SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. "We made history as we re-enacted history," Marilyn Mills, member of the Heritage Trails Association, told reporters on Friday, October 26. This was the day after the Heritage Trails Wagon Train arrived at its final destination at Glen Helen Regional Park just north of San Bernardino, Calif. The park is located on the site where the original wagon train, sent by Brigham Young 150 years ago, camped for three months before moving a few miles south to establish the city and county of San Bernardino.
"This is the only wagon train that I am aware of that has made this grueling trek from Utah to Southern California in modern times," she recounted.
This history-making wagon train re-enactment arrived exactly on time at the park entrance to pick up dignitaries to ride in wagons for the final quarter mile. Elder Tad Callister, Area Authority Seventy, representing the Church, and his wife, Cathy, were among the guests.
Amid cheers, drum cadences and swords raised in salute, the wagons led the procession of horseback riders and walkers through a military review. The Mormon Battalion re-enactment group, the Fort Moore Garrison, announced the arrival with cannon fire. The Fort Irwin Mounted Color Guard presented the colors and galloped around the circled wagons, which heightened the excitement.
"It was a very emotional moment. It was difficult to hold back the tears," said Eugene Olsen of the California Hesperia Stake, who joined the trek for the final six miles. Brother Olsen reported that more than one hundred walkers who had also joined for the final miles gave the wagons rousing and prolonged applause. Some of the walkers broke out singing "The Battle Hymn of the Republic," and many of the others joined in.
"We shared the feeling that those who came the full 600 miles had really accomplished something. Our thoughts turned to the people who came in 1851. At times they ran out of food and water along the arduous trail. We had plenty of food and water, and traveled in the pleasant fall," Brother Olsen said.
Russ Bogh, a California State Assemblyman and descendant of Apostle Amasa Lyman who was part of the original trek, presented a joint resolution from the State Legislature. Presentations were also made by representatives from the County and City of San Bernardino. A proclamation from Spanish Fork, Utah, Mayor Dale Barney, to the Mayor of San Bernardino, Judith Valles, was delivered by wagon master Paul Bliss.
A dramatic presentation of the history being honored was a high point of the evening. Marvin Perkins, Specialist for African-American Relations to the Southern California Public Affairs Council, and Nathleen Albright, member of the Southern California Genesis Group, recounted the names and experiences in word and song of the 24 African-American pioneers who were part of the original trek of 1851. The audience was challenged not to forget the African-American as well as the Jewish pioneers who helped to establish the colony.
Dinner for all was followed by a concert given by Kevin Sharp, LDS Country Western singer from Nashville, Tenn.
Two Lyman Family organizations and the members of the Charles C. Rich Family Organization held family reunions during the festivities. Thelma Deel, a great-granddaughter of Charles Rich, an apostle who helped lead the original trek, was honored as the oldest Rich descendant. She is 100 years old.
Friday morning about 2,000 area school children arrived at the park to participate in early frontier activities. They learned the pioneer skills of rope and doll making, quilting, gold panning and blacksmithing. Native Americans whose ancestors were also part of this early history, shared their culture through story telling, demonstrations, music and dance. An encampment by Mormon Battalion re-enactors taught about military life and the contributions of the battalion in early California. The San Bernardino Historical and Pioneer Society sponsored an extensive historical exhibit.
"A principal from one of the schools asked if we would consider doing the festival every year in that the early pioneer history is a missing segment in school curriculum," recounted Sister Mills. "We were able to give each student a brochure on the pioneer history which we hope will start to fill the void."
The Heritage Trails Association, which produced the celebration, expressed its gratitude for the endorsement of the Church for the wagon train and celebration. The association hopes to continue promoting and teaching this early pioneer history at other events during the year including the Los Angeles County Fair. Its next re-enactment will be at the Tournament of Roses EquestFest, which is held the three days prior to the New Year's Day parade at the Rose Bowl.
"We will continue to honor these Mormon, African-American and Jewish pioneers who were the first colonists to settle in Southern California after statehood," Sister Mills said. "Their example of true community and cooperation is an example worthy of emulation."