Young Mormons prepare for trek with ‘faith in every footstep’

Stake Young Men’s President Doug Weaver, right, leads a group of teen square dancers at a practice pioneer reenactment Saturday night.

Maybe the pioneers, too, occasionally circled right instead of left, or forgot that a do-si-do was done without hands. Maybe, at the end of a long, long day on the trail, they forgot the steps or accidentally smashed other dancers’ toes.

And maybe they kept smiling anyway, because the fiddle playing and the partners swinging and the feet flying is pure joy.

So, the teenagers kept dancing, knowing that long days and a dusty trail and the scorching August heat of southern Wyoming are approaching. Saturday night at the LDS church on Melody Lane in Grand Junction, most of the 110 youth who will retrace part of the 1856 trek of the Martin Handcart Company learned two square dances while caller LaMar Podbevsek reminded them left from right. Like the pioneer members of that company, they will walk during the day and dance around the campfire at night.

As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, remembering the sacrifices early church pioneers made is part of their heritage, said Candice Leavitt, one of the modern trek’s leaders.

“You can teach kids lessons verbatim, or they can be taught in symbolic ways like Christ did,” explained David Larsen, who also will serve as one of the trek’s leaders. “Doing something like this symbolizes not just the LDS pioneers, but pioneers on the Oregon Trail, people who came from other countries, people who were looking for a new way of life. It brings the kids back to that.”

From Aug. 8 to 11, the youth, members of the Grand Junction LDS Stake, will walk from Martin’s Cove near Alcova, Wyo., to Rock Creek Hollow, a journey of more than 20 miles. They will pull handcarts with their belongings, food and water inside, divided into “families” of about 10 youth with “ma and pa” adult leaders.

They journey is in memory of the Martin Handcart Company, composed of early members of the LDS Church, which set out for Salt Lake City, Utah, from Iowa City, Iowa, on July 28, 1856. After crossing the North Platte River on Oct. 19, 1856, the snow came. Early LDS Church President Brigham Young sent rescuers from the Salt Lake Valley to help them, but between 135 and 150 of the company’s original 576 members died before reaching Salt Lake City.

The Martin Handcart Company is remembered for not just its hardships, but for the sacrifices the early pioneers made to escape religious persecution and find sanctuary in Utah, according to the LDS Church. A common motto is “faith in every footstep.”

In preparation for the modern trek, Leavitt said, many of the 12- to 18-year-olds have hiked together and done other exercise. The girls made calico prairie skirts and matching bonnets and the boys assembled pioneer outfits with suspenders and farmer hats. Dressing in period costume will help make the experience more vivid, Leavitt said.

As will the dancing.

Saturday night in the big church gym, the kids and their leaders tangled into confused knots and then, miraculously, untangled them.

“Join your hands and circle to the left,” Podbevsek called. “Stop where you are and give your honey a swing.”

Splashes of pink and green and red calico swirled, suspenders slipped off shoulders, and they laughed and danced, imaging the joy awaiting them at the end of a long trail.


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