“Ich Bin Ein Pioneer”

Jeff Spectorchurch, faith, families, LDS, Mormon 13 Comments

This post was originally scheduled to appear on Pioneer Day, but I had a bit of an accident and had knee surgery the day before, so I was not able to post it. ArtBook__102_102__HandcartPioneersApproachSLValley____ Since we’ve been discussing pioneers in Sunday School the last couple of weeks, it is, at least, timely for that reason.

Many Mormons are very proud of their pioneer heritage as well they should be.  After the death of Joseph Smith, thousands of Mormons hit the dusty trail between the years of 1847 and 1869.  Ultimately, 70,000 would make the over 1000-mile journey from the Midwest to Salt Lake City and the surrounding area.  In addition to wagon trains and handcarts, 238 Saints made the journey by sea, a 24,000-mile trip aboard the ship, Brooklyn, from New York to Yerba Buena (present day San Francisco).

These Saints, came not only from Nauvoo, but from the eastern US and many countries of Europe as well. One can only wonder what they thought as they looked out over the wide-open spaces and thought, “We’re going how many miles?  In a wagon, on foot or pushing a handcart?”

But, they did because they believed.  Ultimately, they had faith.  They wanted to reach Zion.  Some turned back, deciding they were not up to the journey or possibly, didn’t believe enough, not unlike today.  There was hardship, disease and death, but the great majority of those who set out, made it.

I took my title from the famous speech, “Ich Bin Ein Berliner” (I am a Berliner) given by President John F. Kennedy in West Berlin on June 26, 1963.  He was showing the solidarity and support of the people of the United States for West Germany 22 months after the Soviet-supported Communist state of East Germany erected the Berlin Wall as a barrier to prevent movement of people between East and West.

Like many others who have joined the Church, I too, made a pioneering journey, from Judaism to Mormonism.  As the only members from our respective families, my wife and I left our religions to embrace what we believe is the true Church of Jesus Christ.  Much to our family’s dismay, I might add.

We are not alone as pioneers.  Millions have chosen to embrace the Gospel and join the Church.  I truly marvel at the fact so many from outside the North America continent can embrace what was an “American Church.” Such that now there are more members outside the United States than inside.  Not all who join stay.  But a great many do.

Are you a pioneer?  Do you have that pioneer spirit?

Comments 13

  1. I would like to be. I feel like Zion is a concept that affects me deeply; I want to be a part of a community like that. I believe I make efforts to live in it.

  2. I have the deepest respect for the pioneers of the 1800s as well as the pioneers of today. (The Lord must know my heart to have placed me in a situation where I already had the Gospel, as I’m not sure I would have the courage to make a journey such as yours.)

    I feel that the enthusiasm and dedication, and commitment of converts are the only thing that keeps the Church on track. My interpretation of Jacob 5 (parable of the olive tree) is that the entrenched Mormon culture would lead the entire church into decay and bad fruits if the vitality of the new convert (wild branches) didn’t keep it vitalized. On the other hand, the Mormon culture (tame branches) is a moderating influence on the converts as well. sorry for hte threadjack.

  3. Can’t say as I’m a pioneer. I was, figuratively speaking, born in the valley after the orchard was already planted. Sure like where I’ve found myself, though. God bless the pioneers!

  4. My ancestors came from England across the sea to join the Martin Handcart company and while the father of the family did not survive the frozen Wyoming, the rest of the family did and in their journals described how their faith was strengthened by their consecrating acts.

    I am embarrassed I don’t know more about their story, but have read some about their great sacrifices.

    One element that always stuck with me when reading their journals was how much they relied on their leaders. When the leaders said to go to Zion, they did it. Even though many worried the Martin company was leaving too late in the year, and their wagons were made of too green of wood and broke down along the way, they had faith God would see them through. The majority of comments in their journals about their captain, Edward Martin, was that he was not a nice man, would yell at the company a lot, and threaten to leave people behind. They didn’t like him at all.

    One can ask if that was too much trust in leaders. It is interesting, Jeff, that you view those who didn’t go as “didn’t believe enough”. Could those that didn’t go just have been more practical to avoid the risk of disaster that actually did come? Lots of opinions can be given in hindsight, but I never look at my ancestors as dumb or naive…just full of faith and it is seen in their attitudes in their journals. I also know I have been the beneficiary of their sacrifices, something I don’t ever want to disrespect. Their pioneer example is a valuable lesson for my life.

  5. Post

    Clark #3,

    “….is that the entrenched Mormon culture would lead the entire church into decay and bad fruits…”

    You bring up an interesting point. there seems to be that many folks are rebelling or are turned off from the church by the somewhat entrenched Mormon Culture that has little to do with the Gospel itself.

    They may even lose their testimony in the process. It makes you wonder what some of those handcart folks must have thought while knee-deep in snow with no shoes.

    “If I could make it, why can’t these other folks.”

    Or, “what the heck am I doing here. it appears that god has truly abandoned us.”

  6. I have often heard people in sunday school say things like, “I am so amazed at the faith of the pioneers. I know I would never be able to do what they did.”

    It is hard to imagine what they went through, or compare our time to theirs. While you might say, I’d never do that…sincere words…but really, how could you ever know the hypothetical scenario what you would really do if faced with what they were faced with…not knowing how hard it would be until you got on the trail, and then not having a choice but to press forward.

    In some ways, I think their choice was simple: Go or don’t Go. But there wasn’t a lot of nuances or waffling. Today we can get so caught up in analyzing how my bishop treats me or what my Elder’s Quorum president said … or if Joseph actually translated the plates or how revelation works…

    We can make things so complicated. There is some peace in plain and simple things.

    I could never imagine having to endure cancer, and watching my dad die from it, I think he was stronger than I ever could be.

    But how do we know what we would really do, if we HAD to and couldn’t sit around on the internet surmising about it?

  7. Post


    “It is interesting, Jeff, that you view those who didn’t go as “didn’t believe enough”” I couched it with “possibly” because I know there were probably many reasons. but lack of faith is a real possibility.

    We can’t really use Martin and Willie as a good example because it started bad and got worse. The typical trip was pretty routine from what I read, but still…..

  8. I’m not a pioneer, I have plains-crossing pioneers on both grandfathers’ sides but both my grandmothers were converts. Reading the journals of pioneers who accompanied my ancestors in the wagon trains and one handcart company was fascinating (and very easy to find by searching for my ancestors’ names at lds.org.

    A few interesting/harrowing stories:

    1. Pregnant or nursing women who were starving would often hang at the end of the wagon train so as not to embarrass themselves when picking off bits of rotting meat from dead animals along the way.
    2. One night one of the camp guards almost shot what he thought was a wild beast in the dark until he realized it was a starving man in their company who was tearing rotting meat from a dead animal with his teeth.
    3. When one starving wagon train encountered a group of mountain men who had a large supply of food, the mountain men offered to feed any woman well who would agree to become their wife. To the dismay of the entire wagon train, two teenage girls, one of whom was actually engaged to a young man in the wagon train, agreed to marry the mountain men and stayed behind.
    4. My gggreat grandfather’s first wife died of starvation and exhaustion just one day before a rescue party arrived from Salt Lake, impressing on me the importance of never delaying one bit when someone needs rescuing of one sort or another.
    5. I was surprised to read about the faithful pioneers drinking coffee, tea, whiskey, etc., and even being instructed by church leaders to bring them along as provisions. It just painted a much different picture of the pioneers than the one I’d had before.
    6. I was shocked by how differently people in the same wagon train remembered the same events decades later when they recorded them in their journals. For example, some folks in the same wagon train described the Indians as “little witches” who would constantly harass their wagon train, howl and night to scare them, and would steal everything that wasn’t nailed down. Others in the same wagon train said they never had any problems with Indians and even related a couple stories where the Indians actually saved them from starvation by killing a buffalo and bringing the starving pioneers buffalo meat in exchange for other goods.
    7. The stark difference in how people in the same wagon train described their first impressions of the Salt Lake Valley upon arriving was very interesting. While some described it as a bounteous land flowing with milk and honey, others described it as a bleak desert wasteland.

    If you who have plains-crossing pioneers in your family haven’t already done so, I highly recommend just entering one of your pioneer ancestors’ names in the search box at lds.org and you’ll find that within a few mouse clicks you can gather a few inches thick of journals from your ancestors or at least those who traveled in the same wagon train. And it makes for some fascinating reading.

  9. Jeff, hope the knee is healing/has healed according to plan.

    As for the post, my father was the pioneer. Not in the cross-halfway-across-the-country sense, but in the moving-away-from-religion-of-family-into-a-religion-viewed-poorly-by-family category.

    As for myself, I am unfazed by a certain kind of appeal to both kinds of pioneers…that of an immediate family member (my father for me, or Jeff for his relatives) or that of the old time handcart pioneers. Really, *everyone* must be a pioneer for himself, because as soon as the reason one decides to do something is is, “Well, my ancestors did it…so I should stay,” one is doing great disrespect to those ancestors. So to me, when people try to argue, “Look at what the pioneers did; so, you should stick through your lesser burden,” it doesn’t appeal.

    No, the ancestors and pioneers did not cross the country so that people would struggle in a church that did not resonate with them just to maintain the family tradition. No, the pioneers searched for what they believed and then sought after it. After all, the pioneers could have determined to stay in their original faiths and never join the church. Don’t you think that those pioneers had ancestors too who fought and died for their original faith traditions?

    The pioneer archetype is great because of the *journey* (finding what one believes in and pursuing it, even at great cost)…not because of the *destination* (the church, Utah, etc.,). So I find that it’s more respectful to the pioneer spirit to follow what I do believe, even if there is hardship in the process of forging this path, just as the pioneers faced.

    This process even happens for those in the church, regardless of if they are converts or born in covenant. Because even if you were raised LDS, your testimony is pioneered. It is not inherited; it is not passed generationally. So, the process of finding one’s beliefs and seeking to live them must occur for every individual.

  10. #9-

    “7. The stark difference in how people in the same wagon train described their first impressions of the Salt Lake Valley upon arriving was very interesting. While some described it as a bounteous land flowing with milk and honey, others described it as a bleak desert wasteland.”

    This makes me think of the differences in personalities. It is amazing how some people see the positive in everything and others can make everything seem dismal. I think our outlook on life has a lot to do with whether we are miserable or content and stories like this just prove the vast differences in outlooks.

  11. Interesting post! I don’t consider myself a pioneer, but I suppose I could since I am a convert to the LDS church. However, I don’t consider myself a pioneer b/c no one in my extended family has joined the church or will likely join it. Furthermore, to me, pioneer implies some sort of physical journey. I have not taken one out West and am not planning it. If anything, I have started a reverse migration, since I convinced my DH to stay in my homeland of the East. Finally, the “pioneer imagery” strikes up images of specific clothing types, covered wagons, and people with amputated feet. In contrast, my family were colonial pioneers from Ireland who helped to settle America in Jamestown, VA and in Philadelphia, PA. That is my tribe, and I am quite proud of it.

    My DH family, on the other hand, as a rich Mormon pioneer ancestry. His mom joined the church as a young adult in the Mid-West and she moved to Utah shortly thereafter, marrying a Mormon and raising her family in S Idaho. His father’s extended family crossed the plains and practiced polygamy. They also helped settle Bear Lake.

  12. I have heard it said, but can’t find the scriptures that bring up the concept, that all LDS members will be tested as a metal is tested in fire. And I wonder if members will have ‘similar’ problems, as a whole, that these pioneers had sometime in the future.

    #9 brought up some uncomfortable points.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *