An address by LDS Church President Gordon B. Hinckley will cap a three-day event that begins today in Iowa City, Iowa, commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Mormon handcart pioneers' inaugural journeys from Iowa to Salt Lake City in 1856.
President Hinckley's speech will be broadcast Sunday at 6 p.m. MDT via the LDS Church satellite system, BYU Television and KBYU-TV. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is co-sponsoring the three-day commemoration at the University of Iowa.
Events will include a symposium today focused on the handcart pioneers, a pioneer festival and handcart re-enactment, a presentation by a descendant of the Willie Handcart Company captain and an interfaith devotional.
Several celebrations, cultural presentations, scholarly programs and handcart re-enactments have already taken place to recognize the handcart pioneers, who were primarily British converts who pulled two-wheeled handcarts more than 1,000 miles from Iowa to the Salt Lake Valley. The most noted of the handcart pioneers were in the ill-fated Willie and Martin companies, whose journey was marked by death and starvation as they left late in the year and encountered early October snows in Wyoming.
A celebration was held last weekend in Kearney, Neb., touted as "the biggest and only two-day celebration on the actual Mormon Trail." Sponsored by The Great Platte River Road Archway Monument and other local groups, it featured films, entertainment, historic trek re-enactments and music. Several participants were also scheduled to be in Iowa City this weekend.
During the recent annual Mormon History Association conference in Casper, Wyo., a new concert opera, "1856: Long Walk Home," was performed. Composed by Harriet Petherick-Bushman, an LDS convert from London, it features poetry and prose about the Willie and Martin companies, gathered from LDS archives and family histories. It was previously performed at several Utah venues.
In Iowa, the Mormon Historic Sites Foundation is collaborating with the Johnson County Historical Society in Iowa City to create a diorama exhibit telling the story of the handcarts. It depicts a family of Latter-day Saints crossing the plains and will include first-person accounts of the handcart story. Donations are being taken to fund the exhibit. For information, see www.mormonhistoricsitesfoundation.org/projects/iowaCity.htm.Several events are also scheduled closer to home throughout the summer and fall. They include:
One-day handcart excursions at This Is The Place Heritage Park, 2601 Sunnyside Ave. Lunch will be provided, along with pioneer games, songs and a "women's pull." Call 924-7502 for reservations.
"We Came to Zion," a new theatrical presentation featuring stories of the handcart pioneers, is also playing at This is The Place Heritage Park. Cost is $4 per person. For reservations, call 582-1847.
The Mormon Handcart Pageant, July 26-29 at the Juab County Fairgrounds in Nephi. Now in its fourth year, the pageant includes stories and scenes from the Willie and Martin handcart companies. Admission is free, and it begins at dusk. Food vendors, a craft fair, displays and a history fair will precede the pageant nightly. For information, see www.handcartpageant.com or call 1-435-623-0196.
LDS documentary filmmaker Lee Groberg's latest film for PBS is titled "The Sweetwater Rescue" and is about the ill-fated handcart companies. A date for the one-hour special has yet to be announced, but Groberg said he believes it may be sometime in October.
While this year marks the 150th anniversary of the handcart pioneers, re-enacting the handcart experience has become a popular activity among LDS youths worldwide who participate in treks.
One of the most sought-out places to hold a trek is in central Wyoming, where the church has purchased land and established the Mormon Handcart Site near Martin's Cove, where dozens of handcart pioneers died in the cold.
"The impact that these young people experience on these treks is just phenomenal. They grow up in the cities, then spend three days stepping back in time. It has a miraculous effect in their lives," said Eldean Holliday, director of volunteer operations at Martin's Cove.Comment on this story However, the impact the thousands of trekkers have had on the adjacent federal land has resulted in agreements between the church, federal land managers and the American Civil Liberties Union over limitations on the number of people allowed in the area each year and restrictions in proselyting by church volunteers.