Honoring handcart pioneers
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At the mouth of Emigration Canyon, at the site where nearly 3,000 handcart pioneers ended their 1,300-mile journeys to the Salt Lake Valley during the years from 1856-60, President Gordon B. Hinckley on July 24 dedicated a new monument in their honor.
The monument is the newest addition to This Is the Place Heritage Park, a former state park now administered by a non-profit foundation. The park is anchored by the mammoth This Is the Place Monument, which was dedicated in 1947 by President George Albert Smith."Journey's End" comprises a heroic-size, bronze sculpture depicting a family of pioneers kneeling in a fervent prayer of gratitude adjacent to their handcart. The work is surrounded by indigenous desert landscaping, informational plaques and a concrete walkway. A gift of Lewis D. and Mary R. Bowerman and sculpted by Stanley J. Watts, it is within a stone's throw of This Is the Place Monument, which commemorates the occasion on July 24, 1847, when Brigham Young first gazed upon the valley and is said to have uttered the famous words, "This is the right place; drive on."
Among dignitaries at the hour-long program were Elders Russell M. Nelson and M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve, Utah Gov. Michael O. Leavitt (who also spoke), U.S. Sens. Orrin Hatch and Robert Bennett of Utah; and Reps. Chris Cannon and Merrill Cook of Utah.
"The Bowermans have done a very significant thing," President Hinckley said in remarks prior to the dedicatory prayer. "This artistic work by Stan Watts will remain here in bronze for generations to come as a reminder of the tremendous efforts of those who came to this valley pulling handcarts.
"I think none of us can really imagine for a moment that which they endured. I've been on the trail which they followed a number of times. . . . I want to say that, in my judgment, all told, there is no story of greater sacrifice in the history of this nation than the overall story of the handcart pioneers."
President Hinckley recalled being at the docks in Liverpool, England, and seeing the ship's register of those who left the port for the Salt Lake Valley in pioneer days. "I saw there the name of my wife's grandmother, who didn't have a handcart but was in the Hunt [wagon] company which was assigned to travel with the Martin handcart company to give such help as they could.
"I have read again and again the journal of the 13-year-old girl, Mary Goble [Sister Hinckley's grandmother], who was in that grim experience."
He said Mary's family left Liverpool May 19, 1856, and were six weeks at sea. They landed at Boston, and took a steam train to Iowa City.
"In the months that followed, they traveled up the Platte [River] and down the Sweetwater, suffering, watching the dying all around them," President Hinckley recounted. "She recorded in her journal that they reached the last crossing of the Platte and great chunks of ice were floating in the water. Fourteen people died that night. They had no place to bury them. The ground was frozen. They wrapped them up as best they could and tried to pile rocks on them to save them from the wolves. It was a terrible and grim experience for a 13-year-old girl."
On that journey, she lost one sister, then another and then a brother, President Hinckley said. His voice breaking with emotion, he added, "She came into this valley holding on her lap in a wagon the dead remains of her mother. Only the father and two daughters survived."
The Church leader said he has been to Martin's Cove in Wyoming a number of times, where many members of the Martin handcart company perished, and further down the Sweetwater River to the site where the Willie company would have all perished had aid been delayed just a few days longer.
"Some 200 of those who came by handcart died on the long journey," he noted.
Raising his voice in emphasis, President Hinckley declared: "Everybody who lives in Utah, be he Mormon, non-Mormon, Jew, Gentile, whatever, owes a debt of obligation to those who paid so great a price for the comforts which we enjoy this day. And I'm grateful that, with the growing diversity of this state, as evidenced in the [Days of '47] parade this morning, there is an acknowledgment of that tremendous sacrifice, that terrible price, from those who laid the foundations of this great state.
"I will never get over being thankful to them; I hope you never get over being thankful to them. I hope that we will always remember them and let us read again and again, and read to our children or our children's children, the accounts of those who suffered so much."
In his remarks, Gov. Leavitt told of his great-great-grandmother, who described standing in the mouth of the canyon and then moving into town with her pioneer company, which unfurled a banner they had carried with them their entire journey that said, "Hail to the governor of the state of Deseret." (Under the governorship of Brigham Young, Utah Territory was known for a time as the state of Deseret.)
The governor said, "I accept this statue on behalf of the people of Utah and say may this work inspire our every step forward, ever forward, believing in God and that with God's help we will all reach our journey's end."
Referring to the statue, sculptor Watts said, "To me the most significant prayers we offer in life are those in which we acknowledge the hand of the Lord and kneel in humility and gratitude. At the end of a long journey it's easy to think that we got there by ourselves. But I'd like to testify that we don't. Like this pioneer family, we rely on our Heavenly Father for the strength to take every step on the trail."
Brother Bowerman, whose family funded the monument, said the idea for it came to him at 4 o'clock one morning. He reflected on the park and realized that there was as yet no recognition for the handcart pioneers. "In my mind's eye, I could see a family of five kneeling in prayer," he said.
He took the idea to Elder Ballard, who encouraged him to pursue it. Park officials approved it, and after 14 months, the idea became a reality.
"It's for you!" he exclaimed. "It's for the people of Utah. I want your children to enjoy it."
Elaine Wright Christensen, Utah's poet laureate for 1990, read a moving poem she composed expressly for the occasion, "At Journey's End." The poem reads in part:
For the last time we lift the propstick from beneath the cart's handle.
For the last time we grease the wheels with tallow and take our accustomed spots, right and left, front and back,
to push and pull for the very last time,
all that we own,
all that we are,
all that we've become
on our wooden cross of a handcart.
A Primary children's choir, directed by Amy Claflin, sang a medley of songs, with Sister Claflin soloing on a song written for the occasion. And the Journey's End Choir, organized for the occasion, performed "Faith in Every Footstep," which was commissioned by the Church for the Pioneer Sesquicentennial in 1997.
Prelude and postlude music was provided by the Nauvoo Brass Band, which accompanied the audience in the singing of "Come, Come, Ye Saints."
Attendance was estimated at about 4,000 by Stephen M. Studdert, chairman of the board of trustees of This Is the Place Foundation, who conducted the program.
Brother Studdert, president of the Highland Utah East Stake, said the facility is the first state park in Utah to be "privatized." That happened in 1998 by act of the Utah Legislature. The park includes an attractive visitors center completed in 1996, the year of the state's centennial.
A centerpiece of the park is Old Deseret Village, a living-history attraction similar in concept to Colonial Williamsburg and historic Nauvoo. A master plan calls for some 20 additional historic buildings to be built in the village, Pres. Studdert said.