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25 years ago: A look back at the sesquicentennial pioneer trek reenactment


On July 22, 1997, the Latter-day Saint pioneer trek reenactment reached its culmination at This Is the Place State Park near the mouth of Emigration Canyon in Salt Lake City. The reenactment was one of several events honoring the 150th anniversary of the pioneers arriving in the Salt Lake Valley.

An estimated 50,000 people greeted the 61 wagons, nine handcarts, 45 horseback riders and 380 walkers, according to a 1997 Ensign article. The sesquicentennial wagon train traveled from the Mormon Pioneer Cemetery at Winter Quarters near Omaha, Nebraska, to Salt Lake City over a three-month period, tracing the pioneer trail.

“You have done something really extraordinary,” Church President Gordon B. Hinckley told the trekkers. “You have caught the imagination of all of us. … You have brought to the attention of millions upon millions of people across the world the story of the unparalleled migration of our people from Nauvoo, and from Liverpool and beyond, to this valley in the mountains.”

Nearly 10,000 people participated — some for only a few hours, days or weeks, and others for the entire 93-day journey of more than 1,000 miles.

President M. Russell Ballard will never forget sitting beside President Hinckley and other members of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles at the This Is The Place Monument, watching as handcarts and wagons entered the valley that July day.

President Gordon B. Hinckley, President Thomas S. Monson, President James E. Faust and President M. Russell Ballard sing with participants at This Is the Place Heritage Park during the Latter-day Saint pioneer trek reenactment in Salt Lake City in July 1997. The group traveled from Winter Quarters to Salt Lake City over a three-month period, tracing the pioneer trail.

President Gordon B. Hinckley, President Thomas S. Monson, President James E. Faust and President M. Russell Ballard sing with participants at This Is the Place Heritage Park during the Latter-day Saint pioneer trek reenactment in Salt Lake City in July 1997. The group traveled from Winter Quarters to Salt Lake City over a three-month period, tracing the pioneer trail.

Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

“Tears were streaming down President Hinckley’s face, down all of our faces really,” recalled President Ballard, Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, in a recent Church News interview

At the time, President Ballard was serving as chairman of the sesquicentennial committee. He emphasized that the sesquicentennial was more than a wagon train — it was an opportunity to tell the world the story of the Restoration.

Read more: Pioneer Day is more than handcarts — it’s about the story of the Restoration, President Ballard says

Speaking to media during a press conference at the culmination of the trek reenactment, he said: “It is possible that you could be out on the trail and all caught up in the excitement of this 150th year and the celebration of the pioneers coming into the Salt Lake Valley and not fully comprehend what this is really about. Our message is a message of the Restoration of the fullness of the everlasting gospel of Jesus Christ.”

Elder Ballard added that the message of the Church is moving across the entire world — through missionary efforts and through increased interest in the Church — as evident by the media coverage of the pioneer trek reenactment.

National and international coverage of the trek reenactment included spots on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” NBC’s “Today,” CBS’s “This Morning” and Fox National News; and feature articles in Newsweek, Time, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times and USA Today, according to the Ensign. International newspaper coverage included BBC World Service, which serves nearly 140 countries; and Asahi Shimbun (Evening News), the largest newspaper in Japan. Television crews from Britain, Germany, Russia, Romania, Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary and Belgium also followed the trek.

Elder M. Russell Ballard and Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints wave to participants at This Is the Place Heritage Park during the Latter-day Saint pioneer trek reenactment in Salt Lake City in 1997. The group traveled from Winter Quarters to Salt Lake City over a three-month period, tracing the pioneer trail.

Elder M. Russell Ballard and Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints wave to participants at This Is the Place Heritage Park during the Latter-day Saint pioneer trek reenactment in Salt Lake City in 1997. The group traveled from Winter Quarters to Salt Lake City over a three-month period, tracing the pioneer trail.

Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, co-chair of the sesquicentennial committee, said at the press conference: “We didn’t set out to do it as a publicity matter, we set out to do it to pay tribute. We wanted to salute the faithful, devoted pioneers of 150 years ago. But it has been an attractive story — we think an inspiring story — and we are delighted for that.”

In honor of the 175th anniversary of the first company of pioneers entering the Salt Lake Valley, here is a look back at photos from the sesquicentennial pioneer trek reenactment 25 years ago.

Photo gallery

Handcart participants make their way through the original ruts of the Sand Hills of Nebraska during the Latter-day Saint pioneer trek reenactment in 1997. The group traveled from Winter Quarters to Salt Lake City over a three-month period, tracing the pioneer trail.

Handcart participants make their way through the original ruts of the Sand Hills of Nebraska during the Latter-day Saint pioneer trek reenactment in 1997. The group traveled from Winter Quarters to Salt Lake City over a three-month period, tracing the pioneer trail.

Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Ethan Lowe, 2, Spanish Fork, looks out of his tent in Florence, Neb., during the Latter-day Saint pioneer trek reenactment in 1997. The group traveled from Winter Quarters to Salt Lake City over a three-month period, tracing the pioneer trail.

Ethan Lowe, 2, Spanish Fork, looks out of his tent in Florence, Neb., during the Latter-day Saint pioneer trek reenactment in 1997. The group traveled from Winter Quarters to Salt Lake City over a three-month period, tracing the pioneer trail.

Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Sarah Robinson, former missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Omaha area, participates in the pioneer trek by walking home to Salt Lake City after her mission during the Latter-day Saint pioneer trek reenactment in Nebraska in 1997. The group traveled from Winter Quarters to Salt Lake City over a three-month period, tracing the pioneer trail.

Sarah Robinson, former missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Omaha area, participates in the pioneer trek by walking home to Salt Lake City after her mission during the Latter-day Saint pioneer trek reenactment in Nebraska in 1997. The group traveled from Winter Quarters to Salt Lake City over a three-month period, tracing the pioneer trail.

Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

The wagon train makes its way through the fog on the first week of the trek during the Latter-day Saint pioneer trek reenactment in Nebraska in 1997. The group traveled from Winter Quarters to Salt Lake City over a three-month period, tracing the pioneer trail.

The wagon train makes its way through the fog on the first week of the trek during the Latter-day Saint pioneer trek reenactment in Nebraska in 1997. The group traveled from Winter Quarters to Salt Lake City over a three-month period, tracing the pioneer trail.

Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Elder M. Russell Ballard of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints places a Book of Mormon into the pocket of the wagon master Joe Vogel at the beginning of the Latter-day Saint pioneer trek reenactment in Omaha, Neb., in 1997. The group traveled from Winter Quarters to Salt Lake City over a three-month period, tracing the pioneer trail.

Elder M. Russell Ballard of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints places a Book of Mormon into the pocket of the wagon master Joe Vogel at the beginning of the Latter-day Saint pioneer trek reenactment in Omaha, Neb., in 1997. The group traveled from Winter Quarters to Salt Lake City over a three-month period, tracing the pioneer trail.

Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

A message is inscribed on a handcart during the Latter-day Saint pioneer trek reenactment in Nebraska in 1997. The group traveled from Winter Quarters to Salt Lake City over a three-month period, tracing the pioneer trail.

A message is inscribed on a handcart during the Latter-day Saint pioneer trek reenactment in Nebraska in 1997. The group traveled from Winter Quarters to Salt Lake City over a three-month period, tracing the pioneer trail.

Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Actor James Arrington shakes hands with a participant during the Latter-day Saint pioneer trek reenactment in Florence, Neb., in 1997. The group traveled from Winter Quarters to Salt Lake City over a three-month period, tracing the pioneer trail.

Actor James Arrington shakes hands with a participant during the Latter-day Saint pioneer trek reenactment in Florence, Neb., in 1997. The group traveled from Winter Quarters to Salt Lake City over a three-month period, tracing the pioneer trail.

Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

President Gordon B. Hinckley of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints addresses participants at Simpson’s Hollow during the Latter-day Saint pioneer trek reenactment in Utah in 1997. The group traveled from Winter Quarters to Salt Lake City over a three-month period, tracing the pioneer trail.

President Gordon B. Hinckley of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints addresses participants at Simpson’s Hollow during the Latter-day Saint pioneer trek reenactment in Utah in 1997. The group traveled from Winter Quarters to Salt Lake City over a three-month period, tracing the pioneer trail.

Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

The Wyoming State wagon crosses the Green River near Green River, Wyo., during the Latter-day Saint pioneer trek reenactment in 1997. The group traveled from Winter Quarters to Salt Lake City over a three-month period, tracing the pioneer trail.

The Wyoming State wagon crosses the Green River near Green River, Wyo., during the Latter-day Saint pioneer trek reenactment in 1997. The group traveled from Winter Quarters to Salt Lake City over a three-month period, tracing the pioneer trail.

Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

John Stewart, Knoxville, Tenn., waves to the onlookers at Independence Rock, Wyo., during the Latter-day Saint pioneer trek reenactment in 1997. The group traveled from Winter Quarters to Salt Lake City over a three-month period, tracing the pioneer trail.

John Stewart, Knoxville, Tenn., waves to the onlookers at Independence Rock, Wyo., during the Latter-day Saint pioneer trek reenactment in 1997. The group traveled from Winter Quarters to Salt Lake City over a three-month period, tracing the pioneer trail.

Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Amy Freestone, Orem, Utah, and B.C. Moore, Scottsdale, Ariz., make their way along the trail during the Latter-day Saint pioneer trek reenactment in Salt Lake City in 1997. The group traveled from Winter Quarters to Salt Lake City over a three-month period, tracing the pioneer trail.

Amy Freestone, Orem, Utah, and B.C. Moore, Scottsdale, Ariz., make their way along the trail during the Latter-day Saint pioneer trek reenactment in Salt Lake City in 1997. The group traveled from Winter Quarters to Salt Lake City over a three-month period, tracing the pioneer trail.

Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Amee Olsen, Darla Jones, Angelene Israelsen, Angie Olsen and Devarie Jones wade in the Groshen Creek during the Latter-day Saint pioneer trek reenactment in Fort Bridger, Wyo., in 1997. The group traveled from Winter Quarters to Salt Lake City over a three-month period, tracing the pioneer trail.

Amee Olsen, Darla Jones, Angelene Israelsen, Angie Olsen and Devarie Jones wade in the Groshen Creek during the Latter-day Saint pioneer trek reenactment in Fort Bridger, Wyo., in 1997. The group traveled from Winter Quarters to Salt Lake City over a three-month period, tracing the pioneer trail.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Participants dance during the Latter-day Saint pioneer trek reenactment in Fort Bridger, Wyo., in 1997. The group traveled from Winter Quarters to Salt Lake City over a three-month period, tracing the pioneer trail.

Participants dance during the Latter-day Saint pioneer trek reenactment in Fort Bridger, Wyo., in 1997. The group traveled from Winter Quarters to Salt Lake City over a three-month period, tracing the pioneer trail.

Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

A wagon from Burley, Idaho, loses control and breaks apart coming down a steep hill at East Canyon during the Latter-day Saint pioneer trek reenactment in Utah in 1997. The group traveled from Winter Quarters to Salt Lake City over a three-month period, tracing the pioneer trail.

A wagon from Burley, Idaho, loses control and breaks apart coming down a steep hill at East Canyon during the Latter-day Saint pioneer trek reenactment in Utah in 1997. The group traveled from Winter Quarters to Salt Lake City over a three-month period, tracing the pioneer trail.

Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Wagons move through East Canyon during the Latter-day Saint pioneer trek reenactment in Utah in 1997. The group traveled from Winter Quarters to Salt Lake City over a three-month period, tracing the pioneer trail.

Wagons move through East Canyon during the Latter-day Saint pioneer trek reenactment in Utah in 1997. The group traveled from Winter Quarters to Salt Lake City over a three-month period, tracing the pioneer trail.

Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Paticipants enter This Is the Place Heritage Park during the Latter-day Saint pioneer trek reenactment in Salt Lake City in 1997. The group traveled from Winter Quarters to Salt Lake City over a three-month period, tracing the pioneer trail.

Paticipants enter This Is the Place Heritage Park during the Latter-day Saint pioneer trek reenactment in Salt Lake City in 1997. The group traveled from Winter Quarters to Salt Lake City over a three-month period, tracing the pioneer trail.

Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Children run through This Is the Place Heritage Park as the wagon train enters the valley during the Latter-day Saint pioneer trek reenactment in Salt Lake City in 1997. The group traveled from Winter Quarters to Salt Lake City over a three-month period, tracing the pioneer trail.

Children run through This Is the Place Heritage Park as the wagon train enters the valley during the Latter-day Saint pioneer trek reenactment in Salt Lake City in 1997. The group traveled from Winter Quarters to Salt Lake City over a three-month period, tracing the pioneer trail.

Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Paticipants dressed in white represent pioneers that died along the trail during the Latter-day Saint pioneer trek reenactment in Salt Lake City in 1997. The group traveled from Winter Quarters to Salt Lake City over a three-month period, tracing the pioneer trail.

Paticipants dressed in white represent pioneers that died along the trail during the Latter-day Saint pioneer trek reenactment in Salt Lake City in 1997. The group traveled from Winter Quarters to Salt Lake City over a three-month period, tracing the pioneer trail.

Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Participants celebrate completing the journey at This Is the Place Heritage Park during the Latter-day Saint pioneer trek reenactment in Salt Lake City in 1997. The group traveled from Winter Quarters to Salt Lake City over a three-month period, tracing the pioneer trail.

Participants celebrate completing the journey at This Is the Place Heritage Park during the Latter-day Saint pioneer trek reenactment in Salt Lake City in 1997. The group traveled from Winter Quarters to Salt Lake City over a three-month period, tracing the pioneer trail.

Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

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