We left on Tuesday morning, July 19, 2005, by three buses. We went directly to the Sixth Crossing area, arrived around two, unloaded the buses, and set up camp.
We then walked a couple of miles to the Sweetwater River. When we got there, we needed to cut down the bank and prepare a place where we could cross. We threw logs and branches down and then the dirt from where we needed to lower the bank and make a ramp. Many jumped in and enjoyed the cool water.
Walking back at dusk, the mosquitoes were thicker than I have ever seen. They were huge and everywhere. You could hardly breathe. I had put repellant on twice, but they were flying in my ears and if you opened your mouth you could catch dinner.
“When I think about the sacrifice the pioneers made, my everyday sacrifices—attending church, seminary, obeying the Word of Wisdom, and staying clean—seem so small. Yet, I know that the Lord tests us in many ways, and everyone’s sacrifices are anything but meaningless.”– Meggie Carter, 17
“We set up camp today. The guys helped the girls carry the water and the girls helped the guys put up the poles on the tents. We all walked two miles to the Sweetwater River to build a crossing. The walk was long, hot, and bug-infested and the work was hard. But when we finished, we were proud to have helped.”
– Jacilyn Berryman, 18
Wednesday morning we headed out. We left camp around 9:15 a.m. and headed up to where we had cut the bank down and made our ramp. Each wagon took quite a time to get into the river and had more problems getting out. It took well over an hour to get all the wagons through the river.
It was late morning and getting very hot. We were strung out well over a mile and I was growing concerned. We looked ahead to see a big hill—our next foe—looming in the distance. It proved to be the start of our problems. Sister Nielson went down with heat exhaustion and we sat and waited some time for her. But we were delighted to see her family rally around her and want to help. One young man suggested they offer a prayer together for her.
We trekked on and finally reached the summit of the long and tiring hill. We enjoyed lunch, but were starting to feel the effects of the sun. Later we would learn it was ninety-nine degrees at the Sweetwater Museum at eleven that morning. As we headed out, the sun took its toll on many. Sister Wright was down, Brother Virden was cold and clammy, and many kids and adults were really struggling. They had blisters and were getting dehydrated. Some had twisted their ankles or the bottoms of their feet were very sore.
Water was running low. We kept expecting to meet up with some relief water and more Porto-Potties just around every corner, but we didn’t find them until after three o’clock. Brother Alonzo had been there for three and a half hours waiting for us. We had been told that every handcart needed ten gallons of water and that would be enough. It wasn’t! We had only come some eight or nine miles. Brother Alonzo took the sickest and drove them to camp.
When the rest of us made it to camp, it was more than two hours after we had planned on getting there. We didn’t think that many of our company could make the next day and decided to offer those who were not able to walk the option of riding the bus. Those who wanted to continue the trek would press forward.
But as the families came in to report, we saw that we only needed one bus to come in. The rest were determined to press on.
“As Ma of this family, I couldn’t be more proud. From the first day together, we all got along so well. I was amazed at their willingness to jump in and help. There were several who did not quite have the spirit of the pioneers yet and were a little hesitant and closed to what we were about to do, but Wednesday morning we got on the trail and the attitude was immediately different. We told stories about pioneers from the Willie and Martin Companies and stories of some of our kids’ pioneers ancestors. All of our kids were astonished at the sacrifice of the Saints.
“I was moved by the determination of the youth who continued on and on up the hills, many carrying someone from their family in their handcart, in addition to their 150 or more pounds of belongings and water.
“We hadn’t expected such warm weather and many ran out of water between pit stops. We shared and did the best we could, but unfortunately many (fifteen or so out of about 130) needed to be rescued by truck and taken to camp. It saddened me that I, too, fell behind my family and suffered some heat exhaustion. The “wimp wagon” (the truck that they sent to pick up those who could not carry on) came by as I was resting on a rock about three and a half miles from our camp.
“That may have been the hardest part of the day. I sobbed as we drove away from my husband and family, leaving them behind, and I thought of those Saints who passed from this life to the next, getting to the other side knowing they could help their families no longer.
“After two miles, it was more than I could bear and my daughter and I asked to be let out the last mile so we could walk into camp together as a family.”
– “Ma” Jeannie Easton
It was a hard day. All of my brothers and sisters made it. My Ma and Pa stayed back. I need to be strong for tomorrow. I have the power, I just need to take it out and have faith.
--Daniela Valenzuela, 17
“Before walking the paths the Saints did, I knew they had great trials. But walking seventeen miles today was phenomenally mind-altering. I walked in warm weather with a lot of strong people in my family to pull and push the handcart. I had treats and lunch on the way. I had nice clothes and shoes. When I think about how it must have been in the middle of winter, with little food and supplies, and bigger loads, I cannot begin to imagine the amazing testimonies and faith the Saints must have had. It strengthens my personal testimony.”– Matt Kump, 16
Thursday morning arrived too early. We were tired and apprehensive about the day ahead, but we started out with a priesthood blessing on all and I believe that it made a great difference.
We went to the Lower Monument where Elder and Sister Wray talked about the struggles of the Willey Company and how it took twenty-seven hours to make the climb we were about to do. It took some pioneer carts five hours to get to the top of Rocky Ridge, a distance of about two miles. They talked about the many people who died, about their conditions and how they knew we were facing a difficult day also. They left us with a great spirit and we felt strengthened. Nobody is exactly sure where the Willey Company was found, but it was close to that area. The pioneer spirit was alive and well.
We started the climb to Rocky Ridge. It is about two miles to the top from the Lower Monument. The two-mile climb was done in about fifty minutes. That was a pretty fast pace, considering the hill, but all were still quite fresh. As we came to Rocky Ridge, there were struggles with carts hitting rocks, but nothing that wasn’t quickly overcome. Many of the youth felt like there were angels helping them and making it possible to accomplish the climb easily. Sometimes a cart would be doing well up the Trail of Blood only to hit a large rock that would stop them in their tracks. Imagine how difficult it would have been for the pioneers who had snow and wind and cold and poor shoes, if any. They were weak from hunger and cold. My, we had it easy.
We had all of the families come back and sit around the Upper Monument. I read to the youth from the journal of John Chislett. He had brought up the rear and told of how quickly he caught up with people. They were unable to go on. After he caught the first handcart, it wasn’t long until they caught the second. He had them work together to pull one a few rods, and then go back to the other one and pull it up to the same place. What that meant was that many of them not only walked the twelve miles to Rock Creek, but they did it three times: once up, once back, and the second time up. He talked about finding people on his way and how they couldn’t go on. He talked about finding Strawberry Creek frozen over. The oxen wouldn’t go through it. It was decided that he would go on and tell the others where they were and of their conditions. He ran and slipped and fell many times, but finally was able to get to Rock Creek. Others already in the camp went back to assist those who hadn’t been able to come yet.
We asked the youth to just sit reverently and think about the “Trail of Blood” that these people had left and what that meant for us.
Our family went up to Martin’s Cove today; I can honestly say that I’ve never had such a strong feeling of the Lord’s presence. I couldn’t walk again today. My legs felt like they were constantly on fire. The boys refused to let me stay behind. So yet again, they put me in the handcart, this time on a walk where handcarts weren’t required, and pulled me up to the cove landing. From there we made our way up to Dan Jones’ Cove. From there, we had to walk up to Martin’s Cove.
I didn't feel like I could keep going around the Martin's Cove Loop. Andrew and Loukie tried to carry me, but I knew they wouldn't be able to go a mile and a half with my weight added to their already weary bodies.
I turned around. I walked back the way we had come, overcome by my family’s readiness to carry me, to do whatever was necessary for me.
Back at the road, I waited for them to return, and took pictures of their descent. Then, I saw Kimmie running, as fast as she could toward me. When she got to me, she threw her arms around me. I never knew someone so small could house so much love. Each of my family members, one after the other, came down and hugged me.
It was heartbreaking—the whole experience. This morning, we had a family testimony meeting. We walked down past the grave of the thirteen at Rock Creek Hollow.
Trips like this are so wonderful in so many ways. For one, it gives the youth a chance to grow, both personally and collectively, without pressure. Second, it forces you to look at your priorities—what is truly important in life.
It is important that I always remember the pioneers' sacrifices. It would truly be sad if they worked so hard for their posterity and we all rejected the Gospel. What a waste their persecutions would be if we decided now that their sacrifices and, often their lives, were not even worth continuing in our faith and devotion.
-- Kelie Stocking, 18
“Today was much easier than yesterday. We only went about twelve miles. The hardest part of today was pulling the carts over Rocky Ridge. Yesterday we heard the words ‘three miles left’ about four times; so instead of the easy twelve miles, we ended up going about seventeen. We only lost two people from our family: our Ma and one of our sisters. But it was okay because they went on the buses to the next camp and set up camp for us.”– Stuart Robinson, 14
“After we hiked Rocky Ridge, they gave us ten minutes to ourselves. I sat there on a hard rock, looking out over all the hills and mountains, and I thought about the pioneers and what they had done. I was tired and had wanted to give up and walk right back down the hill, but it became very clear to me that pioneers wouldn’t have given up their lives and sacrificed so much if they didn’t know it was true.”– Kimmie Doyle, 15
“Today, still suffering from exhaustion, I stayed behind and took the bus to the next camp—Rock Creek Hollow. All day I thought of my family and how they were doing, especially that morning as they were to cross Rocky Ridge.
“As the handcarts returned to camp, those of us who stayed behind ran out to cheer them on as they came in. Before we had that chance to do so, we were greeted by those trekkers walking and pulling their handcarts and singing Come, Come Ye Saints. The tears came immediately as they got closer and I embraced my ‘children.’ I thought of the pioneer families who lost members on the trail and the happy, joyful reunions they must have had when they met again in the world to come.”
– “Ma” Jeannie Easton
Friday morning we prepared to go to Martin’s Cove. We watched two videos about the pioneers and later went to Dan Jones’s Cove, where Elder Willyard gave us a devotional and told some stories about the Martin Handcart Company. Each family walked through the cove together. During the walk up, we kept silent for the most part, enjoying the Spirit once again.
“The overwhelming peace and beauty that I experienced on the short walk through Martin’s Cove is incomparable to all but the temple. It was as if the rocks knew what greatness once rested in their shelter, and the tall trees had felt both the bitter cold and the Spirit of the handcart companies long ago in their young branches. Everything rejoiced. All of the facts, the stories, and the names I heard this week melded into this incredible chorus to tell me in my heart that God lives, Christ gave his life for the Atonement, Joseph Smith died for the love he had for his brothers and sisters, and the pioneers sacrificed their lives as well to be able to be closer to God.
“Why my ancestors lived during that time and why I’m on earth today, I don’t know. But I do know that my trials test me just as theirs did, and like them, my Heavenly Father helps me endure.”– Meggie Carter, 17