Handcart trek gives participants appreciation for pioneer trials

Handcart trek gives participants

appreciation for pioneer trials

Robert Stevens

Managing editor


During a portion of the trek, the companies reenacted a historic Mormon pioneer moment known as the “women’s pull,” where the women and girls were forced to go on ahead on the trail after the men and able-bodied boys were called in to duty in the Spanish American War.

MANTI—After his second pioneer handcart trek, this time with his wife and two sons by his side, a Manti man has a renewed appreciation for the arduous journey of his ancestors, and the strength, courage and faith of women and youth—both past and present.

Jim Bob Pipes, 40, first experienced a pioneer handcart trek in his early teens. On Thursday, July 12, he set out on a new trek—this time with his wife Becky, 39, and his two eldest sons, Jacob, 17, and Josh, 15. He spent three days pulling handcarts over 25 miles of rough terrain, with conditions made to simulate the Mormon pioneer’s trip west.

The trek, which Pipes says his LDS stake organizes about every four years, was the culmination of nearly a year’s planning.

Pipes has a bigger picture view of the trek now that he has helped plan one. The planning has helped him see the real scope of what Utah’s pioneers really dealt with on their journey to the Beehive State. Sharing the trail together brings out the best in people, he says.

“The whole idea behind a pioneer trek is to experience firsthand the faith and determination of our pioneer ancestors,” Pipes says. “We hear stories of their courage and grit after being expelled by a nation that denied them the religious liberty guaranteed in the Constitution.

“These people left the comfort of fertile farms and quiet communities at gunpoint, with only what they could carry in a wagon or handcart, and faced the uncertainty of a 1000+ mile journey to a place they had never seen.”

Pipes says now that he has a family, he wanted to encourage his children and other LDS youth to explore the questions of why their ancestors would do that, endure some of the physical challenges and discover in themselves what helped the pioneers keep going in the face of such a monumental task.

“We want the youth to feel that their faith is very much connected to their pioneer ancestors’ faith,” Pipes says.

The large group, which consisted of participants from all of the Manti LDS Stake wards, was organized into three companies of approximately 100 people. Pipes and his family trekked with a company led by David and Natalie Fullmer, who were given the titles of “Pa” and “Ma”.

“It was wonderful to experience the trek in a family setting,” says Becky Pipes. “To love and be loved. To pray for and be prayed over.”

Each person was asked to choose a pioneer to learn about and to trek in their honor. Pipes chose his great-great-grandfather, Hans Peter Jensen, who came west and then south to Manti and helped build the town and surrounding areas.

Jensen helped get water and electricity established in Manti, helped survey the route for a railroad from Nephi and served as the bishop of his ward for 26 years.

Pipes says the purpose of the ancestral homework was “to remind us when our feet hurt or the path was rocky that we have it in us to do what they did.

“It was very powerful and we heard the youth tell of the new appreciation they gained for the things their ancestors did.”

In fact, Pipes says that he was proud of how well his sons and the participating youth handled the journey.

“Through the entire experience, walking with the youth each day, I never heard complaints that I honestly thought might flow rather freely,” he says. “They knew the job ahead of them; they put their heads down and got to work.

“And instead of negativity they built each other up, encouraging each other to keep going, or they traded off pulling and provided relief when someone got tired.”

Another aspect of the pioneer journey that Pipes says was impressive was the determination of the women—his wife, Becky, included—during a portion of the trek modeled after history and known as the “women’s pull.”

The women’s pull came about during the exodus to Utah when many of the men and able-bodied boys were asked to assist in the Mexican-American War. Many of the men left and the women and girls were required to continue on without them.

“When we reenacted this by having the women pull some of the hand carts up a steep hill, the fortitude I saw in them was incredible,” Pipes says. “They prepared themselves mentally and spiritually by meeting together beforehand and then those women gave it everything they had.

Despite rough terrain and many challenges, the pioneer handcart trek had plenty of joyous moments, such as the square dancing where the company of trekkers proved they weren’t too tired to have fun.

“It was truly inspiring to watch them tackle such a strenuous physical task with courage, determination and faith.”

Pipes’ wife Becky had some insight from the trek as well.

“We made our way through a dry riverbed,” she says. “The sandy ground and new growth made for a challenge. I learned if I just straddled those saplings straight on, they would hit my skirt and go beneath. So much less effort than dodging each one.

“I’m still thinking on all the applications, but it does remind me of buffalo that goes straight into a storm instead of running from it and by doing so they spend a lot less time in it.”

Despite all the hardship the trek puts participants through, it has its fair share of merriment. Pipes says the food committee did an amazing job, and there were also many moments of joy, celebration and even square dancing along the way.

“The food brigade rocked our thick socks every single meal,” Becky says.