July 29, 2015

My Pioneer Bragging Rights

"This Is the Place Monument-Close-up" by Hugh Millword
The word pioneer comes from the word for foot. It's related to peons. So the Mormon primary song is correct when it says five times "walked and walked..." but you need to add foot to it.

Utah, and mostly Mormons around the world, celebrate Pioneer Day on July 24 (and it's after that date now). That is the day Mormon pioneers entered the Salt Lake Valley. Now we celebrate our pioneer history in multiple ways and brag about our ancestors.

The Spiritual, Physical Deprivation Reenactment

Youth groups in the Intermountain West and beyond reenact versions of the pioneers' trek across the plains in order to appreciate their ancestors. Some do traditional wagon train reenactments, but the most popular is the handcart treks--mostly experiencing the journey of the Willy & Martin Handcart Companies.

My ward's youth recently followed in the pioneers' footsteps through the Wyoming trail. Leaders told everyone they should drink lots of water before going, so they wouldn't become dehydrated. We suffer the sun, mild dehydration, mild hunger, and forego modern conveniences to have an almost authentic experience. We strive to have the spiritual experience of our ancestors spiritual and physical suffering. We forget we struggle today through apathy and immoral influences omnipresent in our world.

Willy & Martin Handcart Trek

Mormon Handcart Visitor's Center Exhibit
For a youth conference during my adolescence, my ward group did a handcart trek with very modern handcarts (with bicycle wheels). Occasionally, we had to replace a tire. Other groups are closer to official handcart trek sites that have it entirely outfitted. The Willy & Martin Handcart Companies are the most famous--because they suffered the most (other treks had few deaths). The movie 17 Miracles shows snippets of this company. Jens Nielson was the ancestor of fame in my hometown, but let it be known--I am a descendant too of that handcart company! The Mellor miracle of the pie on the trail is my paternal great-great-great-something grandmother Mary Ann Payne Mellor. Her husband, James Mellor, began the Mellor male mischief. My brothers, father, uncles, and cousins continue this tradition. 

Hole-in-the-Rock Saints

"Hole-in-the-Rock" Wikipedia

I grew up in Southeastern Utah among the descendants of the Hole-in-the-Rock Saints and Native Americans. I heard much about Jens Nielson who was in the Willy & Martin Handcart Companies and traveled to the San Juan Mission. The Saints struggled through the red cliffs and across the Colorado River Canyon (now Lake Powell) to arrive in present-day Bluff. They had to finagle a way to descend through a very small passageway down to the river. The ascent on the other side was even worse. The journey took six months versus the projected six weeks.

On San Juan Hill, their animals bled on the red rocks. You can still see the blood today on the trail. They later moved to Blanding, Utah (my hometown). As a church youth group, I visited the Hole-in-the-Rock site along Lake Powell and San Juan Hill.

The Mormons believe some of the Native Americans are the ancestors of Lehi in The Book of Mormon. Stan Bronson, who played Jesus Christ in Church videos, talked with the youth about the spiritual experiences of the Native Americans in San Juan County. Some Navajos and Utes in this area joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the "San Juan Mission" and their ancestors live on today. There remains mixed feelings about the situation.

Old Mexico Saints

Early LDS polygamous families fled to Mexico to avoid being prosecuted. When the government finally pardoned them, they returned to the United States. Mitt Romney is a famous descendant of these saints. Several of these families came to Blanding, Utah. My sister married into the Old Mexico Saint line.

Modern-Day Pioneers

My cousin drew this picture of our grandparents.
We have many pioneers who have come to Utah or joined the Mormons worldwide after the 1800s. These individuals have sacrificed their coffee, tea, tobacco, alcohol, questionable entertainment, fashionable clothing to join the Mormons. My maternal grandmother and grandfather joined the Church in the 1940s. My great grandmother joined in the '30s. My father-in-law joined in his twenties. The rest of my ancestors are from Mormon pioneers. 

Pioneer Ancestor Bragging Rights

In some ways, we all like to claim famous ancestors--like the famous pioneer or Mormon ancestor. Who brags they are related to Brigham Young, Hyrum Smith, and other early Mormon saints? Or just admits it reluctantly they are related. Who's related to Mitt Romney? My friend is a fourth-cousin or something.

Now I'm going to brag about my ancestors! I descend from Bishop Jonathan Herriman Hale of Nauvoo, James and Mary Ann Mellor, Pilgrim ancestors, and some king. Ask my mom, she knows. I just called her to confirm a few details, but I know I've got some wrong.

Who are you descended from?