On Pioneer Experiences

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These two talks were given a the pre-Trek fireside for the Ashburn, VA Stake 2010 Youth Conference. They apply original pioneer stories to our upcoming experience.

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Title Page

On Pioneer Experiences

Two Talks Given at the Pre-Trek
Stake Youth Conference Fireside
in Ashburn, Virginia

By Janet G. Andrus
and D. Calvin Andrus

06 June 2010, Version 1.0


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Janet's Talk


Welcome to Trek . . .

Hopefully, you have had an opportunity to explore the wonderful website that Sister Dall and her great publicity staff have set up to help you prepare for Trek. I like to refer to the website as “everything you wanted to know about Trek and didn’t even know to ask.”

I would like to introduce you to Trek by taking you on a journey through time:

Webster Family

Let’s begin in 1856. As Francis Webster and his wife, Ann Elizabeth Parsons, prepared to leave London, they had $1600 in cash. This was enough money for them to outfit themselves in luxury for a trip from London to Salt Lake City. Francis placed $500 with a Church agent to purchase for him a good wagon with full camp equipment and two yoke of good cattle. He planned to pick it up at the point in America where Mormons started across the plains. Soon after this order was placed, advice came from Brigham Young to the Saints of England, for the well-to-do to share with and give assistance to the poor members of the Church so that they also might come to Zion.

Francis Webster heard that advice and was ready to obey counsel. The price of that good outfit he had ordered would pay passage of nine additional persons to Utah. Even knowing that a baby would be born to them on the plains, the Websters canceled the wagon order and elected to travel by handcart so that the money might bring nine more souls to Zion. They would trust themselves to the providence of God.

Sacrificing their comfort, the Websters suffered dysentery, hunger, weakness, cold, hardship, and frozen feet alongside saints sponsored by the Perpetual Emigration Fund. Upon arrival in Utah, their possessions amounted to less than the 10 pounds allowed for members of the Martin Company. Francis stated: “I paid my Tithing on the little clothing I brought with me.” It was he who said years later, “Was I sorry that I chose to come by handcart? No! Neither then nor any minute of my life since. The price we paid to become acquainted with God was a privilege to pay and I am thankful that I was privileged to come in the Martin Handcart Company.” (Allphin, Jolene, Tell My Story, Too, TMS Publications, 2005)

Sherriff Family

Now let’s move forward in time 34 years to 1890 and another type of pioneer--

The Sherriff Family lived in Pickens, South Carolina. Whiteford and Blueford Sherriff were twin brothers. (They also had another brother who was known as “Red.”) Whiteford Sherriff married Martha McNeely in 1888. Whiteford and Martha were contacted in their staunchly Protestant community by a Mormon missionary from Oak City, Utah.

Whiteford and Martha had a very sick baby who was not expected to live. The missionary came and administered to the baby, and the baby made a full recovery. This healing was a major factor in Martha and Whiteford becoming members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. After they joined the Church, they suffered religous persecution from both community and family. The missionary who baptized them invited them to move to Oak City, Utah, where he would help them get settled in Zion.

Whiteford and his family of 8 children worked very hard to earn enough money to be able to move to Oak City. Most of them worked at a cotton gin, including my grandmother, who was then 15 years old. They made the trip by train from Pickens, South Carolina, to Lemington, Utah, which was the nearest train station to Oak City. When they arrived in Lemington after dark in the late fall, they had one jar of tomatoes left, and there was no one there to meet them. The missionary who had taught them the Gospel had died. They saw a light from a house in the distance. The family who lived in the house took them in and helped them get to Oak City, where the Saints there helped them get started in their new life. (Oral history given by Dorothy Nielson Giles, 2010)

I can only imagine what Whiteford and Martha’s reaction must have been to their surroundings in Southern Utah. I have been to the area of South Carolina where they were from. It is lush and green and beautiful. The area around Oak City is sage brush, tumble weeds, a few cedar trees, and dry farms. I would have felt like putting my family back on the train and going back to South Carolina, but Whiteford and Martha raised their family in Zion.

Our Trek Experience

Now let’s jump forward again in time to the present day--

Just as Brigham Young asked the Websters to sacrifice their worldly wealth, we are asking you to give up your worldly wealth--ipods, cell phones, Facebook, the internet--for 3 days. Just as the Sherriff Family overcame hardships through the help of others, we are asking you to overcome hardships by helping each other. And we are asking you to sacrifice and help with joy as you wend your way. (Hymn 30, LDS Hymnal)

LDS Apostle Parley P. Pratt passed most of the handcart companies in 1856 as he traveled east on a mission. He could see that “Their faces were much sunburnt and their lips parched; but cheerfulness reigned in every heart, and joy seemed to beam on every countenance. . .” (The Autobiography of Parley Parker Pratt, 1938, p. 435)

At the end of your Trek experience, we hope that you will be able to agree with Francis Webster of the Martin Handcart Company when he said that, “ . . . the price we paid to become acquainted with God was a privilege to pay and I am thankful that I was privileged to come . . “

In the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

Calvin's Talk


I also want to welcome you to trek. We know the Spirit of the Lord is in this work and we are happy and grateful to be a part of this youth conference.

Sister Andrus spoke about the experiences of two families on their treks to Zion. One family came by handcart and one family came by train. So, while both families were engaged in the same general activity of seeking Zion, their individual experiences were tailored to their individual circumstances. Let me tell you one more story--this one about my ancestors. Please notice, that while the general activity of seeking Zion is the same, the individual experience is unique.

Ewell Family

In 1833, William Fletcher Ewell was a medical student at William and Mary College in Williamsburg, VA. During his summer vacation, he served as a missionary for the Church, preaching the gospel in Missouri. He taught the gospel to the family of John Bland, a wealthy farmer who had moved from Virginia to Missouri. Over the summer, William and one of the farmer's daughters, named Mary Lee Bland, fell in love. At the end of the summer he went back to medical school. They corresponded over the school year and when he finished medical school he came back to Missouri and they got married.

When the saints were forced from Missouri, William and Mary moved to Nauvoo. In 1846, when the saints were leaving Nauvoo to trek across the plains, William was mustered into the Mormon Battallion to fight in the Mexican War. When he left Mary and the children in Nauvoo, they promised to meet in the western gathering place. He marched 2000 miles with the battalion from Nauvoo to Santa Fe, New Mexico, to San Diego and then up to Los Angeles.

In the mean time, Mary and the children left to go west. It was very hard for her to make the trek alone with all her kids. She decided to stop part way across the plains and stay in the place called Winter Quarters. There she waited for the return of her husband William.

When William was discharged in the summer of 1847 from the Battalion, he made his way up to Salt Lake City and looked for his family. He discovered that they had not yet arrived. He then spent the fall traveling across the plains in the opposite direction as the main body of pioneers. He finally found his beloved wife and children in Winter Quarters. They were so happy to be together again as a family. They planned to stay in Winter Quarters during that winter to prepare to travel to Salt Lake in the spring of 1848.

William, however, was physically spent, having walked 4,000 miles to California and back over about 15 months. During that winter, there was a lot of sickness in Winter Quarters. Unfortunately for Mary and the kids, William caught the sickness that was going around. He eventually died of the illness and was buried in Winter Quarters. So after waiting to be reunited with her husband, Mary still had to cross the plains, with her children, without him.

Of this experience, Mary said she had thought about going back to live with her wealthy father. In the end she knew the church was true and--with the kind help of fellow pioneers--cheerfully followed the the prophet's call to gather her family with the Saints in the west. She learned the hard way how to wend her way with joy. (Story taken from an unpublished typescript, "The History of Mary Lee Bland as Told to a Granddaughter.")

Our Trek Experience

In about a month, we will all participate in the same general activity -- the Trek Youth Conference. Yet, each of us will be taught individually by the Spirit. We will learn wisdom about ourselves for ourselves. We each bring gifts to Trek. Some bring physical strength, others bring charming personalities, and still others bring spiritual prowess. We each also bring weaknesses to Trek. Some are struggling with their relationships with their parents or friends, others are struggling with moral issues, and still others are struggling with their testimonies. When we come to trek to blend our strengths together as a group, we will help each other to receive insight and wisdom about the individual issues in our lives.

We have asked each of you to prepare, bring, and share a story about the people in your family who converted to the church. While the topic is the same for everyone, the individual stories will each be different. We have designed historical and spiritual experiences that we will all share together on trek. During these group experiences, The Spirit will touch you individually. My young brothers and sisters, we invite you to bring your strengths and weakness to Trek. We invite you to give to the group, so that you will receive as an individual.

Sister Andrus and I pray for you. We look forward to having joy, as we wend our way along the trail with you. May the Lord bless us all in this effort.

In the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.