Instead going to the beach, Disneyland or hanging out at the mall, teenagers from the Riverside California Stake pushed and pulled handcarts during their Pioneer Trek Youth Conference in the mountains of San Bernardino on Riley’s Farms in early April. It was also a chance to learn about their early Mormon pioneer ancestors, to understand their religion a little better, and to find out more about their own strengths and weaknesses.
Professional actors came and spoke, portraying important characters in the history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. There were LDS Church leaders Joseph Smith and Brigham Young and others, including Porter Rockwell. On the first day before the trek began, they were treated to a re-enactment of a "tar and feathering" of Joseph Smith. It was after this poignant scene that the youths were challenged with these questions: “What would you do in defense of your faith? Would you be willing to be tarred and feathered? Would you stand up for the Lord Jesus Christ and the truth that you know has been restored?”
Then started the journey, into the afternoon and soon the night. Camp was made late, and after dinner, they slept out under a full moon.
The days were physically hard and mentally tough. One day they found they needed to cross a river with the handcarts, all on a small wooden raft. It was a terrifying process, because their actual possessions were on the cart as it made its way across the water, just barely afloat on the raft. There were many times when it was looking like a few handcarts were going over, but luckily everyone stayed dry.
Another day, after a long morning of pulling and pushing handcarts, the teenagers were treated to some fun. Scott Riley, owner of Riley’s Farms, set up 13 stations for the youths to visit, each with a different pioneer skill. There was everything from lassos and etiquette lessons to rope making and tomahawk throwing. The youths loved it and they really got a feel for the types of things the pioneers had to do. That night, a great hoedown was held beneath the stars.
The final day was the most difficult. First thing after breakfast, all the men were taken away to join the Mormon Battalion while the young women were left to pull their own handcarts. It was quite hard, both physically and mentally, as the young ladies had a few large hills to tackle. Thankfully, the men were allowed to return for a mile and a half uphill climb to the end of trek.
This year’s youth conference taught about what their ancestors experienced, helped the youth grow closer to one another, and showed just what they would be willing to do in defense of our faith.
Laurel Lakey was a "Ma" on the Riverside California Stake's Pioneer Trek Youth Conference.