After a particularly harsh winter 175 years ago, Mormons began their trek along the Mormon Trail from Winter’s Quarters (Omaha) to Salt Lake City.
Joe Blythe, his wife Marcyne Blythe and Brett “Woodrow” Durant are following his ancestor’s footsteps as they retrace the route in Blythe’s yellow-wheeled covered wagon.
“Not all of (the Mormon pioneers wrote journals), but some of them did,” the Utah man said.
If you know what wagon train your family traveled in, Blythe said, it is easy to find information on those specific.
“There are databases now that you can find — even if your family didn’t write anything — where you can read what others have written about that wagon train. There’s quite a bit of information on the internet,” he said.
Part of this year’s trip will be trying to spot the graves of family members who didn’t finish the trip.
“All the way along this trail, I’ve got family members who didn’t make it. When you’re crossing Iowa, they’re in cemeteries, but once you get on the west side of Omaha all you have is a description of, you know, so many days past Chimney Rock or we buried so and so a day after you cross this river. So, they’re in unmarked graves somewhere,” he said.
People are also reading…
The trip started last September when Blythe and crew traveled by wagon from Nauvoo, Illinois, to Omaha.
“I was looking back into my family’s history, they all started in Nauvoo and they all experienced this Mormon Trail,” Blythe said. “That’s what inspired me five years ago. I asked my friend Woodrow if he would go with me. He said, ‘Yes.’ So, here we are.”
Blythe said he immediately began planning the trip, which meant finding a covered wagon for the trek. That proved to be no easy feat.
“(It was hard at) least finding one that was in decent shape. If somebody had one that was in decent shape, it was terribly expensive,” he said.
Blythe decided to build his own wagon.
“I found a Studebaker running gear — that’s the axles and the wheels. A guy found it in a barn, so I bought that from him, and then I built the rest of the wagon from there up,” he said. “Mine would be considered a wide track, which are typically four inches wider and about six inches longer than your normal Prairie Schooner that went across the plains.”
Without plans to build such a vehicle, Blythe said it took some trial and error to get it just right.
“You know, by the time I got done, I probably would have been better off with time and money just to have went and bought one,” he said, jokingly.
On Tuesday, the group traveled through Scotts Bluff County before camping overnight at the Goshen County Fairgrounds in Torrington.
Blythe said the nature of the trek has changed a bit since entering western Nebraska.
“The farther west we go, the more we are forced to be on highways. In eastern Nebraska, not so much. In western Nebraska, we spent quite a bit of time on highways, and we’ll have the same thing going through Wyoming. A large part of it will be on the highway,” he said.
Blythe said the most surprising part of his journey has been the people.
“It very quickly became about meeting the people, specifically across Iowa and eastern Nebraska,” he said. “You’re pretty much forced to be on somebody’s private ground. You know, there’s not a lot of public ground back there. At the end of the day, you know, you knock on the door. They’re very accommodating. So it really, really has been amazing. People have been so gracious.”
Blythe said he and his crew have also been greeted by Pony Express reenactment riders since reaching Gothenburg.
“They said, ‘Hey, we’re with the Pony Express. Can we do anything for you?,’” he said.
The attention, though, caught Blythe by surprise.
“I guess it’s just different than I thought. I didn’t expect the attention that I’m getting. I just thought I’d slide through a town, no big deal,” he said. “Going through a town, it’s almost like a parade. You’re waving at everybody. Everybody has lots of smiles and want to know what you’re doing.”
After having dinner with Alicia Goulart and her family in Lingle, Blythe and crew camped in Fort Laramie Wednesday to begin another grueling day of traveling Thursday.
“It’s really long days. I mean, we’re up at 4 am, because the animals need time to eat. By the time, you get on the trail, it is still early because you’re trying to beat the heat. You’re cooking in the sun all day long, and at the end of the day, there’s still a lot of work to be done. So, it’s just really long days,” he said.
If all goes as planned, Blythe said he hopes they will get into Salt Lake City by July 22.
“The 24th of July is Pioneer Day in Salt Lake City, Utah. Big holiday, big celebration. That’s when the pioneers originally came into the valley. However, this year, that happens to be a Sunday. So we thought well, let’s get there on the 23rd which is a Saturday,” he said. “Since that plan, we’ve been invited to the Pioneer Days Rodeo and the Parade, so we’re going to probably try to get there on the 22nd of July — if we can get there that fast.”