Wagon train crosses into Wyoming

The modern-day wagon train re-creating the 1847 journey of the Mormon pioneers is past the half-way mark from Winter Quarters to the Salt Lake Valley. On June 4, the train crossed the state line from Nebraska into Wyoming, where rolling hills soon give way to the challenge of higher mountain passes.

Now, the 500 miles across Nebraska lie behind the approximately 150 die-hard modern pioneers determined to make the entire journey. The 400 miles in Wyoming stretch ahead. The wagon train is continually joined by others - people anxious for a taste of the epic 19th Century trek - who sign on for short stays.As the wagon train prepared to leave Nebraska, a program was held the evening of June 3 in the small town of Henry, located a little more than a mile from the Nebraska-Wyoming state line. The governors of both states, E. Benjamin Nelson of Nebraska and Jim Geringer of Wyoming, participated in the program.

During the program, Elder Hugh W. Pinnock of the Seventy and president of the North America Central Area, presented the book The Mission to David Miller, director of the Nebraska division of tourism, and to Gene Bryan, Wyoming tourism director.

The next night, on June 4, a program was held in Torrington, on the Wyoming side of the state line.

Through Nebraska, the Nebraska wagon was the lead wagon, but after the train crossed the state line, the Wyoming wagon became the lead wagon, and Nebraska wagonmaster Joe Vogel "passed the reins" to Wyoming wagonmaster Ben Kern.

The historic re-enactment has provided an opportunity for unique Church service for some. Jerry and Jan Pierce of Taylorsville, Utah, for instance, have been given the job of keeping the trek roster in order. Their short-term service involves sorting through many requests for participation and correlating them to keep numbers within agreed limits. No more than 400 trekkers are to be on the trail at any given time.

Brother Pierce said that he anticipates more stress as the wagon train nears Salt Lake City, when requests are expected to far outstrip the capacity that has been set. Reservations for the final weeks already are full, he said.

Richard and Lorraine Jenkins of Fruitland, Idaho, returned to Nebraska for a new kind of mission after being released from full-time service in mid-March this year. They were called to serve as camp jacks - part of the crew that keeps the camp moving smoothly each day and then cleaning up so the site is as clean as when it was found. Most of the campsites are on private property and the goal is to move on without leaving traces of temporary occupation by several hundred trekkers and their animals. Local Church members also are called on for help in this effort. Brother Jenkins has another assignment as well - walking through the camp in the early morning clanging a metal triangle to get wagon train participants up for the day. That means he gets up at 4 a.m. daily to prepare for the 4:30 wake-up call.

"This is service of a new kind," said Sister Jenkins.

The camp veterinarian, Dr. J.H. Bell, who has a practice for horses in Farmington, Utah, also followed full-time missionary service with short-term service for the 1997 event. He was serving in the Omaha mission last year when the Iowa segment of the pioneer exodus was re-enacted. Brother Bell was recruited to be the trek veterinarian.

His services were needed almost immediately as a pneumonia epidemic hit the horses. So far, he has treated the pneumonia outbreak, stitched cuts, examined animals after falls and delivered five Schipperkee puppies whose mother accompanied a Houston, Texas, family.

His expertise is a bonus that relieves much of the anxiety the original pioneers suffered as they tried to keep animals healthy, often under adverse conditions.

Many of the sesquicentennial participants are themselves pioneers in their families.

"I know something of the emotions those early pioneers must have felt as they left their families to accept the gospel," said Kathy Crawford of Broken Bow, Neb. Her own family initially refused to accept her new religion when she was baptized five years ago, but over time, they have softened their attitudes, she said.

The Crawfords have contributed to the growth of a small Nebraska branch. Five years ago, fewer than two dozen members participated. Two weeks ago, a much larger group began meetings in a new Church building. The sesquicentennial has meaning for many such Church members who can't trace their lineage back to the original pioneers, she said.

Floyd Sherman was baptized in 1981 and his wife, Dawn, in 1976, but they wanted to take part in the wagon train as representatives of the Colesville Branch, which was the first branch in the Church. They are members of the present Greene Branch of the Owego New York Stake, which is near the historic location of Colesville.

The Shermans celebrated their 40th anniversary on the trail recently and a grandson, Kevin, turned 9 on June 4. The family members joined the train at Grand Island, Neb., and will stay with it until Torrington, Wyo.

Donna Robertson of the small community of Ammon, near Idaho Falls, Idaho, on the other hand, represents those who see the trek as a way to bond more meaningfully with ancestors who were part of the original trek.

"The spirit just goes there (on the trail.) You feel like you're treading with your ancestors," she said, recalling a family history that goes back to six brothers from Scotland who sacrificed in their day to become part of the Church.

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