I had a very humbling experience a few days ago. I joined my wife, Shondell and our oldest son, Christian, on a reenactment of The Mormon Trek. It was a 1300 mile journey that took place in the mid 1800’s. Although generally referred to as The Mormon Trek, many others who were not Mormon made this treacherous trip. They were searching for freedom and a new start.
This journey, originally thought to take 4-6 weeks, actually took 16 weeks. These pioneers experienced many unforeseen hardships, including bitter cold and hunger. Many of the cattle and oxen died and the traveling power fell so short that it was deemed advisable to leave half the wagons behind. They had to leave their keepsakes and valuables along the trail. All they could take was food and clothing.
At one point, some were seeking shelter in a ravine, but had to cross the North Platte River to get to it. One young woman carried 16 people across the river on her back. Some men actually went through the river 75 times. The water was waist deep, running very swiftly, taking even the strong ones off their feet. These heroes already weakened from pulling and pushing wagons and carts, would carry many others through the icy water. It was written their clothing was like icicles.
There was such a shortage of food that it had to be rationed. The men were given only 8 ounces a day. At one point, they were so weak; they could no longer push, pull or carry. Many men gave their rations to their wives and children.
My sister-in-law, Alisa, had the opportunity to experience this adventure as well. She related this story:
We were stopped by our captain and he announced that they needed the men to go fight in the Mormon Battalion. The men then went up the hill, had a fireside and changed into white long sleeve shirts. The women were at the bottom of the hill having a fireside of our own sharing stories about the hardships and how the women pressed on. Then we looked up and the men were lining the sides of the road in their white shirts. We were then told by the leaders that the women were going to push and pull the handcarts up the hill without the men’s help. This hill was very steep. We were all scared and nervous about this. The men were representing all those who were called to the Mormon Battalion and therefore leaving their wives to cross the plains without them. We struggled up that hill along with every other cart. The handcart in front of us had several instances where they kept going backwards. We pushed with all of our might. To think that the women did this for thousands of miles is life changing and so humbling. I was so glad to be a part of this for but just a small moment. The appreciation I gained of what these women and men went through is so amazing. The men all commented on how hard it was to watch all of us women struggle so hard to make it up that hill. They all wanted to so badly to help us push our handcarts up. Even the youth were chocked up!
Shondell told me that when our son Christian had to stand by and watch his mom push, it was one of the hardest things he has ever had to do. During this reenactment, Shondell actually pushed me in a handcart. It was very difficult for me, as a man, to have her do this.
There is a story documented by Jens and Elsa Nelson, where he refused to get in a cart and allow his wife to push him. He was extremely prideful. Fortunately, they survived, had children and have been able to tell and retell their experiences.
I relate how Jens Nelson felt. These last ten years, one of the hardest things for me has been to have Shondell take care of me. She often reminds me if the situation were reversed, how would I be? (That is usually all she has to say).
There are so many valuable lessons to be learned from our experience. It is humbling to know the freedoms and comforts we enjoy because of the sacrifices our forefathers endured. Their stories bear retelling.