Friday, September 17, 2010

Pioneering Article

[For background on why I wrote this click here]

The Mormon pioneering movement began in 1847 and lasted through 1868. Throughout those 22 years, over 250 companies and 60,000 people answered the call to “come to Zion”. The most commonly held images are of people riding and walking beside Conestoga style covered wagons or pushing and pulling handcarts filled with all their belongings. But companies were also organized to bring food, supplies, and equipment. A few pioneers even came west by ship to California, the Brooklyn being the most famous, and then onward to the Great Basin.

The first pioneer companies arrived in the spring of 1847. These companies were made of hand-picked individuals that were given specific tasks to ensure the success of later pioneers. This included planting crops, building roads, ferries and shelter to prepare the way for the thousands who were expected to follow. Brigham Young arrived in the Great Basin on July 24, 1847, an event now commemorated as Pioneer Day in Utah.

Proven leaders were selected to captain each company. Companies were organized into groups of 100, and subdivided into groups of 50 and 10. Some companies were created as early as the fall of 1845 in Nauvoo, Illinois, to prepare for the expected move west. These companies combined resources to purchase food, supplies, livestock and raw materials like iron. They cooperated to build wagons and much needed equipment. In subsequent years, companies were organized in other cities in the mid west, such as Iowa City, Iowa.

Gathering to “Zion” was considered as much a communal responsibility as an individual one. Those who were able to get their own families to the Great Basin were sent back to bring others who were without the means to come on their own. In 1849, a “perpetual emigration fund” was set up to assist the poorer Mormons who could not afford to leave their temporary homes in Iowa. Started with donations and Church support, the fund was to be replenished over time by those who benefited. While never a financial success, it succeeded in gathering many who would not have been able to do so otherwise. It was later expanded to bring converts from Europe as well.

As the fund ran low on money, more efficient means were devised to bring Saints to Zion. One such effort was the use of handcarts instead of wagons. Ten handcart companies were organized between 1858 and 1860. Only two of them, the Martin and Willie Companies, ran into severe problems. Trapped by early snows, many perished before rescue parties arrived from Utah.

Regardless of how the pioneers traveled, most of them came along the same trail. Even if not in the same company, this created a shared, unifying, faith-building experience. Pioneers were driven by persecution, experienced hunger, thirst, and fatigue, and yet found time to sing, dance and pray together. Many died, though not in greater numbers than those travelling to Oregon or California.

The pioneering period came to a close with the completion of the transcontinental railroad on May 10, 1869.

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