Sunday, June 2, 2013

Latter-Day Saints In Alaska Recreate 19th Century Mormon Treks Across The Great Plains, Focusing On The Handcart Expeditions

The Anchorage Daily News has published a gallery of 44 photos depicting a group of Alaska Mormons re-creating the Mormon treks across the Great Plains during the 19th century, specifically the handcart treks. The group of 220 youth between the ages of 12 and 18 and 50 adults began the re-enactment at Jim Creek near the Knik River on Tuesday May 28th and pulled handcarts up the Jim Creek Trail about 10 miles and set up camp within sight of the Knik Glacier. Over the next three days they made their way back, camping along the way. They returned to the Jim Creek trail head on Friday May 31st, where a scrumptious barbecue awaited them.

This is not the first time Alaska Saints have done this. In 2007, Mormons from the Kenai Peninsula and Homer held a three-day handcart trek reenactment in the shadow of the Ring of Fire volcanoes. They traveled three hours by ferry, two hours by car, and another hour and a half by bus just to get to the trailhead. The most dramatic event occurred on the third day, when the group awoke to a terrible storm with winds blowing more than 50 miles per hour. Pegs pulled loose, tents collapsed, the rain pounded down, and dark clouds covered the entire sky. Fearing that the weather would stop the trek, the leaders knelt in prayer. Soldotna Stake President Randy Eberline asked the Lord to calm the storm. Throughout the camp, trek families also knelt and prayed for relief from the weather. Suddenly, the clouds parted and a bowl of warm sunlight shone down.

According to the LDS Gospel Library, ten companies of handcart pioneers walked the 1,300 miles from Iowa City (the end of the rail line) to Salt Lake City between 1856 and 1860, pulling and pushing all that they owned. Of the total of 2,962 handcart immigrants, about 250 died along the way. The most tragic were companies four and five, the now-infamous Willie and Martin companies of 1856, in which 220 Saints lost their lives. These two companies, consisting of 980 people and 233 handcarts, began their journeys across the plains too late in the year due to a series of mishaps. The majority of the 220 who lost their lives froze to death in early snowstorms near the Continental Divide in central Wyoming. Many others suffered trailside amputations of fingers, toes, and legs due to frostbite. When Brigham Young heard about it, he was horrified, and promptly dispatched rescue parties from Salt Lake City to avert further tragedy.

The reenactment was designed to convey a sense of this history to the next generation of Alaska Mormons. Yet some anti-Mormon trolls spewed their filth in the Anchorage Daily News comments section. Anti-Mormon trolls not only falsely claim that the LDS Church pretends the Mountain Meadows Massacre didn't happen (there's a memorial on the site maintained by the LDS Church), but they continue to insist that the LDS Church is antigay, ignoring the fact that the LDS Church accepted the recent decision by the Boy Scouts to accept all Scouts who agree to the Scouts' code of behavior. I have no obligation to respect anti-Mormon trolls who lie about the Church; those who want respect must earn it by acting respectably.

I define "anti-Mormon" not merely as someone who disagrees with Mormonism, but someone who expresses that disagreement by deliberately misrepresenting and lying about Mormonism. Such people are unworthy of civil discourse; one does not cast pearls before swine.

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