On The Trail of History

Donned in a combination of pioneer and contemporary clothing and pushing 19th Century-era hand carts, more than 100 teenagers from the O’Fallon, Ill., stake of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS) spent four days in Mills County last week walking a portion of the route of the historic Mormon Trail.

“We wanted to come here because of the history,” trek director Cort Hacker said. “It’s an opportunity for us to experience what it was like for the pioneer families traveling during the migration west.”

The Mormon migration across the the Great Plains began in 1846 after followers of Brigham Young and the LDS Church were forced to abandon their settlement in Nauvoo, Ill. The trek to the Great Salt Lake Valley in Utah brought many of the emigrants to southwest Iowa in the summer and fall of 1846. Many of the Mormons making the journey spent the winter of 1846-47 in western Iowa or across the Missouri River at the Winter Quarters in the Nebraska territory, which later became the town of Florence and eventually annexed by the city of Omaha.

Following the path of the Wabash Trace Nature Trail, the Illinois teens and their adult chaperones began their trek in Malvern on Tuesday, June 20, with overnight stops in Silver City and Mineola.

They intended to conclude their journey in Council Bluffs, but a storm Thursday night in Mineola set them back and forced the route to be altered and shortened on Friday.

In Silver City, township trustee Betty Millard shared some local history with the teens and talked about the important role the Mormon migration played in the city’s history.

“There’s so much Mormon history here,” Millard said. “The trail came right through here in 1846.”

Millard noted that Mormons were among the first settlers in the Ingraham Township area of Mills County, including the family of Israel Huffaker, a Mormon bishop and apostle who broke away from the migration in opposition to Young and some of his beliefs.

During their encampment last Wednesday evening in Silver City, the teens were given a historical tour of the cemetery from Millard, including the history of nine burial sites.

“The children were so polite. Very gracious and kind,” Millard said. “They asked a lot of questions about the local history of this area and seemed genuinely interested.”

Thursday night, the group planned on spending the night camping outside St. John Lutheran Church in Mineola. However, because of heavy rain and threat of severe weather, they were invited to spend the night inside the church.

“We’re very appreciative of the congregation at St. John Lutheran Church in Mineola,” Hacker said. “They went out of their way to make accommodations for us.”

On Friday, the teens walked about half way to Council Bluffs before returning to the Mineola church for the final night of their experience.

“It’s been a great experience,” Elise Hotchkiss, a member of the stake’s youth committee said.

“Doing this really makes you appreciate what the pioneers went through.

“It meant so much to them - they were willing to die for it.”

For Hotchkiss and the other girls on the trek, the most difficult day came Thursday when they took part in a reenactment of a “women’s pull.” The men stayed on the shaded Wabash Trace Trail while the women were required to push all the pull carts along a separate route in 90-degree temperatures, symbolic of times on the Mormon Trail when men would leave their families to fight in the Mexican-American War or attend to other matters.

“It was our biggest challenge,” Hotchkiss said.

Sam Bledsoe, also a member of the youth committee, said the heat and rain last week created some challenging conditions for the boys in the group as well.

“It’s been tough, but it’s certainly a glimpse of what the pioneers went through,” he said.

Jaymeson Stroud, who provides leadership to a congregation of  nearly 2,000 as president of the O’Fallon stake, said both the teens and adults taking part in last week’s journey  are grateful for their unique  opportunity.

“We’ve all been moved by this experience,” Stroud said.

Prior to starting their journey in Mills County, the participants in last week’s trek spent a day in Omaha’s Florence neighborhood, visiting the Mormon Trail Center at Historic Winter Quarters, the Mormon Pioneer Cemetery, Mormon Temple and the Kanesville Tabernacle in Council Bluffs.

The Opinion-Tribune

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