Church Members Find Different Ways to Honor Pioneer Heritage
Contributed By Sarah Harris, Church News staff writer
“Grief is grief, heartache is heartache, trials are trials, and disappointment is disappointment, and the way [the pioneers] dealt with them helps me in my life to deal with those same kinds of things.” —Julie Thompson, Daughters of Utah Pioneers
Church members have found unique ways to remember their own pioneer ancestors as Utah celebrated 170 years in July since the first Mormon pioneers arrived in the Salt Lake Valley.
John Elggren, national president of the Sons of Utah Pioneers organization, said one thing he has done to honor the pioneers is travel to Church history sites, specifically looking for places he has read about as he studies his ancestors’ stories.
“It’s fascinating to visit those sites,” Elggren said. “You get a different feeling about what you read in their histories by knowing the places that they actually lived.”
Elggren said he also continues to research information about his ancestors and honors them by making sure their temple work is done.
Ellen Jeppson, second vice president of the Daughters of Utah Pioneers, said she honors her pioneer ancestors by collecting and treasuring items that may have belonged to them, such as a treadle sewing machine, a cedar chest, a thimble, and her great-grandmother’s wedding dress.
She also likes to remember her great-great-great-grandmother Ellen Taylor Holroyd Argyle, who loved peaches and kept several peach trees at her home. Jeppson said Argyle once had to defend her peaches against two Native American women who attempted to steal them.
“She was truly courageous, and I have always planted peach trees at my houses, partly to remember her and partly because I love peaches too,” Jeppson said.
Learning from history
Maren Cline said her experience as this year’s Days of ’47 queen has given her many opportunities to talk about her pioneer ancestors and the principles she has learned from those histories.
She said in the same way Church members can look for principles in the scriptures to apply to their lives, they can adapt principles from the stories of the Mormon pioneers into their lives.
“I think that is a way of honoring—just by following their example,” Cline said. “As we talk about what they went through and that they were able to have faith through those hard times, of course we can have faith through the times that we are having now.”
Cline said keeping a personal journal is also a good way to honor the pioneers’ example of record keeping.
“The reason why we understand and we know of those who’ve gone before and those who are our ancestors is because they kept records,” Cline said. “So we can honor them by keeping records of our own.”
Coming closer through reenactment
Many Church members, especially youth, have honored the Mormon pioneers by reenacting their journey on handcart treks. In the last three years, more than 57,000 individuals have participated in 432 treks at Martin’s Cove and Sixth Crossing alone, according to President Lonny Pace of the Wyoming Mormon Trail Mission.
Cline, who participated in a youth trek at Martin’s Cove, said it was an amazing experience for her to journey through the area some of her pioneer ancestors traveled through with the Edward Martin company in 1856.
“Really being able to understand what they went through is hard, but that trek gives us a little glimpse, and that just expands our appreciation and gratitude for them,” Cline said.
A worldwide learning experience
Church members internationally have also commemorated the Mormon pioneer experience with handcart treks in places such as Argentina, Australia, Mongolia, Samoa, Siberia, and Taiwan.
These pioneer treks aim to “help youth learn from the experiences of the handcart pioneers” by providing opportunities for them to strengthen their testimonies, build unity, do family history, learn and appreciate Church history, feel gratitude for the pioneers’ sacrifices and heritage, appreciate blessings more fully, seek and find guidance to overcome challenges, focus on serving and rescuing others, and learn core gospel principles, according to a guidelines booklet for leaders of these reenactments.
“Treks that focus on gospel principles that the pioneers exemplified will have lasting impressions on the youth,” the booklet reads.
Cheryl Searle, first vice president of the Daughters of Utah Pioneers, said she thinks the best way Church members today can honor the pioneers is by talking about them.
“I just think by talking about them and learning about them, learning about their trials, … it helps us overcome our fears and helps us build our faith and our testimonies,” Searle said.
She said it has also been rewarding to pass on her knowledge about her pioneer ancestors to her posterity by coming up with different ways to help her children and grandchildren remember them. She once made books for the children containing information and pictures of their pioneer ancestors.
“I think they were all surprised to see how many ancestors they had and the different things that they went through,” Searle said.
Julie Thompson, a member of the Daughters of Utah Pioneers Lesson Committee, said it is a thrill to her to be able to research and write about her pioneer ancestors because it allows her to build her faith by immersing herself in the stories and history of the pioneers.
“I find that their experiences are applicable to experiences that I’m having—certainly not on the scale that they experienced them, but grief is grief, heartache is heartache, trials are trials, and disappointment is disappointment, and the way they dealt with them helps me in my life to deal with those same kinds of things,” Thompson said.
She thinks the best thing pioneer descendants can do to honor their ancestors is “stay true to the faith that they sacrificed so much for and then, secondly, to live a life of integrity and service to others.”
“We truly are keepers of the past,” Thompson wrote in a talk she gave at a recent international Daughters of Utah Pioneers seminar. “We keep a treasured legacy in our hearts and uphold the pioneering tradition by leading honorable lives.”
Julie Thompson, left, a member of the Daughters of Utah Pioneers organization, pulls a handcart with her family on a ward handcart trek at Martin’s Cove. Photo courtesy of Julie Thompson.
Julie Thompson plays a jaw harp while participating in a handcart trek with her ward at Martin’s Cove. Photo courtesy of Julie Thompson.
Maren Cline, second from right, said she talks about her pioneer ancestors often as a member of the Days of ’47 royalty, as well as some of the principles she has learned from their stories. Photo by Charles Uibel, Really Photography.