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Handcart memorial dedicated in Winter Quarters ceremony

The pioneer handcart - which became an icon symbolizing the 19th Century Latter-day Saint settlement of the West - and the pioneers who pulled it were memorialized Sept. 19 with the dedication of a new sculpture at the entrance to the Church's Mormon Trail Visitors Center at Historic Winter Quarters.

As president of the North America Central Area, Elder Hugh W. Pinnock of the Seventy dedicated the life-size bronze work that depicts a family with their handcart departing Winter Quarters for the Salt Lake Valley. Sculpted by Franz Johansen of the Provo 6th Ward, Provo Utah Edgemont Stake, the monument stands on a concrete pedestal outside the entrance doors of the visitors center, which was dedicated in April 1997 by President Gordon B. Hinckley.Among dignitaries at the dedication ceremony were Gov. E. Benjamin Nelson of Nebraska, Mayor Hal Daub of Omaha, State Sen. Dan Lynch, and presidents of the mission and stakes in Omaha and Lincoln, Neb. In addition to Elder Pinnock, Gov. Nelson and Mayor Daub addressed the congregation, as did Elder Truman F. Clawson, the director of the Mormon Trail visitors center director. Music was performed by a cantata chorale and a chorus of Primary children, both composed of local Church members.

Elder Pinnock presented a copy of Gov. E. Benjamin Nelson's family history to him and his family.

"It weighs 86 pounds!" Elder Pinnock jokingly said of the compilation, which was prepared by the skilled staff of the Church Family History Library in Salt Lake City.

"Gov. Nelson, I am sure that your progenitors are just as proud of you as you are of them," Elder Pinnock said.

"This compilation . . . means a great deal to me personally," Gov. Nelson said in response. "I know that it does to my children. And it is a great source of pride as I review it to learn how my ancestors contributed to this wonderful country, to this wonderful land of freedom and opportunity."

In remarks preceding his dedicatory prayer, Elder Pinnock declared: "The handcart pioneers were a successful group of emigrants even though tragedies occurred in some of the companies. We are aware of the tragic loss of life in the Martin and Willie handcart companies. However, there were some companies where not a single life was lost. In others, one or two died along the way."

He explained that travel by handcart was more rapid than by covered wagon. "They were not held back by the necessity of taking care of their animals. They could move as rapidly as their strength allowed."

Elder Pinnock made the following points:

  • "Let us . . . weave into our own lives the great faith that they had. I learned last year, after spending 25 days on the Mormon trail, that our members today would sacrifice every bit as much as those of 150 years ago."
  • "

TheirsT was a lifestyle that encouraged everyone to help each other. . . . That is a vital part of that in which we believe and . . . an important part of that which we do now."

  • "Part of the genius of the kingdom of God is sacrifice. It was then and is today."
  • "The principle of love . . . is our heritage and our tradition."

Gov. Nelson mentioned having taken part in last year's Pioneer Sesquicentennial observance, including the celebration in Salt Lake City when the wagon train that traversed the Mormon Trail arrived at its destination.

"I felt spiritually moved by this great movement across our country and particularly across the state of Nebraska," he said, referring to the 19th Century westward movement of the LDS pioneers, "because of the wonderful relationship that people developed, where they had to rely on one another and themselves, and understanding that together they were better, but they had to do their individual parts to make it all happen."

In brief remarks, Mayor Daub expressed appreciation for the presence of the visitors center. "It is efforts like these which enhance the Omaha community and build us a rich tradition in our own right," he said.

In a historical summary, Elder Clawson said that for about 50 years beginning in the 1840s, there were approximately 100,000 Mormon converts who left their homes and crossed oceans, plains and mountains to gather with their fellow Saints. "Within that group were the pioneer handcart people. Their story is especially touching. Most of all the converts to this new religion were poor. They had no savings or wealth and could only make the journey of thousands of miles with help from those who had gone before."

Elder Clawson explained that because of bad growing conditions and other economic problems in the West beginning in 1855, there was an even greater shortage than usual of the means to bring the new converts from Europe to Zion. "And so . . . the idea to use the much less expensive handcarts was born. These people were not frontiersmen but farmers and city folk. But when they were asked, If you want to go, would you be willing to travel in the dark, dank steerage quarters of the ships crossing the ocean, then in the most rudimentary of train travel, which will leave you over a thousand miles to be made by pushing and pulling a handcart laden with all your possessions and supplies?'Yes!' was the resounding response."

Handcart travel was confined to the years from 1856 to 1860, and about 3,000 persons made the trek in that manner, Elder Clawson reported.

Referring to the sculpture, he observed that the family is depicted almost floating in air as they begin their journey. "Can you feel their joy, their excitement and happiness as they wend their way to Zion?" he asked.

Brother Johansen, a retired art instructor at BYU, was called as a Church service missionary to create the sculpture. His other works include a bronze bust of President Brigham Young on display at the Mormon Trail Center and a bronze relief on the Joseph Smith Building on the BYU campus. (See Church News, April 25, 1998.)

As part of the dedication proceedings, scores of people present, who trace their ancestry to handcart pioneers, had pinned on their shirts and blouses a ribbon designating their heritage. They assembled for a group photograph in front of the sculpture. - R. Scott Lloyd

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