KIMBERLY — Hundreds of teenagers will push and pull handcarts this week as they walk in the footsteps of pioneers.

It will be a “handcart trek” accompanied by fun and laughter, but with a sober tone as they remember the sacrifices of pioneers more than 160 years before.

“Tears flow quite liberally in some places,” church leader James Coombs said, “and not just because of the Wyoming wind.”

Early Tuesday morning, the youth boarded buses and headed for Martin’s Cove in Wyoming, 500 miles away. In 1856, two companies of pioneers with badly built handcarts bogged down in the snow near the cove after getting a late start on the journey to Salt Lake Valley. About 200 people died.

After being delayed a year by the pandemic, the Kimberly Stake of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will continue its tradition of about every four years making the journey with its young men and young women 14 to 18 years old, along with plenty of adults who will help supervise.

“This is a hands-on reenactment of some of the early pioneer Saints’ experiences as they traveled to the Salt Lake Valley,” spokesman Virgil Johnson said.

Coombs said the trip, to be made by 265 teenagers and 70 adults, requires a lot of advanced planning.

Participants need to gather period clothing, and transportation and meals must be arranged. A medical team needs to be there in case of emergencies.

The work is worth it.

“It’s a very special tradition for our stake,” Coombs said. This will be the fourth handcart trek he’s participated in.

Handcart Trek

Youth from the Kimberly Stake gather during a 2017 handcart trek near Martin's Cove, Wyoming.

Members of the church consider Martin’s Cove to be hallowed ground. It is uncertain how many of the pioneers died in the cove, but according to the Wyoming Historical Society, there were 67 deaths in the Willie Co., a rate of about 14%, and 135 to 150 deaths in the Martin Co., a rate of about 25%. Church officials in Salt Lake Valley heard of the desperate state of the group and sent parties to rescue surviving members, who were weak and had very little food.

“Tongue nor pen can never tell the sorrow and the suffering,” wrote Heber McBride, a member of the Martin Co., of the experience.

Kimberly Stake members will visit several significant sites of the church in addition to the cove, where pioneers hunkered down to escape harsh October and November weather. Rocky Ridge, a very steep, rocky place of the Mormon Trail that proved difficult for the emigrants, and the Sweetwater River, over which rescuers carried weak members of the handcart companies.

Handcart Trek

Youth from the Kimberly Stake make a river crossing during a 2017 handcart trek.

Youth will walk and push/pull handcarts over about 25 miles of the Mormon Trail, Coombs said, and leave Martin’s Cove on Friday afternoon.

Church public affairs representative Ray Parrish said it’s common for some of the youth to complain during the first day of trip about not having access to video games or cell phones. Soon after, however, their attitudes change.

“The trips seem to have a lasting impact on the youth and adults who participate,” Coombs said. “Sometimes the veil is thin and you feel closer to those who have gone before and better appreciate the blessings you have.”

Many stakes in Magic Valley hold their handcart treks in the South Hills or near Alturas Lake, Parrish said. The emphasis on treks started about 15 to 20 years ago.

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