Mormon Media Observer: Reporters still neglect story of the Mormon trek

Published: Tuesday, Aug. 7 2012 1:00 p.m. MDT

He might have wondered at the tears in the young men's eyes as they watched the women toil up that short hill or have wondered at the significance of the women running back to help the next cart up as the men stood still.

But if he had come and stayed long enough, a gradual realization would have dawned on him that he was seeing what amounted to a sacred pilgrimage. I think he would have felt what I felt: a soul-stirring moment. I think he would have understood that our prayers were in earnest — and answered fully.

He would have seen no malingering, no swearing, no liquor nor complaint. Instead, he would have seen kindness and the smiles and generosity of the retired couples who live in trailers to help the young people who come.

He would have seen numerous acts of kindness and sacrifice from those youth, and felt what we felt at the reverence in the cove itself.

He would have seen a fervent youth, worthy of the heritage of the handcart rescuers.

And he may have learned of a grand epic that shapes our lives today.

Every great people needs great stories, and, oh, do we Latter-day Saints have them. Whether it be the stories of the Book of Mormon, or fond missionary experiences, or the tales of Rocky Ridge and the sixth crossing, Latter-day Saints are a storytelling people.

Indeed, the story of the handcart rescue at Martin's Cove and at near Rocky Ridge is a story the good man should teach his son.

I love Harvey Cluff braving the storm to place a sign showing anyone on the trail where the rescuers were staying for the night — the sign that saved James Wiley and Joseph Elder and therefore much of the Wiley Company.

I love the story of 11-year-old James Kirkwood, who carried his young brother up Rocky Ridge to the camp. He sat down after performing his duty and died.

I love the story of the four Valley Boys who braved over and over again the Sweetwater River, ferrying stragglers to the relative safety of Martin's Cove.

I hope journalists this year take time to understand these remarkable experiences and stories. Journalists are doing a good job in improving their coverage of the Latter-day Saints this year, but they are missing something important — the stories that make us tick. They don't tell Book of Mormon or missionary stories or the stories of the handcarts.

For any journalist — or any storyteller — to explain a group of people, each must learn what matters to them through the stories they tell. And when the opportunities arise, writers should tell those epic stories well.

My would-be friend at the Lander junction rest stop, I hope, would understand this remarkable people more through our stories — how while we strive to be like Jesus Christ, most days we'd be satisfied to be a little bit more like James Kirkwood or Harvey Cluff, and how while we all have our Rocky Ridges, we Latter-day Saints hope we can be there to help point the way home.

Lane Williams teaches journalism and communication at BYU-Idaho. He is a former journalist whose scholarly interests include Mormon portrayals in the media, media and religion, and religion and politics.

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