‘Cold, inspiring’ sight as wagons roll in honor of trek of 1849

"What a freezing, inspiring sight," Louis Crandall declared on this cold early spring morning, April 7, at the state fairgrounds in Salt Lake City. Before him were some 20 wagons and 23 handcarts; about 48 horses, mules and oxen; and more than 350 people, mostly Latter-day Saints, poised for "Wagons Ho!"

Soon the word was given, and the Provo Sesquicentennial Pioneer Wagon Train, with Brother Crandall as its chairman, rolled out for a three-day, 43-mile journey south. The modern-day "pioneers" endured blustery winds and rain along the way. They arrived in Provo, Utah, April 9, traveling up Freedom Boulevard to cheering crowds in re-enactment of the 1849 journey that brought the first Mormon settlers to Utah Valley.

However, 150 years ago the original 33 families sent by Brigham Young were greeted only by stillness and hard work. To honor the memories of these pioneers, each wagon in the sesquicentennial wagon train had on its side a placard bearing their names.

The wagon trek was the kick-off for activities throughout the year to commemorate the sesquicentennial of the settling of Provo. Among the activities organized by the Provo Sesquicentennial Celebration Committee was a fireside April 11 in Provo featuring President Thomas S. Monson, first counselor in the First Presidency. (Please see article on this page.)

Speaking with the Church News before the wagon train set out, Brother Crandall said preparing for the journey was hard work but well worth it. "We've been working for months on this," he added.

It was also no small feat for Brother Crandall to chair the wagon train committee. Several weeks ago, he had back surgery and the recovery has been painful. "When I told my doctor I was the chairman of the pioneer wagon trek, he said, 'Resign.' There was no hesitation.

"But I didn't want to do that. We've had so much wonderful help. Everyone has really rallied. It's a wonderful feeling to put something like this together where we can get the feel of what those sweet pioneers went through."

Also present was Brent Ashworth, co-chairman of the sesquicentennial celebration committee. (The other co-chairman was Sandy Henderson.) "This is wonderful," Brother Ashworth said. "We're thrilled with all the people, all the walkers."

He was especially pleased with participants being from not only Utah, but also from California, Colorado, Wyoming and Washington. "Some of these people do have roots in Utah County. I was really thrilled that we pinned down the names of the families who originally came."

Researching and compiling those names were Robert and Lyndia Carter, who also rode along with the wagon train with cinematographers to make a documentary of the trek. Brother Carter expressed the hope that this journey will spark an interest in LDS families — and especially the youth — in their own pioneer history. "Hopefully, this will get them into a little more research, a little more interest in their 7th-grade history class and their local history."

He said he also hopes the youth and children involved in the trek will "learn a spirit of camaraderie and cooperation."

Ten-year-old Ashley Race of the Westwood Heights 1st Ward, Kearns Utah Stake, was obviously willing to try. "I want to do what the pioneers did, how the pioneers felt when they did this," she noted. In 1997, she and her family joined the Pioneer Sesquicentennial Wagon Train in Casper, Wyo., and walked to Salt Lake City.

Tishina Chavez, 17, of Hemet, Calif., joined the Provo pioneer trek not only to learn her heritage, but also to share her heritage. Part Hispanic and part Navajo, she explained. "I want to experience my Mormon background, my pioneer background and my Indian background."

As the trek began, she walked along wrapped in a colorful blanket, her black hair brushed straight and smooth, with a feather hanging from a few strands. On the evening of April 8, she performed a hoop dance for her fellow trekkers.

Whole families or individuals joined the trek, as well as descendants of the original 33 families. Bonnie Pence of the Orem (Utah) Canyonview 1st Ward rode in one of the lead wagons in memory of her great-great-grandparents, John and Louisa Smith Park.

"This means a lot to me," she said. "I feel I'm doing something a little like they did, and it brings them close to me."