Trek reenactment began on 21 April in Florence, Nebraska, near Winter Quarters, and will end with a celebration at This Is the Place State Park in Salt Lake City on 22 July. Approximately 200 people, half of them Church members, will travel with the wagon train for the three-month trek. Thousands more will join the trek for a few days, weeks, and even months.
In contrast to the first pioneers, the modern-day trekkers are welcomed and cheered along the trail. Governors of Iowa, Nebraska, Wyoming, and Utah each support the trek and helped plan events to celebrate it. In fact, Nebraska state senator Dan Lynch gave the wagon master an “eternal flame” lantern to show his goodwill and support. Communities along the way are celebrating the modern-day trekkers’ journey. Members of the Rockbrook Ward, Omaha Nebraska Stake, wrote the names of pioneers who died at Winter Quarters on bright yellow ribbons and tied them to the fences surrounding the cemetery there. Some communities are sponsoring special events. In Schuyler, Nebraska, a man in the community prepared a steak dinner for the modern-day pioneers camped that night.
Although the trekkers are trying to follow the exact route of the pioneers, in many instances the route is inaccessible. However, the wagon train generally is within a few miles of the original course. Many times they travel on the side of the highway or along a dirt road instead of on primitive paths. Along the way, occasional tracks and wagon ruts, remnants of the first pioneers’ struggles, greet the modern-day trekkers. Unlike the early pioneers, the Mormon Pioneer trek organizers had to obtain licenses, permits, and permissions.
But the path the early pioneers forged was not only a physical one; it was also a spiritual one. “The legacy of our pioneer forefathers is a very important legacy to every member of our Church,” said Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, who traveled the first leg of the trek with the wagon train.
Brother and Sister Osamu Sekiguchi traveled from Japan with their two sons, ages six and eight, to be in the wagon train. Members also came from England and Austria.
The early pioneers’ determination to reach the Salt Lake Valley has inspired Church members as far away as Siberia. Church members in Krsynoyarsk, Siberia, constructed a handcart that was pulled by local members in small parades through key cities in Russia and Ukraine, including Rostov, Samara, St. Petersburg, Moscow, and Kiev, and was transported between cities by train. In each town, members wrote down their testimonies and put them in the handcart. The handcart will be flown to New York City, where it will be displayed at a museum and then will be flown to Utah, where it will join the wagon train to become part of the final few days of the trek.