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Handcart Pioneers FHE

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Learn about the struggles and joys the handcart pioneers experienced. There are two fun activities to do after the lesson: handcart races and wading through icy rivers!This family home evening lesson is ready to print and teach!

Text of Handcart Pioneers FHE

Exploring: Walking to ZionViolet Kimball, Walking to Zion, Friend, Jun 1989, 22

Many handcart companies were made up entirely of immigrant Saints who had only recently arrived in the United States and were not prepared for the harsh, rugged plains or the bitter weather that they were sometimes exposed to. Heat, rain, dust, wind, rattlesnakes, wild animals, thirst, hunger, sickness, cold, and death were ever present. But so was the excitement of journeying across a new land to a new home. Handcart children perhaps had the most adventures of any children crossing the plains. Some of the pioneer diaries from those days tell the touching and tragic tales of children on the trail: When we started out on the trail each morning there was always something new to see, one diary states. Birds running along the road flowers and pretty rocks to pick. In some companies the children started out earlier than the handcarts and walked ahead of the main camp so that they wouldnt hold it up. One mother wrote that her boy of five has walked eighteen miles without resting. Some young boys and girls helped push and pull the handcarts that held the few possessions that they were allowed to take with them. Many were forced to abandon their belongings as they found that the burden of pulling a cart itself took all their strength. In the Martin handcart company of 1856, Brother Martin insisted that the people throw away all nonessentials so that they could reach the valley more quickly. Many children had to part with toys that they had brought. One little girl had a small cast-iron toy lion. It, too, was dumped, but she so loved the lion that during the night she went back to where they had left the discarded items, found her pet lion, put it on a string, and wore it underneath her dress all the way to the Salt Lake Valley. Many of the handcart pioneers were without much food near the end of their journey. One older boy, driven by hunger, left the camp one night and went into an Indian camp, seeking food. There he found a Frenchman and his Indian wife who gave him food and shelter. His father found the boy the next morning, but the Frenchman and his wife begged the father to permit the boy to stay with them until he was stronger. The father agreed, and the boy stayed with them for two years before coming to the valley with Johnstons Army and being reunited with his family.

Many miracles occurred along the trail. Two little girls were playing near a fire, and one of them fell backward into a kettle of boiling water. She was quickly pulled out, and, after being administered to by the priesthood, recovered. One young girl was running after her familys cow in her bare feet when she ran into something soft. It was a bed of snakes! I could scarcely move, she wrote. All I could think of was to pray. The Lord heard her prayers, and she escaped without being bitten. Although the children worked hard and faced many difficult times, they also had fun. One diary states: It was great fun pulling empty carts and imitating the wagon driver with a gee and a haw. We had plenty of time to see the country we were passing through, to run here and there and to explore this and that. The pioneers usually killed buffaloes for food along the trail. It was an exciting time for the whole camp when they had fresh meat to eat. And some of the children delighted in being allowed to sit on one of the large beasts after it had been killed. The children spent time searching in the large anthills near deserted Indian campgrounds for Indian beads, which they made into necklaces. And they would build corrals of sand and stone, put captured insects inside, and pretend that these were their cattle. They also played a game similar to hide-and-seek called I spy. With all the new and thrilling experiences the pioneer children had, none compared to the joy of finally arriving in the valley where they would start a new life.

Instructions for the handcart races are on the FHE lesson outline. Print and color the handcarts then fold them in half so there is a front and back.

What would you pack in your handcart? Print off a picture for each child to color, cut out and pack.

1. In the summer of 1856, a large group of Saints were traveling to the Great Salt Lake Valley.

2. They were going to travel across the plains with handcarts. They had to build their own handcarts.

3. By the time they finished building the handcarts, it was late in the summer. But most of the people thought they would still have enough time to get to the Salt Lake Valley before winter came.

4. One of the families going to the Salt Lake Valley was a young couple who had only been married a year. They were going to have a baby soon, but they still wanted to go.

5. It was very hard traveling across the plains. The handcarts often broke. Everyone had to wait for the handcarts to be fixed.

6. The winter storms came very early that year. The snow and cold made traveling even harder. Many people got sick, and many people died.

7. One cold, snowy day the young woman had a baby girl. She and her husband were very happy, but they could not stop and rest for very long. The handcarts had to keep going.

8. The man was very tired. He was sick. He was worried about his wife and new baby.

9. Many times the man did not think he could go on. He did not think he could pull the handcart all the way to the Salt Lake Valley by himself. Many times he felt like giving up.

10. Sometimes when the man felt too tired to pull the handcart another step, he would feel someone pushing it. He often looked back to see who was pushing the cart, but he could see no one.

11. The man knew that angels were helping him.

12. The man and his family finally got to the Salt Lake Valley. They never forgot how God had blessed them as they traveled across the plains. (Adapted from David O. McKay, "Pioneer Women," Relief Society Magazine, Jan. 1948, p. 8.)