“We are all bound together—19th- and 20th-century pioneers and more—in our great journey to follow the Lord Jesus Christ and to allow His atoning sacrifice to work its miracle in our lives.” —Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, “You Have Nothing to Fear from the Journey,” Ensign, May 1997, 61.
How long did it take for pioneers to pull a handcart across 1,300 miles of plains, rivers, ravines, and mountain passes to finally arrive in the Salt Lake Valley? Well, it took an average of about 11 weeks; that’s nearly three months of cross-country walking. Over a span of 23 years, at least 70,000 Saints traveled the Mormon Trail to Utah. Of those Saints, about 3,000 came by handcart.
Handcarts were made of wood, with wheels as far apart as regular wagon wheels. They were usually pulled by at least two people. Since they had to pull their supplies, adults were allowed only 17 pounds of baggage each; children were allowed 10 pounds. Some of the larger handcarts could be loaded down by as much as 400 to 500 pounds of food, bedding, clothing, pots, and pans. About one ox-drawn wagon for every 20 handcarts went along with the handcart companies to carry additional supplies.
Between 1856 and 1860 there were 10 handcart companies. Eight of these companies made the journey to Utah with little trouble, often traveling faster than wagon trains. Two of the most well-known groups, the Willie and Martin companies, became stranded in early snowstorms. The suffering of these two companies was severe, and of the 1,076 pioneers in these companies who left Iowa City in July 1856, at least 212 died along the trail.
When Brigham Young learned about the two stranded handcart companies, he stood at the podium in general conference and made an impassioned plea for horses, mules, wagons, and men to bring the stranded Saints to Zion. What started with 16 eventually grew to 200 wagons. The rescuers left Salt Lake on October 7 and reached the Willie Company on October 21 and the Martin Company on October 28. The Saints in these two companies had suffered agony, deprivation, and death. Nearly all the survivors were starving and suffering from the extreme cold. The rescued Saints of the Willie Company finally arrived in the Salt Lake Valley on November 9, and those of the Martin Company on November 30.
Progressing in Mongolia
In March of last year, B. Bilgee, 18, and M. Oderdene, 17, from the Mörön Branch, Mongolia Ulaanbaatar Mission, became the first young women in northern Mongolia to receive their Young Womanhood Recognition. Both girls started Personal Progress two years earlier, when it was first introduced in their country.
Bilgee fulfilled some of her requirements by tutoring children at the local school, planning a Halloween party for the branch with activities for both adults and children, and studying culinary arts. Oderdene’s projects included working as a branch missionary, studying first aid at the local Red Cross and then teaching the skills to her fellow young women, and helping branch members prepare for the bitter Mongolian winter by chopping wood and preparing food storage.
Furthering their bright examples, Bilgee and Oderdene are now Young Women teachers, helping the 20 other young women in the branch complete their Personal Progress requirements.
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