Pioneer Day is July 24th. In my church, we have yearly celebrations to honor the sacrifices of the early pioneers, some of whom walked away from everything they had to follow their new found faith. Many left every worldly possession behind. Many never saw their families again. Many made the ultimate sacrifice, that of their very lives. You may ask yourself “Why would someone give up so much to follow their faith?” The answer is simple, because they knew that the Church was true. They had confirmations of the Holy Ghost bearing witness to them that Jesus Christ is the Savior, and that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is the true church. They had conviction. They also feared for their safety. The early pioneers sought a place where they could worship as they chose without fear of being persecuted and/or killed because of their beliefs. The Mormon trail from Nauvoo, Illinois (and later from Iowa) to Salt Lake City Utah was harsh. The land was untamed and trails were new and dangerous. Every time I hear the stories of parents that had to bury their children or a husband or wife who had to bury their beloved spouse in a shallow grave along the way my heart aches. I revere these great and valiant men and women. I am proud to say that I have ancestors on both sides of my family who sacrificed, persevered and survived the migration West with the early pioneers. I love and revere them, even though I have never met them in this life. If you’d like to read a little more about the trek West, you can read some facts and figures about the Mormon Pioneer Trek here.
One of the duties (or “callings”) that I have in the church is that of “Primary Chorister”. I get to spend around 40 minutes each Sunday teaching music to children ages 3-11. And, I love it. It’s not always easy, but for Pioneer Day I wanted to do something to engage the kids a little more. So, I did what most women do, I searched Pinterest for ideas. I found some great ideas. I found two posts that I based my Pioneer Day Singing Time off of. I Heart Primary Music had the original idea, and I loved the map found in the post “Pioneer Trek” at Primarily Singing. But try as I may, I couldn’t find a printable map of the Pioneer Trek. So, I did what I always do. I spent way too much time creating a printable for you. The result is a printable Pioneer Trek map. Then I enlisted the help of my very talented and artistic sister to make a wagon to show the kids different stops along the way. Thanks Dana!
Materials You’ll need:
- printer & paper (I used cardstock for the wagons and legal sized paper for the maps)
- laminating contact paper
- adhesive back magnets or magnets and glue
- Printable Pioneer Trail map. Choose from 1 large (28″x11″) or two smaller pieces that need to be overlapped (print on legal sized paper)
- Printable Covered Wagons. Click here for the PDF version. Click here for the Silhouette print & cut file.
- Silhouette Cameo (optional)
This map is pretty big! I created it to print off as 28″x11.75″. You may prefer to print it at a copy shop or Costco (but check prices before you print). I opted to have it printed on to two 11×17″ sheets of paper and then laminated at my local copy shop. It was under $8. I chose to laminate so it will stay in good condition and can be used from year to year.
I also printed the wagons on letter sized card stock and cut them out on my Silhouette Cameo. Then I laminated the wagons myself with laminating Contact paper. If you don’t have a Silhouette you can print the PDF version from above and just cut with scissors.
Once everything was cut and laminated I stuck adhesive magnets to the back of the map. Then to the back of the wagons. Make sure you use a magnet that will stick through the thick papers and lamination. You may want to test a magnet before adhering it to the wagons. (My magnets worked great on my fridge but didn’t stick to the chalkboard at the church. Luckily we had backup magnets at the church that we were able to use.)
Now your map is ready to go. You can find so many great stories about the pioneers. You can also spend WAY too much time researching to find those storie.s Can you tell I’m speaking from experience? So, I’ve included some stories and links to where I found them. Feel free to use them, or substitute your own stories. I’m just trying to get it all in one place to make life a little easier for you.
I summarized these stories of the stopping points below followed by the songs. All songs can be found in the Primary Children’s Hymnbook unless otherwise stated:
Nauvoo: (95) I Love to See the Temple
“As the pressure to leave Nauvoo increased, President Young addressed the Saints on 3 February 1846. The plan was to leave the next day, but Saints still filled the temple. President Young urged the Saints to return to their homes and prepare for their departure.
In his history, President Young recorded: “Notwithstanding that I had announced that we would not attend to the administration of the ordinances, the House of the Lord was thronged all day, the anxiety being so great to receive. … I … informed the brethren that I was going to get my wagons started and be off. I walked some distance from the Temple supposing the crowd would disperse, but on returning I found the house filled to overflowing. Looking upon the multitude and knowing their anxiety, as they were thirsting and hungering for the word, we continued at work diligently in the House of the Lord. Two hundred and ninety-five persons received ordinances.”
The first wagons left on 4 February, temple work finally ceased on 8 February, and the great exodus from Nauvoo went forward. Looking back on that remarkable period, Elder Erastus Snow declared, “All felt satisfied that during the two months we occupied [the temple] in the endowment of the Saints, we were amply paid for all our labors in building it.”
As they journeyed over the Mississippi and began the trek across Iowa, many Saints cast a parting glance backward at their beloved temple and city. Priddy Meeks wrote: “While crossing over a ridge seven miles from Nauvoo we looked back and took a last sight of the Temple we ever expected to see. We were sad and sorrowful.” (McBride, Matthew S. “The First Nauvoo Temple: So Great a Cause” Ensign. July 2002)
Winter Quarters: (214) Little Pioneer Children
“The Saints knew that the only way they could take care of themselves was to work together and help each other. Orson Spencer and his family had been driven out of Nauvoo with the rest of the Saints. The Spencers traveled toward Winter Quarters, but before they got there Brother Spencer was called on a mission to England. He did not want to leave his six children. Ellen, the oldest, was fourteen; Aurelia was twelve; Catharine was ten; Howard was eight; George was six; and Lucy was four. Their mother had died of an illness just outside Nauvoo, and they had no one to take care of them. However, Brother Spencer accepted the mission call. He took his children on to Winter Quarters and built them a home, and then he asked his neighbors to help care for them, which they willingly did. The older Spencer children took care of the younger ones, and they all learned to help each other. That winter the Spencer children kept busy attending school, keeping the house clean, sewing dresses, and spending time with the neighbor children practicing spelling, telling riddles and stories, and playing games.” (“The Saints Establish Winter Quarters” Primary 5: Doctrine and Covenants and Church History, (1997), 222-28)
Chimney Rock: (216) Pioneer Children Sang as They Walked
“Chimney Rock, near the present-day Nebraska-Wyoming border, marked the halfway point of the journey from Winter Quarters to the Salt Lake Valley. This large rock formation resembling a chimney could be seen for many miles before the Saints actually reached it on 26 May 1847. The Saints stopped at nearby settlement Fort Laramie to make repairs to their wagons and equipment.” (“The First Pioneer Company Crosses the Plains” Primary 5: Doctrine and Covenants and Church History, (1997), 229-37.”)
Sweetwater Crossing: (Hymns 116) Come, Follow Me
I summarized the Story of the three selfless 18 year old boys who carried the Martin Company across the freezing Sweetwater River.
“I should like to tell you of three eighteen-year-old boys. In 1856 more than a thousand of our people, some of them perhaps your forebears, found themselves in serious trouble while crossing the plains to this valley. Because of a series of unfortunate circumstances, they were late in getting started. They ran into snow and bitter cold in the highlands of Wyoming. Their situation was desperate, with deaths occurring every day.
President Young learned of their condition as the October general conference was about to begin. He immediately called for teams, wagons, drivers, and supplies to leave to rescue the bereft Saints. When the first rescue team reached the Martin Company, there were too few wagons to carry the suffering people. The rescuers had to insist that the carts keep moving.
When they reached the Sweetwater River on November 3, chunks of ice were floating in the freezing water. After all these people had been through, and in their weakened condition, that river seemed impossible to cross. It looked like stepping into death itself to move into the freezing stream. Men who once had been strong sat on the frozen ground and wept, as did the women and children. Many simply could not face that ordeal.
And now I quote from the record: “Three eighteen-year-old boys belonging to the relief party came to the rescue, and to the astonishment of all who saw, carried nearly every member of the ill-fated handcart company across the snowbound stream. The strain was so terrible, and the exposure so great, that in later years all the boys died from the effects of it. When President Brigham Young heard of this heroic act, he wept like a child, and later declared publicly, ‘that act alone will ensure C. Allen Huntington, George W. Grant, and David P. Kimball an everlasting salvation in the Celestial Kingdom of God, worlds without end.’” (Solomon F. Kimball, Improvement Era, Feb. 1914, p. 288.)
Mark you, these boys were eighteen years of age at the time. And, because of the program then in effect, they likely were holders of the Aaronic Priesthood. Great was their heroism, sacred the sacrifice they made of health and eventually of life itself to save the lives of those they helped.” Source: (Hinckley, Gordon B. “Four B’s for Boys”. Ensign. November 1989.)
Then I related this selfless act of service to the life and mission of the Savior and how the boys gave their lives to save others.
Martin’s Cove: (34-35) He Sent His Son
Many people in the Martin Handcart company died in Martin’s Cove. They were starving and freezing. Some prayed to die so they could be free from the pains they suffered. Here is one story of a little boy who survived.
“Peter Howard McBride, then but a boy of six years, was a member of the Martin Company. His father, after helping push handcarts through the icy river, died in the snow and freezing cold that night. Peter’s mother was sick; his older sister Jenetta watched out for the younger children. Her shoes had worn out, and her feet left bloody tracks in the snow. On the banks of the Sweetwater River the wind blew their tent down during the night. Everyone scampered out as the snow covered the tent—everyone except little Peter. According to his account: “In the morning I heard someone say, ‘How many are dead in this tent?’ My sister said, ‘Well, my little brother must be frozen to death in that tent.’ So they jerked the tent loose, sent it scurrying over the snow. My hair was frozen to the tent. I picked myself up and came out quite alive, to their surprise” (Peter Howard McBride, quoted in Susan Arrington Madsen, I Walked to Zion, 41, 43, 45–46). Found at (Ballard, M. Russell “Faith in Every Footstep” New-Era. July 1997.)
Rocky Ridge: (219) The Ox Cart
“Let me tell you of James Kirkwood. James was from Glasgow, Scotland. On the trip west, James was accompanied by his widowed mother and three brothers, one of whom, Thomas, was nineteen and crippled and had to ride in the handcart. James’s primary responsibility on the trek was to care for his little four-year-old brother, Joseph, while his mother and oldest brother, Robert, pulled the cart. As they climbed Rocky Ridge, it was snowing and there was a bitter cold wind blowing. It took the whole company twenty-seven hours to travel fifteen miles (24 k). When little Joseph became too weary to walk, James, the older brother, had no choice but to carry him. Left behind the main group, James and Joseph made their way slowly to camp. When the two finally arrived at the fireside, James, “having so faithfully carried out his task, collapsed and died from exposure and over-exertion. …” (Faust, James E. “Come Listen to a Prophet’s Voice: A Priceless Heritage”. Friend. September 2002) also “Pioneer Story- James Kirkwood.”
You could also opt to tell the story of Sisters Julia and Emily.
“During one particularly difficult time for me, I prayed for understanding and had a dream about Julia and Emily. Their example of sisterhood lifted and encouraged me. Whether what I saw in my dream really happened exactly as I imagined does not matter to me. What does matter is the lesson I learned. I came to see clearly the parallel between it and my own struggle.
In my dream, I could see Julia and Emily stranded in the snow on the windy summit of Rocky Ridge with the rest of the Willey handcart company. They had no heavy clothing to keep them warm. Julia was sitting in the snow, shaking. She could not carry on. Emily, who was freezing as well, knew that if she did not help Julia stand up, Julia would die. As Emily wrapped her arms around her sister to help her up, Julia began to cry—but no tears came, only soft whimpering sounds. Together they walked slowly to their handcart. Thirteen died that terrible night. Julia and Emily survived.” (Christensen, Debbie J. “Julia and Emily: Sisters in Zion” Ensign. June 2004)
*We actually ran short on time so I skipped this song. It was perfectly fine.
Salt Lake Valley: (Hymns 19) We Thank Thee Oh God, For a Prophet
(I ran out of time to tell a story. But here’s one I found.)
“The main company of pioneers had arrived and begun planting on a Saturday. The next day was Sunday, and even though there was much work to do, the pioneers rested from their labors and held worship services to thank Heavenly Father for bringing them safely to the valley. They were grateful to finally have a place where they could live in peace. That Sunday Brigham Young preached to the Saints and reminded them of the importance of keeping the Sabbath day holy. Wilford Woodruff recorded: “He told the brethren that they must not work on Sunday, [and if they did,] they would lose five times as much as they would gain by it” (quoted in Carter E. Grant, The Kingdom of God Restored,p. 430).
The following days were very busy. Brigham Young and several other brethren explored the area to determine the best places to settle. President Young had told his companions: “I can tell you before you start, you will find many good places … all around us, and you will all return feeling satisfied that this is the most suitable place. … Here is the place to build our city” (quoted in Erastus Snow, “This Is the Place,” pp. 41–42). After exploring the area the men agreed with President Young. By Wednesday the Apostles had decided that the city would be laid out in large square blocks with wide streets. This was the same pattern that had been revealed to the Prophet Joseph Smith as he planned the city of Zion in Missouri. Wednesday evening President Young led the other men to a place between two forks of a large creek. He planted his cane in the ground and said, “Here will be the Temple of our God!” (quoted in Grant, p. 432).” (“The Saints Settle the Salt Lake Valley” Primary 5: Doctrine and Covenants and Church History, (1997), 238-44.”)
I hope you are able to use this Pioneer Trail Activity. I’d love to hear how you use it. I hope you are able to find strength and gain a greater appreciation as you do this activity. I know I did. Best wishes!