Walking in footsteps of their Mormon ancestors – sort of
“My ancestors actually were pioneers and they crossed the plains,” said Hillary Hughes of Bedford, a teenager who belongs to the Mormon congregation in town.
“I feel like it’s really cool to get a glimpse of what they went through because I don’t think I could ever really do this.”
The teenage congregants, half of whom came from Vermont, were participating in Carry On to Zion, a reenactment of the Mormon diaspora of the mid-18th century. Though many of them are converts, many recall the stories, passed from generation to generation, of their ancestors’ trip across the Great Plains, seeking the religious freedom they would only find outside of U.S. territory.
The destination was what the Arapaho called Wo’tééneihí’, and what the settlers would call Utah.
Similar events have been taking place for more than two decades, even some where the devotees travel the entire path of their ancestors, from the Midwestern U.S. westward to Utah.
Each group is responsible for carrying a wagon loaded with camping supplies. And each kid must place all of their possessions in a 5-gallon bucket that can weigh no more than 17 pounds.
The group is divided into “families,” each of which has a “ma” and “pa” adult leader. The groups were designed so the kids would be meeting new people.
Bedford resident Madison Earnshaw, 15, said some of her ancestors were Australian immigrants who converted to Mormonism in the United States.
“Between my own experience and hearing stories from my parents and my grandparents, they devoted their entire lives and gave up everything they had for what they believed in,” she said. “And it means a lot to me to try to honor the memory of what they did.
“They gave up so much, especially the ones in the handcart companies. They were late and they had to travel through weather, and I just think it shows their devotion so much.”
The trip began last Thursday morning, Aug. 9, in Manchester, to end Saturday, Aug. 11, 15 miles later, in Raymond.
The kids congregated Thursday afternoon in a field in Auburn, their trail streaking through the middle of the field. A hundred children circled around two boys, each with two hands on a stick they were tugging to see who was the strongest.
The girls, dressed in the traditional maiden’s dresses of early America and Mormon conservatism, hooped as the boys, red in the face with their sneakers pushing against each other’s, pulled at the stick before finally one would inevitably give way.
Bedford’s Hadley Albiston, 16, said if she was faced with the decision to pack up and leave in the name of the faith, she would surely do so.
“We’re seeing this and it’s so amazing, even though we’re not leaving behind anything, it’s like, wow, they had to do so much, this must have been something that was important to them, so it must be important to us.”
Forrest Albiston, 18, a recent graduate from Bedford High School, said his grandmother was one of the 70,000 “pioneers” of the Mormon diaspora.
“She had to leave all her possessions, but she decided to carry a silver ladle and we still have that in our family. She brought it all the way to the plains.”
The ladle is now a family heirloom, a material reminder of the journey these kids experienced.
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