It's no secret that the Mormon Pioneers came out West to settle Utah Territory, which of course now is a state. Many of them walked across the plains, pulling and pushing handcarts to get here. Many suffered through loss of a loved one along the way; cholera, fever, dehydration, stampedes, etc. Many women lost babies in childbirth along the way, while other babies lost their mamas.
It was not an easy journey by any means. But unlike the pioneers heading to Oregon or California in search of gold, these pioneers sought religious freedom; freedom from the persecution they faced in New York, Ohio, Missouri, and Illinois.
July 24th is our Statehood Day, otherwise known as "Pioneer Day". There are many festivities that take place across the state. There are festivals complete with pioneer time games, foods, etc. And there are always fireworks too.
To me, it is apropos that we celebrate Pioneer Day in the same month as our nation's Independence day. It truly solidifies the feelings of our freedoms we now enjoy, including our religious freedoms.
Many people who were born and raised here in Utah have journals and letters passed down from generation to generation over the last 150 years. These contain the stories of their pioneer heritage. Many like to regale you with the anecdotes of those who came before them.
During 4th grade, each of my children have been able to learn the rich history of our state. I am glad and I think they value this. But, as always, as each of my children entered the 4th grade, they were each given the assignment to write about their first pioneer ancestor that came to Utah. This isn't a problem for about 80 or 90 percent of the kids. But, I always have to explain to my children, that we do not have Mormon pioneer ancestry. And they usually take the "optional" assignment to write about a prominent Utah pioneer, or about the first family member to come to Utah (US!).
Anyway, I was thinking the other day about my father's genealogy. The Amish come from a line of Anabaptists. Anabaptists, originally from Switzerland, were persecuted for their beliefs and driven from their homes. Many hid in the hills of Switzerland. Some then moved to Russia, others to Germany. From Germany, many fled and came to the United States in search of religious freedoms. Over the course of time, from Switzerland to the US, there were several break-off groups. Church of the Brethren, Mennonite, Amish, Hutterites, etc. Anyway, the Amish - my father's ancestors - settled mostly in Lancaster County, PA. Although they were not Quakers, they saw how the Quakers lived a life of peace and they knew they could be good neighbors. That is why they chose Lancaster County, and that is why many people confuse them with Quakers... because they originally settled there. Of course, once reaching Ellis Island, some went to Upstate New York, and even Canada. Many ventured on from PA and ended up in Ohio and Indiana, and a few smaller settlements have been known to exist in Michigan, South Dakota, Kansas, etc.
Anyway, I tell my kids that we DO have pioneer ancestry, since a Pioneer, by definition, is one who ventures into unknown territories to settle. Although they came to the US years before the pioneers we think of who crossed the plains, these were still pioneers. Of course, modern day definition can mean one who ventures into unstudied territory and opens up new thoughts or ideas; someone who leads the way,etc. I am sure when we look at it in that way, we all have a heritage rich in pioneer ancestry.
Anyway, back to the post at hand. This time of year there are many youth groups that embark on a journey to gain a first-hand glimpse of pioneer life. This experience is an adventure. 100s of youth sign up each year to experience "Pioneer Trek". They will usually walk for 3 or 4 days, pushing and pulling handcarts, carrying only certain necessities, while eating food and water that have been rationed. They will sleep on the ground, under the stars along the way. They will work and play. They will undoubtedly experience hardship. They will dress like the Pioneers do and leave their modern day things at home, such as ipods, cell phones, etc. (The organizers always have phones for emergencies though.) But for these kids, it is an experience of a lifetime. And for many, it is poignant as they consider the fact they are perhaps walking part of a journey that their ancestors did so painstakingly 150 years ago. They are guaranteed to come back changed.
My son left for Pioneer Trek 2010 yesterday. I know that he will have a great experience in spite of any difficulties his group has. I think he will love it, and being out there in nature, stripped of worldly distractions will also undoubtedly bring him closer to God. I know that through this experience he will also gain a greater appreciation for home and his siblings.
Here he is right before I dropped him off yesterday morning...