Handcarts on Boulder Mountain


Friday, August 20. Voices mix and mingle with the smoke as it drifts slowly across the camp, filtering the first rays of the early morning sun. The pace is brisk in the camp as families prepare the morning meal.

An unknown musician lends a feeling of peacefulness to the camp’s early activities as he breathes inspiring hymns into a well-trained harmonica.

Knowing that we have reached and set up our permanent base camp is reason enough for rejoicing as I reflect back on the toils and exertions of the past two days of pushing and pulling handcarts a total of 20 miles over the mountains.

An excerpt from a newly discovered pioneer journal? A fictional account by someone who has never gone near a handcart?

Actually it is neither. This is from my journal, and the handcarts were very real to myself and the 64 young people who had left the comforts of civilization to come on this five-day trek over Boulder Mountain in southern Utah.

It has been over 120 years since the first hardy troop of migrating Saints made their way across the plains to the Salt Lake Valley. It took that group nearly four months to make the trip from Iowa City. Now, a five-day trip had been organized under the cooperative efforts of the Brigham Young University Special Courses and Conferences and the Department of Youth Leadership to give jet-age youth a taste of the hardships—and the joys—encountered by those early Saints.

True to Mormon tradition, our group was first organized into “families” of 15 each, complete with fathers, mothers, and children. Handmade cotton dresses replaced slacks and cool summer tops, and rugged wool pants with suspenders were donned to simulate clothing that might have been worn by the forebears we hoped to emulate during this brief but arduous experience.

Thursday morning, armed with sunbonnets, hiking boots, and cod-liver oil, we started up the mountain road, leaving civilization behind us. There was no lunch or supper that day as our long caravan of travelers made their way through the wilderness. The crossing of each stream called for rejoicing as they provided the only means of nourishment with which we could feed our tired and aching bodies. I developed sore muscles in places I never even knew I had muscles.

We pushed on, and as night came we had only the stars to light our way. Those of us who could, drew on our extra strength to help those who were weaker.

Only the sounds of shuffling feet and the creaking of wheels broke the silence of the night. But soon the weary silence was broken by happy shouts as we pulled into camp, and many of our number collapsed into lifeless bundles of slumber on the grass-covered meadow floor.

Those of us who were able to stay awake were rewarded with two sourdough biscuits and a piece of beef jerky each.

I awoke the next morning with crumbs on my chest and a half-eaten biscuit in my hand. I had fallen asleep before I could finish my meal.

Saturday was a day for feasting. We caught enough wild turkeys for every group to have at least one. It was truly a sight to behold! Turkey feathers were flying as hungry “pioneers” chased down those plump birds and caught them with their bare hands. By the time the chase was over, the participants needed first aid more than the birds.

While the wounded veterans were being bandaged, the turkeys were roasted in a rock-lined pit. The meal was a delicious change from the cornmeal mush and sourdough biscuits of the previous two days.

The day’s activities concluded with a square dance. It’s amazing how much better pioneers can sing and dance on a full stomach. I can’t say it did all that much for our tune-carrying ability, but it definitely strengthened our vocal cords!

Sunday brought a more serious and contemplative mood to the camp as meetings were held and we reflected on our experiences, Moist eyes and wet cheeks glistened in the clear mountain air as testimonies were borne in that evening’s five-hour testimony meeting. Never have I felt the Spirit of the Lord as strongly as I did then. All of us realized this was to be our last gathering, for in the morning our journey would be at an end and we would return to the 20th century.

How grateful I am for the knowledge that God lives, and for those true pioneers who gave all they had—even their lives—for the building up of the the kingdom of God! Because of this experience I now have a better understanding and deeper appreciation of their sacrifices.

[photos] Photos by Floyd Holdman