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LDS youth experience pioneer migration

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SILVER CITY - It wasn’t your typical summer vacation experience.

More than 100 youngsters from western Iowa and eastern Nebraska converged on Mills County last week to experience first-hand what it was like to be a pioneer on the Mormon Pioneer Trail in the mid 1800s. The walkers are all members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

“The kids are from all over the Council Bluffs Iowa Stake,” said Jerry Wendling, one of the adult organizers and chaperones for the walk. “The stake takes in southwest Iowa and some areas of eastern Nebraska.”

The nearly three-day trek began Thursday on Main Street in Silver City and made its way in and around the Mills Country countryside. Traveling on gravel roads, some of the walkers pulled handcarts while others carried baby dolls and personal belongings. They set up camp on Thursday and Friday evening and traveled during the day.

Chris Formhals of Hastings, an East Mills High School student, was a representative of the church’s Glenwood ward. He expected the walk to be a fulfilling experience, both physically and spiritually.

“It’s a workout,” Formhals said. “I think I’ll benefit from the exercise part and I think it will help me build strength within my church community.”

Formhals said the experience allowed him to interact with teens from other wards in the Council Bluffs Stake. It also gave him a better appreciation for hardships endured by families who traveled the Mormon Pioneer Trail.

Formhals and Wendling agreed that participants in last week’s re-enactment probably had an easier time traveling on the gravel roads of Mills County than the pioneer families that walked the high grasses and treacherous plains in the 1800s.

“The Mormon pioneers in the 1840s and 1850s, some had hand carts because they could not afford a wagon,” Wendling said. “We’re trying to give the kids a flair of what it was like.”

Beginning in 1846, more than 70,000 Mormons, seeking a new home where they could practice their religion freely and establish a cultural identity without persecution, took part in the mass migration from Nauvoo, Ill., to the Great Salt Lake in Utah. The 1,300-mile westward journey crossed the state of Iowa before connecting with the Great Platte River Road at the Missouri River in eastern Nebraska. The travelers encountered extreme and unpredictable weather conditions, sickness and death of loved ones throughout the journey.