Juvenile Instructor » Youth Trek, Public History, and Becoming “Pioneer Children” in the Digital Age
 


Youth Trek, Public History, and Becoming “Pioneer Children” in the Digital Age

By: Tona H - August 07, 2013

In 2009 our stake organized its first trek for youth conference and put it into the regular rotation for youth conference planning. So 4 years later, we repeated the event this summer with roughly the same itinerary and logistics and presumably will keep it going in future years as well. Now, you may know that I live in New England, not in the Wasatch front region or along anything remotely resembling a traditional handcart route. Treks outside the historical landscape of the handcart companies have become commonplace: unusual enough to generate local news coverage, but frequent enough that a whole subculture has sprung up to support and celebrate it. With some similarities to Civil War reenactment in its emphasis on costuming, role play and historical storytelling, youth trek evokes and romanticizes selected aspects of the Mormon past to cement LDS identity and build youth testimony and unity. It is a unique (and, I’m arguing, actually very recent) form of LDS public history.

I’ve now attended and had a hand in planning both of the treks our stake conducted, so I’m of two minds about the whole experience. A double-consciousness, if you will. And I wanted to retread some of the ground so capably covered by Ben Park in his 2011 post about the uses and misuses of the Sweetwater River rescue. On the one hand when I see trek through my parent/stake leader eyes, it’s deeply satisfying because it works so well to accomplish its stated purposes: knit its participants closer together through ritualized sacred history and strengthen their relationship with Christ, while providing a challenging (but not abusive) taste of pioneer hardships. I admit I enjoy the pageantry of trek, and I probably go a little overboard on our own family’s preparations and clothing; this year for example I sewed a late 1840s dress from a historical pattern as part of my trek accoutrements, y’know, just for fun. On the other hand, when I experience trek as a historian and scholar of Mormonism, it’s endlessly fascinating and a little unsettling which parts of the past lend themselves to this kind of recreation and which parts are forgotten or discarded in order to adapt the realities of the past to the realities of the present.

One of the most intriguing aspects of the trek phenomenon is just how new it is, and how little of it comes by direction from Church headquarters. Like the early 20th century fundamentalist movement that invented and then promoted a series of Christian “fundamentals” in response to modernity with initial investment from Christian laymen, early 21st century Mormons – largely at the grassroots – have invented trek as a defining youth experience in response to certain cultural trends which they perceive as harmful to the formation of strong Mormon identity, including (in highly developed nations like the United States) media saturation, overabundance of physical comforts, and immodesty/ hypersexualization. Trek in its current form – i.e. a stake-directed handcart journey of relatively short duration with outdoor camping conducted by pretend “families” in costume – didn’t exist before the 1997 Sesquicentennial celebrations and has taken root especially since the 2004 purchase and restoration by the Church of Martin’s Cove in southwestern Wyoming; youth/family reunion treks soon offered a different take on the long traditions of Western dude ranching, outdoor adventuring, and heritage tourism. Google searching only dates back to about 2004, but notice how in this trend chart the term “trek” increases steadily with notable peaks in 2009 and 2013. trekGoogletrend

Coincidentally, those are the years of our stake’s two most recent treks and they fall into multiple 4-year cycles starting from the 1997 Sesquicentennial: 1997, 2001, 2005, 2009, 2103. [1] Prediction: watch for the next spike in 2017. While I can’t prove it, I’d surmise that LDS stake youth treks in recent years are bumping up these numbers, especially within the last 5 years. So why treks have gained such popularity at this particular juncture in history is worth considering.

It’s certainly not because they are cheap or easy. Youth conference treks of the kind our stake has now organized twice require significant mobilization of resources: purchase and maintenance of about twenty reproduction handcarts with 48-inch iron-clad wheels (made, ironically, by the Amish who have discovered what must be a truly lucrative niche market) that require warehousing in the off seasons and are shared among several stakes; arranging for permits, water, sanitation, food and camping accommodations for close to two hundred people; finding suitable terrain (in our case, a twenty-mile stretch of public rail trail through the New Hampshire woods); and involvement of dozens and dozens of people in arranging and performing music, printing materials, providing trek swag, planning activities, and costumed portrayal of historical Mormons.

I know our stake isn’t alone in designing a trek for its youth conferences; many American stakes now take part (though I’d love to see some actual numbers), and recent news articles highlight youth treks outside the United States that blended American pioneer and local culture in some really strange combinations (for example, goat butchering along the trail in Mongolia probably doesn’t raise an eyebrow there, but might strike our trek participants as disturbing and barbaric [2]).

Oddly, treks valorize merely a small fragment of the Mormon migration story, and then replay those fragments in perpetual syndication, trek after trek. Handcart pioneers themselves were relatively few compared to those arriving by wagon or railroad (just 10 companies between 1856 and 1860, an estimated 3000 handcart pioneers in total, representing less than 4% of the 19th century Mormon migration to the Great Basin), often serving as an inexpensive way for new British and Scandinavian converts to emigrate to Utah. Modern treks further winnow the handcart story to a few basic core elements, or reinvent new parts of the experience wholesale. Stake youth treks almost always include a women’s pull after the men/ boys have been called away temporarily into the Mormon Battalion or on missions (although neither of those events actually happened during any of the handcart journeys), and some kind of symbolic Sweetwater River crossing to recall the rescue of the snowbound Martin and Willie handcart companies (which at least did, in some form). Ours began by assembling on the grounds of the temple, discussing how mournful it was to leave the Nauvoo temple behind (although, again, none of the handcart companies departed from Nauvoo in winter and most of their members had never even seen the Nauvoo Temple, usually travelling directly from their home countries to Iowa City for outfitting), and ended with a rousing “Welcome to the Valley” celebration in a local park at trail’s end. Some treks have been guilty of crass emotionalism, at least if you believe the secondhand outrage generated by Bloggernacle posts about trek run amok: symbolic death of flour sack “infants” or family members, withholding water or rationing food, men spectating during the women’s pull, etc. But accuracy and verisimilitude isn’t the point anyway; as Terryl Givens said recently to the Boston Globe covering our neighboring stake’s trek a few weeks before our own, “treks are more a ritual of remembrance than a historical reenactment.”

As the Church grows worldwide, presumably the percentage of Latter-day Saints who can claim direct descendancy from Utah pioneers will decrease rather than increase. Why, then, has trek been such a successful and popular youth activity in recent years, given our Church’s more diverse composition? I’d like to propose a couple of hypotheses for discussion.

1) Nostalgia is a powerful glue, and trek sits in the sweet spot between public history and lived religion by giving people a chance to connect with Mormonism using all of their senses. Many youth activities (in my experience, anyway) put youth in the roles of consumers and spectators. In contrast, handcart trek compels active participation and awakens historical empathy and imagination. As stakes, wards and families rediscover (or manufacture) such connections to the Utah pioneer experience, they make religious meaning in landscape-specific contexts. The pioneer story isn’t abstract and distant, but immediate, concrete, and literally inscribed on one’s own local geography. Instead of receding farther from the present into the past, the handcart pioneer experience has been yanked forward through the wormhole of time, where it has become a useful and highly adaptable vehicle for building Mormon identity in an era of rapid growth and global extension. Again, I’m struck by how decentralized this phenomenon is, and by how the local reproduction of trek experiences serves as a vivid but entirely unplanned and uncontrolled form of LDS public history.

2) Trek’s current incarnations could only exist in the digital age and utterly depend upon internet and digital technology for their success. Maybe this is a stretch, since Mormons in any age use the tools available to them to build the kingdom, and the 21st century is no exception with its GPS, cell phones, and internet infrastructure of online business, genealogical resources, and social media. But: still, I’d argue that even though trek aspires to be a technology-free throwback to the 19th century, it’s very much a creature of its age. Stake trek websites build anticipation, share information, and permit online registration. Compilation videos, slide shows, Facebook albums and the like capture the experience in sophisticated digital formats for social media sharing. Take, for example, the recent viral video of a young man being delivered his mission call to his trek campsite by pony express – a brilliant yet bizarre mashup of filmed mission-call openings and trek videography that only really “happened” because a digital camera was there to catch it. Online retailers reap profits from trek clothing, while DIY bloggers create tutorials and Pinterest users assemble trek-related collages of ideas and images. All of this online buzz about trek amplifies any one stake’s efforts in the echo chamber of the web.

3) There is an underside worth mentioning. Perhaps some of the impulse behind the surge in treks at this historical moment is assimilative and reactionary, whether conscious or not, by substituting a (primarily white) historical backstory for the diverse real histories of the Church’s millions of members. It provides a conveniently coherent, sanitized, simplified, Mormon genesis story delivered at a formative time in a young person’s life. It generates unity but at the expense of diversity, performing whiteness in response to the growing nonwhite membership of the Church in the 20th and 21st century. Though probably with the best of intentions, trek denies the authenticity of other Mormon histories, other Mormon pasts, by making only the white/European handcart pioneers the heroes of our collective story. What the long-term impact, if any, of such re-writing (or re-erasing) of Mormonism’s history might be is not clear. But as each summer sees more and more LDS youth donning a stylized pioneer costume and tracing (someone’s) ancestral footsteps, that impact can’t help but be significant enough to attract scholarly notice.

 

 

[1] one of the earliest examples I was able to find was this 2001 Yahoo forum asking for advice on planning a trek – which suggests that it was not yet a well-established practice even within the intermountain West by that year.

[2] Hopefully the link to the original Church News article will be back up; it worked last week, but I can’t seem to link to the actual article this week. LDS Living had a short summary, but without all the good details.



32 Comments

  1. Ha! As I write my 15 year old daughter is awakening in a tent, donning the dress and I made, and getting ready for a 14 mile walk up and over Rocky Ridge, after doing an 8 mile walk to and through Martins Cove yesterday.

    She has no lds pioneer ancestors (though actual ancestors journeyed to California on the same trail 4 years before the Willie/Martin Companies, like 70,000 other people did that year), but she is still on this adventure in solidarity with her friends. Add one more layer to the mash up: she labeled her water bottle with “(her name) The Doctor’s Companion”, the bus is a TARDIS-substitute, and it’s all wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey stuff to her (did I quote that right?).

    Comment by Coffinberry — August 7, 2013 @ 7:13 am

  2. *and bonnet…

    Comment by Coffinberry — August 7, 2013 @ 7:14 am

  3. Dag-nabbit. Meant to add that this is at least the third Trek our stake has done; my oldest two went in 2005, my husband and I were a Pa and Ma in 2009 when our third son went, and now our youngest went this year. We have something like 280 youth going this year, plus something like 80 adults. The transportation and food logistics are mind boggling. It is a 4+ hour bus ride to the Handcart historical site. It will be a 5 hour ride back. Back in 2005, the youth were carpooled up… I did that 8 hour round trip as a driver. They decided that was too many cars and too risky to do again do that’s why they use buses.

    Comment by Coffinberry — August 7, 2013 @ 7:21 am

  4. Tona, this is great–certainly the most thoughtful piece on the meanings and potential consequences of Stake youth treks I’ve ever read.

    Karim and I went on a trek as “Ma” and “Pa” with youth in our Stake in 2010. When the local paper ran a story on the event that included a photo of me in full pioneer costume, I was a bit embarrassed, and when a couple of fellow grad students saw it ad asked about it, I was very embarrassed. I was surprised, then, by their reaction: Instead of light-hearted jabbing, I was met with fairly routine intrigue. Historical reenactment and costume, of course, is common-place in my neck of the woods, with both Civil War reenactments and the costumed actors employed by Colonial Williamsburg, Jamestown, and Yorktown a common daily sight to residents of the Historical Triangle. I wonder how that local context colors public response to treks.

    Also, I had no idea that the Amish made handcarts—faaaaascinating. Do you (or anyone else) know more about how that came about? Did local LDS leaders approach the Amish? Did the Amish see the potentially profitable enterprise and fill demand in the marketplace? Has this led to any sort of more formal interaction between the two groups?

    Comment by Christopher — August 7, 2013 @ 7:42 am

  5. Fantastic post. Will use it in my “HolyLands” class!

    Comment by Max — August 7, 2013 @ 8:10 am

  6. The stake in which I lived as a teen in the early ninties in PA did trek (I skipped it), so there is some pre-Sesquicentennial, East coast precedent. But the idea of trek erasing diveristy here rings true to me. A few years back, our NM stake did trek, and when the Mormon Battalion episode occured, calling the men off to fight Mexico in the name of freedom, my bishop and I raised our eyebrows. About half of the young men there were Hispanic, many the sons of immigrants from Mexico, so the whole thing tasted wrong. Overall trek was a positive experience, but that moment was rather jarring.

    Comment by Roy — August 7, 2013 @ 9:05 am

  7. This is a great write-up. Thanks, Tona.

    I remembered my husband mentioning a trek experience as a youth, so I asked him about that.

    In 1984, his Bountiful, Utah Stake held youth conference as a wilderness camping experience. The participants were organized into families with a couple from his ward serving as “parents” with a mixed set of boys and girls as “children.”

    There was no specific pioneer theme, but they wore bandanas and bonnets and sang songs around the campfire. There were no handcarts or covered wagons, no “women’s pull,” no generated pain and suffering. They did rock climbing and zip lines. My husband notes that it was a very good experience, that he enjoyed the interaction with his “family,” that he still has the bandana, and that it was an important event in his spiritual development.

    His stake held the next similar youth conference four or five years later. This time it was a joint endeavor between the stake and the BYU youth recreation program, held in a canyon in Utah County. He said that because of his prior experience, he had high hopes for the experience, but it wasn’t as good.

    His “pa” was a young, unmarried stake young men’s leader and the “ma” was a BYU camp counselor. They had at least one notable clash.

    The program used some sort of carriage-sized wagons that were larger than a handcart, smaller than a normal wagon. It took at least four people to pull them. (I’m wondering here if the change to the use of handcarts for stake youth treks changed the way we tell the pioneer stories as a church. Have the logistics of modern treks changed our visualization of the pioneer experience?)

    There was an effort in the 1988/89 Trek to recreate the pain and suffering aspect of the pioneer experience: there was a “women’s pull,” and the diet was restricted; for example, dinner the first night was cornmeal mush, although the food was better after that.

    My husband said it was a mix of “spiritual/weepy situations and silly BYU skits around the campfire…a cobbled-together mix of emotions.”

    Both youth conferences had the same kind of isolated wilderness time for each teenager, an hour of personal spiritual reflection, and they still do that in our modern stake trek, held every four years in the mid-Atlantic region.

    As to how his experience was different from our stake trek, he said that here, all the youth are expecting the women’s pull. If they didn’t have it, the kids would object. There is now an expectation for the suffering and toil aspect of trek, but in 1988/89 it was strange for the kids.

    Comment by Amy T — August 7, 2013 @ 9:32 am

  8. I have a comment that must be going into moderation. I edited and resubmitted it in case it was something on my end, but it disappeared again, so could someone fish the latest version out of moderation? Thanks!

    Comment by Amy T — August 7, 2013 @ 9:35 am

  9. I am no expert in the anthropology or sociology of religion, but it seems to me that Treks are a form a of pilgrimage, almost like a mini-Hajj. I used to think the Treks honored the wrong event in pioneer history–the failed experiment of handcarts, indeed the worst failures during that experiment. And that we ought to celebrate the most successful forms–and have a periodic stake train ride to celebrate the coming of the railroad and how much more efficient pioneer journeys then became. But that would miss the point of Trek as pilgrimage.

    Comment by DavidH — August 7, 2013 @ 9:35 am

  10. I spent my first Father’s Day where I was an actual father as a Pa on Pioneer Trek in Maryland in 1993. That trek was the second trek that stake had participated in and if I recall correctly they were on a 4-yr cycle. Thus, their first trek probably occurred in the late 80s or early 90s. We did a woman’s pull, but no Mormon Battallion. I enjoyed the experience, including the fact we trekked/camped on a Sunday which I understand today is verboten.

    Comment by rbc — August 7, 2013 @ 9:57 am

  11. Fascinating. Required reading on treks is Robert Kirby, excerpt and link my post here: http://bycommonconsent.com/2008/09/11/mormon-youtube-2/ he writes hilariously about the buried plastic babies issue. I also have a link to a stake YouTube video documenting distribution of plastic baby dolls.

    Comment by Cynthia L. — August 7, 2013 @ 10:12 am

  12. This is great. I’m writing about treks in a transnational context and will definitely keep this post in mind! Thanks, Tona.

    Comment by Saskia — August 7, 2013 @ 10:41 am

  13. This is maybe a stupid comment, but, uh, you don’t think the spikes in 2009 and 2013 perhaps have more to do with the Star Trek movies than a bunch of kids with handcarts?

    Comment by seya — August 7, 2013 @ 10:58 am

  14. Really interesting. I’m most intrigued with what appears to be a very quick consensus that has emmerged across the nation. My stake (literally on the other side of the continent) is also on a four year cycle, and this year was trek. How did this become normative if not centrally directed?

    Comment by J. Stapley — August 7, 2013 @ 11:29 am

  15. Dang, seya – you’re probably right! Revoke my geek badge.

    Great comments, everyone… I’m so happy to be proven wrong on my “not before 1997″ claim – I think the MidAtlantic treks in late 1980s/early 1990s is interesting. Keep the memories coming.

    Christopher – no idea where/when the Amish entered the story, but I’d love to find out.

    Cynthia L – thanks for that link!

    DavidH – that rings really true to me, connecting it with pilgrimage. One way it’s not like a Hajj is that each locale designates its own symbolic holy land, whereas in Muslim pilgrimage of course the actual place is indispensable to the experience and so the crowds grow ever larger. Every LDS stake its own mini-Mecca.

    Comment by Tona H — August 7, 2013 @ 11:32 am

  16. J. Stapley – telepathic sympathetic resonance?

    Comment by Tona H — August 7, 2013 @ 11:32 am

  17. Our Stake, as well as those around us, also had Trek this year.

    The Stake YM’s President is a good friend of mine and I gave him a lot of grief about whether or not the Trek was the best idea for Youth Conference. He asked that I encourage others to go and to follow up with them on their experiences. And wouldn’t you know, everyone I talked to loved it. They said it was difficult but it would be something they would always remember.

    One cool thing that our Stake did in SW Iowa, was finish the Trek at a Methodist Church near Silver City, IA that was apparently built by a Mormon community that stayed behind (sorry, don’t have all the details). This is where we had our testimony meeting which turned out great.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/thebouncingczech/8931294806/

    Comment by Tim J — August 7, 2013 @ 11:41 am

  18. This is a fantastic post, Tona. Congratulations and thanks.

    Comment by Edje Jeter — August 7, 2013 @ 11:53 am

  19. Youth Trek has become somewhat of an industry in Southern California. Riley’s Farm near Oak Glen, California (rileysfarm.com) hosts stakes from around the state and provides the script and supplies for an elaborate reenactment. Here’s a map of their standard trail and activity outline: http://cl.ly/image/3h1J2a1m210S

    A high councilor from a stake that used Riley’s Farm told me that their stake will never put on their own Trek again. That 4-year cycle might be interrupted by services like this.

    Comment by Dave — August 7, 2013 @ 12:20 pm

  20. Native American LDS members have a duel reaction to the LDS Pioneer Day and Pioneer Treks. On the one hand you have the negative connection of white colonization and Indian removal to accommodate the Lord’s people on the Lord’s land. On the flipside, you have people who have made a decision and effort to accept the LDS faith and understand without the arrival of the LDS people, they would have no LDS faith. As a result most Native American LDS wards do not participate in LDS Pioneer Treks. There are some Native individuals who are members of white LDS wards that at times do attend LDS Pioneer Treks.

    This year, 2013, our ward was prepared for their Pioneer Trek at Martin’s Cove and Six Crossings. I contemplated about attending the trek for the very first time only due to the fact that my wife’s parents are senior missionaries and would take our ward through these areas as guides.

    In preparation for our ward’s Pioneer Trek to Martin’s Cove, they brought in Howard A. Christy who has written extensively on the Willie and Martin Handcart story. Obviously, his presentation was a faith promoting story considering his audience. Afterward, I had the opportunity to speak one on one with him. I asked him why is the Willie and Martin story so popular and highlighted throughout the Church so much, considering that these people decided to disregard their religious leaders and as a result many people died? Christy replied that this story is one of great faith. I then asked, what makes their faith more important than all the other handcart companies that followed their religious leaders, why not celebrate the faithful pioneers who followed their leaders? Christy responded by stating that the Willie and Martin companies make a good story that sells. He also said more, but that is for another time. I said, okay and left it at that.

    I also learned that our Church leaders highly encouraged participants to dress up as pioneers. I personally decided that my son and I would not dress up and joked with ward members that we would shoot arrows at them along the trek. I noticed ward member franticly search or making their own pioneer clothing and then I noticed this (http://pinterest.com/rthatcher2/pioneer-trek/), not only could LDS members dress up as white pioneers, they could also dress up and play “Indian” for the trek. I’m not really surprised by this in fact, since every Halloween a number of our ward members like to dress up as “Indians.”

    I approached my Church leaders and offered to do a presentation on “LDS – Indian relations along the Mormon Pioneer Overland Trail,” which came in part from an internship I had with William Hartley who at the time was working on his book about the Mormon Pioneer Overland Trail, but instead he used that information for the Utah t.v. show “History of the Saints” and edited the companion book, History of the Saints: The Great Mormon Exodus and the Establishment of Zion. For whatever reason, my bishop and his councilors laughed (I think they thought I was just joking). They probably laugh because every year during the LDS Pioneer Day, our Church invites ward members with pioneer heritage to present talks during sacrament meeting. Every year I ask when am I going to be invited to share my family’s pioneer story, since my family’s interaction with the LDS Church goes back to 1857. Every year they laugh, maybe next year?
    I was not able to make the trek this year, but we did have to drive out east and along the way decided to stop off at the Mormon Trail Center at Historic Winter Quarters in Council Bluffs, Iowa. I figured this would be a suitable replacement to the Wyoming Pioneer trek our ward was planning.

    Comment by Mr. Smallcanyon — August 7, 2013 @ 1:08 pm

  21. Love this post, Tona. My home stake is also on a 4 year rotation, fwiw.

    Comment by J Stuart — August 7, 2013 @ 3:43 pm

  22. In the mid-1980s the Westchester Stake in New York spent part of one day of their winter youth conference in a mini-trek–a hike through the snowy hills around a YMCA camp in the Catskills with a cobbled-together mini handcart. I was a mostly uninterested spectator (our stake was piggy-backing on their youth conference and hadn’t been involved much in the planning), but things got a lot better when we got on to the cross-country skiing, ice skating and coed tackle football in the foot-deep snow.

    Not only was there no “Trek” in my late 60s-early 70s Provo stake, there weren’t even youth conferences.

    Comment by Mark B. — August 7, 2013 @ 3:44 pm

  23. I am curious as to what effects, if any, changes in budget guidelines in the 1980s have had on the rise of treks?

    IIRC, in the 1980s the youth in my not-Mormon-Corridor stake had, with official sponsorship and financial backing, big trips to Nauvoo, Palmyra, etc. mixed in with “high-adventure” trips for males, both on something like a four-year schedule. There were also much more frequent overnight bus trips to the temple for baptisms.

    Changes in Church rules about insurance and funding and safety, etc, nixed such trips (right before I was old enough to go on one, but I’m not bitter).

    I also remember much more involved Pioneer Day celebrations as well as big, elaborate roadshows.

    Could the treks be re-manifestations of the impulses that used to be directed to such trips and shows?

    Comment by Edje Jeter — August 7, 2013 @ 4:17 pm

  24. Oo, further explorations in 20th century Mormon history are warranted. Good thoughts, all.

    Comment by Tona H — August 7, 2013 @ 6:37 pm

  25. Very thoughtful, Tona. Thanks.

    Comment by Ryan T — August 8, 2013 @ 12:05 pm

  26. My mother shares the story of a trek in which she participated back in 1999 or 2000. It was a profoundly spiritual experience–but not for the reasons most people usually describe. She had been so excited to be a “Ma”, having dreamed her entire life of being a pioneer and marching with the Saints across the plains, and this was her chance to finally live and sacrifice–for a week–as her ancestors had.

    But it did not go well.

    The weather was hot and dusty in Wyoming, and Mom wasn’t in great physical shape at the time. She found herself falling more and more behind as the trek continued, and her feet blistered terribly. She was miserable. Sobbing, she cried out in her heart, pleading with the heavens to know why she didn’t have the knack for pioneering. She says that the impression came strongly to her that she wasn’t made a pioneer because she was meant for a different era, where her talents and personality could better bless those around her, including her family.

    So the trek for her became something else than we traditionally think; not a chance to connect with pioneer forebears and live history, but a spiritual awakening to her own identity.

    Comment by Nate R. — August 8, 2013 @ 2:01 pm

  27. Thanks for sharing, Nate. That is an interesting experience/perspective.

    Comment by Edje Jeter — August 8, 2013 @ 2:56 pm

  28. I think the actual genesis was the BYU Outdoor Education program, they started doing trek’s in early 80’s.. those who participated then fanned out and took the idea to their home stakes.. and it slowly propagated.

    Comment by porter — August 8, 2013 @ 4:35 pm

  29. So, as part of the four-year rotation, our stake also does “Quest,” which is a similar idea, but set in Book of Mormon times or something.

    I know virtually nothing about it since I don’t work with the youth and my children are not yet old enough, but I admit I’m highly skeptical. At least with Trek you have a fair amount of documented history to re-enact, commemorate, or whatever. With the Book of Mormon, I imagine it would just end up ridiculous because you have to make so much up (remember the Testaments?). For example, I can just see them coming up with the Nephite dress code — “Don’t be a Lamanite, cover your shoulders!” [hypothetical facepalm].

    But I really have no idea what they do on Quest. Anyone else’s stake do it?

    Comment by Orwell — August 9, 2013 @ 12:50 pm

  30. Tona: Thank you for this excellent post. I was especially captured by this thought, which I’ve considered for a long time:

    “Oddly, treks valorize merely a small fragment of the Mormon migration story, and then replay those fragments in perpetual syndication, trek after trek.”

    I wonder if some of the effects of creating group historical memory– however false, sanitized, or sentimentalized– are accomplished every July, as we hear talk after talk in Sacrament Meeting about handcart pioneers, death, starvation, the absolute terror and hardship of the trek, and how many people died. In reality, except for the Willie and Martin Companies, and the Iowa portion of the 1846 exodus from Nauvoo, and some scattered and rare events here and there, most pioneer experiences were without the major, tragic occurrences that are oft-repeated as common Pioneer lore. Are we somehow more moved by the tragic than the mundane, as it reinforces our sacrificial narrative?

    Finally, I am also intrigued by the gendered implications of the “women’s pull,” both for the reasons of historical inaccuracy that you describe, as well as for the effects of trying to instill a notion of chivalry in teenage boys. Does this also have the not-so-subtle effects of perpetuating a notion of female helplessness within our “separate spheres” LDS culture? I’m not sure, but I would be curious to hear yours and others’ responses on that.

    Comment by Andrea R-M — August 9, 2013 @ 6:06 pm

  31. Thanks to everyone who shared personal and family experiences – these have been really interesting to read. Porter, we need a network analysis database kind of project to trace this all out… that would be cool.

    Orwell: horrors! Never heard of this, hope it dies out soon. Yikes. I thought the stripling warriors in Pioneer Day parades were bad enough.

    Andrea – I would have to say our women’s pull this time had the precise opposite effect from what you feared. I think it’s all in the way it’s handled, not the act itself. Women sang the young men off with “God Be With You Til We Meet Again” echoing through the woods & there were actual tears then. Men and YM walked the roads the women would later be pulling over (which was the only genuinely difficult, hilly part of our trail, more like mountain biking terrain than rail trail terrain) so they could appreciate the challenges of the trail but not while the women were on it. The women stayed back to load the carts and have a short devotional with the family moms about doing hard things/ overcoming personal trial. Then they pulled all morning & reunited with the menfolk for lunch. There was a lot of supportive cheering & encouragement during the women’s pull and the YW felt very empowered by being trusted with the hardest part of the trail & finding it was entirely within their own power to accomplish. It was awesome, actually. Female helplessness was nowhere in sight. Win, IMO.

    Comment by Tona H — August 11, 2013 @ 6:53 am

  32. My stake went on trek a month ago, and every sacrament meeting since has been dedicated to the youth telling their stories of hardship. Yesterday, we had just one trek speaker and then a couple who served for several years in Zimbabwe. The woman stood up and, after describing the living conditions of many church members in Zimbabwe, reminded the youth that what they had described as the hardest three days of their lives (walking four miles, cooking outside, not enough to eat, no comfy beds) is how a huge portion of the world’s population lives EVERY DAY. She probably offended some people, but it needed to be said.

    Comment by RML — August 19, 2013 @ 9:21 am