Think of the Pioneers


It may not read as the most clever of mantras, but the phrase “Think of the pioneers” has performed instant attitude adjustments for me for 30 years.

I love history.  I especially love American History.  The stories of taming the Wild West are dearest to my heart because those were my people, and their actions have a direct influence on nearly everything I do today.

Having sailed to the United States from Sweden, England, Scotland, and Ireland in the mid 1800’s, many came for the freedom of religion and to gather with the Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Once there, within a few short years, they were sent on to colonize other areas, such as Southern Utah and Arizona.  The deserts and living conditions were harsh, but the camaraderie and faith were joyous.

I didn’t just read about it.  I know it from personal experience.


This past week my husband and I served as Ma and Pa to a family of 6 teenagers on a church youth activity.  For three days our group of 60 reenacted typical scenes on a pioneer trek, pulling handcarts that carried 5 gallon buckets containing all our belongings. 

Dressed in long sleeves, long skirt, and hat, I trudged the dirt roads fighting 100 degree heat, mosquitos, a weak back, and the mental pull of tasks that were being left undone at home.

Sounds miserable right?  Believe me, it was. 

But it was also unifying, sweet…and dare I say fun?  What was so good about it?

Watching our “kids” jump in to “spot me” when this Ma was fatigued from pushing or pulling the cart. 

Seeing our company square dance and laugh at the end of a day where all of us thought we couldn’t take another step. 

Finding refuge from the July sun in a spot of shade.

Being grateful for leaders who did the organizing, cheerleading, and adapting…whatever was required in the moment.

Hearing and telling pioneer ancestor stories of courage, faith, tragedy and ultimate triumph. 

The highlight of these reenactments is always the Women’s Pull.  It is a time where the men and boys are taken ahead on the trail, and the women and girls are left to pull the heavy carts alone, allowing them to experience what so many women did when they were widowed, alone, or leaving their spouses in the old country to sell off what little they had before joining them in America. 

As a girl of 18 I had my first women’s pull up a Forest Service Road on the San Francisco Peaks near Flagstaff, Arizona.  I ended up face down in the dirt.  Long story…

I tackled the feat three more times as an adult leader at Martin’s Cove in Wyoming, the location of intense suffering and miracles for a handcart company caught in an early winter storm. 

But last week was a totally different experience.  With no hills near Utah Lake, the dirt trail had been tilled up until it was a foot deep of baby powder fine sand. 

We tied wetted bandanas around our noses and mouths so we could breathe, and wore sunglasses so we could see.  Four girls and two women to a cart, we started the half mile pull. 

Where the carts had rolled obediently down hard packed roads on previous days, now the wheels sunk deep in this soft sand.  It felt like the brakes were on. 

We pushed, heads down, our breathing increasing rapidly.  Soon there were audible exhales and grunts as we struggled to keep the wheels turning.

My heart felt like it would explode with the exertion.  My emotions bubbled up hard and fast.  The mental chatter began. 

“This is a joke.” 

“No one should be expected to do this.”

“Seriously?  Where is my husband when I really need him?” 

“My shoes are completely filled with sand.” 

“I’m like 50, and do NOT handle heat well!”

I soon realized however, that I didn’t have the energy to waste on anger.  I needed to focus. 

I listened for the breathing of the four asthmatic girls on my cart.  I started sending telepathic messages to my friend Liz to call for a water break.

Finally, my mind stopped bouncing around and settled into a continuous prayer for strength. 

I needed it.  My sisters needed it.  If the pioneers could do it with God’s help, so could we.

I pictured my great, great, great grandmothers--refined and talented.  They started out as far from toughened up frontier women as I am.  They faced rattle snakes, drunken cowboys, sick babies, and exhaustion daily.  Those heroines survived, and their faith was made stronger for it.

In modern times we face a never-ending inbox, needy people and projects, frustration over shortcomings, and exhaustion daily.  But we will survive, with our faith made stronger for it.

So when besieged by the disintegration of best laid plans, or too little time or money, or plain ol’ feeling sorry for myself, I'll whip out my trusty mantra “Think of the pioneers.”  My inherited grit kicks in and the challenge shrinks to manageable. 

It could work for you too.

Go ahead.  Take it.  Use it. 

You’re tougher than you think.