By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Teens trace the pioneer route on three-day trek
To gain a greater understanding of pioneer sacrifice, 125 Stanislaus County youth spent three days pulling handcarts along the Mormon Emigrant Trail off of Highway 88 near Jackson.

On Saturday, Aug. 2, the 14- to 18-year-old members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, hot and dusty from three days of walking and camping with no running water, seemed sad that their adventure was ending.

Sisters Rebekah, 16, and Hannah Lee, 14, students at Hughson High School, had many favorite moments, but remembered eating buffalo meat on and hard tack dipped in broth that the "mountain man" visitor brought to their camp.

"I was a lot more grateful for what the pioneers went through for months," said Hannah. "At the end of three days, we were pretty dirty, but we didn't complain much because we thought about what they had to go through."

"It was the greatest experience of my life," says Ellis Valdez, 15, a sophomore at Waterford High School. He talked about the second day on the trek when an adult, portraying an 1846 U.S. Army officer, came alongside the handcart company and asked that their men leave with him to fight in the Mexican-American War. The adult leaders then marched with the boys up a steep grade where they had both a history lesson and a talk about the contribution of women in the move west.

"The leaders then told us to form two lines along the trail," said Valdez. "We had to stand and watch the women pull the handcarts up this steep hill and we couldn't go to help them. It was hard and a lot of us had tears in our eyes. A lot of the dads were crying as they watched their daughters struggle with the handcarts."

Ellis, his brother Everett, and a couple of other boys brought musical instruments to entertain the young pioneers in the evenings. The young people also played pioneer games, such as tug of war and learned pioneer dances.

When the teens boarded buses to begin the drive from Hughson to Highway 88 near Jackson, they were divided up into families with adult leaders acting as the "ma" and "pa" for each group. All wore pioneer clothing, and many of the young women made their own skirts.

The three-day event was created by Amy Anderson of Newman and organized by Jim and Francine McDade of Ceres, with numerous committees throughout Ceres, Hughson, Turlock, Waterford, Patterson and Crows Landing.

Other Hughson and Waterford youth who went on the handcart trek were: Scot O'Neal, Tiffany Johnson, Anthony Denny, Monica Denny, Josh Peltzer, Craig Meiners, Allison Meiners, Nicole Whitfield, Leslee Openshaw, Foster Openshaw, Andrew Blazzard, Ben Blazzard, Katherine Blazzard, Rachel Blazzard, Ashley Peterson, Cassie Cook , Matthew Holladay, Meredith Morphy, Kelsey Stout and Corey Collins.