Northward ho!

Wagons are rolling again to commemorate the Mormon pioneer settlement of the West - but this time, it's western Canada, not the western United States.

A wagon train departed from near here Aug. 10, bound for Cardston, Alberta. The 735-mile, 61/2-week trek memorializes Latter-day Saints who left Utah Territory in 1887 under the leadership of Charles Ora Card, president of the Cache Valley Stake. They founded the settlement of Cardston, which became a thriving city, eventually the first outside of the United States to have an LDS temple.Max Pitcher, 69, an oil company executive until his retirement in 1993, organized the trek. A member of the Alpine (Utah) 1st Ward, he is a native of Edmonton, Alberta, and a great-grandson of Morgan Louis Hinman, who helped establish the 1887 Cardston colony under Pres. Card's leadership.

Such undertakings seem to be in Brother Pitcher's blood. In 1996, he drove his wagon with the Iowa Mormon Trails Association train that observed the sesquicentennial of the Mormon exodus from Nauvoo, Ill., and their arrival at present-day Council Bluffs, Iowa. And last year, he was one of the "all-the-wayers" who went with the Mormon Trail Sesquicentennial Wagon Train from Omaha, Neb., to Salt Lake City.

Along with 14 wagons, about 90 people departed with Brother Pitcher and his wife, Diana, from the initial encampment on Highway 91 about four miles north of Preston. They included about 30 outriders and about 20 walkers. Of the 90, about 30 will cover only portions of the trail across Idaho and Montana before the wagon train's scheduled arrival in Cardston Sept. 25, Brother Pitcher said.

About half of the participants came all the way from Omaha with last year's sesquicentennial wagon train. And like Brother Pitcher, some of them, such as "Tennessee" John Stewart, made the entire Nauvoo-Salt Lake City trek in 1996-97. He met his wife-to-be, Kimberly, on the way from Nauvoo, and their marriage in February of this year resulted from a romance that blossomed on the trail. His rooster, King Richard, and his mule, Sam, veterans of the Nauvoo-Salt Lake City journey, are with him on this trip as well.

Russ Leger, who scouted the wagon train from Nauvoo in 1996 and was one of four main trail bosses on last year's Omaha-Salt Lake City venture, is leading the Cardston wagon train. Another of the four, Bob Lowe, who led the Utah portion of the trek, is also involved in the Cardston journey.

The train was to have left from Smithfield, Utah, but a threatened horse-disease quarantine pushed the departure point across the Idaho border. The quarantine never materialized, but by then the trail was already established.

No matter, said Brother Pitcher. Preston is still in Cache Valley, and the present-day Jack Ford farm, which was the staging area for the commemorative wagon train, was passed by the 1887 colonists on their way to Canada.

"My great-grandfather, was one of those, and he left a detailed diary," Brother Pitcher noted. "Generally, the route he took is now Highway 91 and I-15. So, to avoid heavy traffic, we have to deviate and take `the road less traveled,' so to speak."

On the day of departure, that was on dirt roads through golden wheat fields and high grass, and it wound past Idaho's Winder Reservoir. In coming days they were to go by the Bear River, then through the town of Chesterfield, Idaho (an early LDS colony now being restored by Church members); through Idaho Falls; along the Snake River to Rexburg; over the Bannock Pass into Dillon, Mont.; then to Helena, Wolf Creek, Augusta and Browning; then into Canada.

"We're going to cross at a place where the pioneers crossed, which is now not an official port of entry," Brother Pitcher said. "But the customs people up there are going to open it for us. And then we'll go into Cardston."

That border crossing is where the 1887 pioneers gave three cheers for their new land, added their own rocks to a rock cairn on the border to mark the occasion, and proceeded to Lee Creek (site of present-day Cardston), arriving June 3 of that year.

Brother Pitcher said his re-enactors will average about 20 miles a day, taking 46 days to cover the distance that his ancestor traversed in 34. They will travel every day of the week except Sunday. On that day, they will either attend services at local LDS meetinghouses along the way or seek approval from local Church authorities to have their own sacrament services in camp.

"The story is told that Brigham Young told his followers they would make better time if they laid by on Sunday and observed the Sabbath than they would by traveling on Sunday," Brother Pitcher noted.

Efforts have been made to make this wagon train even more authentic than last year's, with participants in period dress, and shuttling of support vehicles to occur only about once a week.

"But we still require a lot of support vehicles," he noted, "water trucks, portable-toilet trucks, camp trucks, etc. So it won't be as authentic as we'd like but as good as we can make it."

Publicity has not been as extensive for this as for previous wagon-train treks, and local communities are not expected to plan events to welcome the wagon train as has been done in the past, Brother Pitcher said.

On the eve and morning of the departure, the scene was as much a reunion as it was a preparation for embarkment, with frequent embraces and renewals of friendships formed on the previous wagon-train journeys.

From the back of his horse, Sarge, wagon master Leger addressed the participants the morning of departure and took time to remember friends from past trail rides. They included Mark Uhlenhake, wagon master on the 1996 Nauvoo trek, who missed the recognition others received last year, and for whom he displayed a plaque to be presented later.

Russ Leger twice has ridden Sarge the length of the Nauvoo-Salt Lake City Mormon Trail, once with the wagon train and again to raise funds to pay medical costs for friend Larry "Turbo" Stewart.

Brother Stewart was baptized by Elder Hugh W. Pinnock of the Seventy the day he completed the wagon train trek from Omaha last year, having crossed Iowa from Nauvoo the year before. On Aug. 2 of last year, he was injured while loading his wagon onto a truck. He still lies in a hospital in Iowa City, Iowa. Leger, who lives near Omaha, remembered his friend by displaying a pair of spurs given to him by the people of Gerald, Texas, to be used when he is well enough to ride again.

Remembering, in fact, was the topic of Brother Pitcher's talk prepared for the Sunday night fireside at the campsite on the eve of the departure and read by Steve Sorensen, a trek participant.

In the talk, Brother Pitcher wrote: "Remembering is a quality of Deity. We are asked to remember many things. Remember the day you were taken out of Egypt,' He asked the Israelites.Remember Me in your covenants,' He says in sacrament prayers. The trek from Nauvoo to Winter Quarters in 1996, and last year's trek from Omaha to the Great Basin was about remembering. And this trek from here in Cache Valley to Canada is about remembering. I asked my children what the difference is between sympathy and empathy. They replied empathy is the greater emotion, because it implies that you've been there,' that you'vedone that.' So, in that sense, empathy is remembering emotionally. And after this trek, we'll have empathy for these pioneers."

The progress of the Cardston wagon train can be followed on the Internet via the website: It provides frequent updates and excerpts from participants' journal entries.

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