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Wagon trek to re-trace pioneer steps to California

In the tradition of the 1997 Mormon Trail sesquicentennial re-enactment, a wagon train trek next year will commemorate Latter-day Saint colonization in Southern California.

During the week of April 25, 2001, the tri-state Heritage Trails Celebration will commence, marking the 150th anniversary of the departure from present-day Utah of the first colonists to settle in Southern California after California was granted statehood.

This pioneer story is unique in the history of the West.

In 1851, under the directive of President Brigham Young, a wagon train of pioneers from Salt Lake City, including African-Americans, set out to establish a way-station between there and the San Pedro Harbor. Ten Jewish merchants shortly joined the settlement. Together, through united efforts with the Spanish rancho families and Native Americans already in the Southland, they created a colony which became an example of the true spirit of community.

The pioneers' belief in the brotherhood of man and that individual endeavors should be delayed until the community was successfully established were high priorities. Their synergy thrust the San Bernardino Valley into the economic center of the Southwest. "They worked almost as one family, they were so united," wrote LDS pioneer Mary Ann Phelps Rich.

The wagon train will retrace the footsteps of these and other pioneers who came west establishing various trails: thus the name Heritage Trails Wagon Train. Travelers will traverse the difficult trails forged by Fremont and early Spanish padres. Their paths will primarily follow the Southern California Mormon Trail but will cross the earliest trails of the Mojave Indians as well.

The journey will also take them through established communities in three states. Welcome parties and educational activities are planned at many locations along the trail to share the history and their modern-day experiences with citizens and school groups.

A finale is planned for the arrival of the wagon train June 29-July1 in Southern California.

A web site is planned to disseminate information about the Heritage Trails Celebration: www.heritagetrails.cc .

Those who wish to participate in part or all of the trek may register through the web site. The site will be constructed in subsequent months to include the history, trails information and actual photos and video from the trail. Details for all three states will be included.

The organizers of the wagon train are among those who were involved with organizing the Pioneer Sesquicentennial Re-enactment in commemoration of the original wagon train trek from Nauvoo to Salt Lake City in 1846-47. The Church is not a sponsor of the trek.