In the last to days, my wife and I have traveled from Salt Lake City, Utah, up Emigration Canyon and followed the Mormon Overland Trail all the way to Nauvoo, Illinois. 14 of my 16 Great-great-grandparents took this trail, in wagons or on foot going west instead of east. Even in a fast car and mostly on freeways, it is a long trip. But two days is nothing compared to the average of about three to four months for the pioneers.
My journey began in the dry deserts of Eastern Utah and crossed the high desert of southern Wyoming. The highest point on the trail is almost 9000 feet in the Wyoming mountains. It looked to me that the biggest problem would be water for the entire trip. Eastern Iowa is green and covered with woods, but the rest is open prairie and water would be a huge problem. For this reason, the trail follows the rivers and streams.
I couldn't help but think of the hardships my own ancestors, and most of the other pioneers faced as they walked across the huge expanse of treeless desert looking country. One of my Great-great-grandfathers died in the attempt. Jens Christensen died somewhere on the Plains. Fortunately, all we had to look out for were speeding pickup trucks and semis.
Food was also a problem. It was extremely difficult to carry enough food to live to cross the plains, much less have anything left when they got to the desert in Utah. Most of the pioneers were hardly experienced in living in the desert and many times they suffered from lack of knowledge even when food was available because they didn't know where or how to find it.
Wood for fuel was also a problem, solved in part, by burning buffalo chips, a polite way of referring to the manure left by these large animals. The pioneers were not hunters and only occasionally were they able to kill a deer, antelope or bison for meat.
Driving across the country did give me time to reflect on the reasons why I do genealogy. Guess what the first thing we did upon arriving at the Mississippi? You guessed it. We went to a cemetery and took pictures! I will share those in other posts soon.