It was an icky morning. Every one of us was wet. If we were filthy before, we were downright rank now. But we knew we were arriving in Zion that very day, so after airing our things out the best we could, we loaded our handcart for the last time. Every morning we’d been supplied a sweet-flavored electrolyte mix we could stir into our children’s water, one spoonful per person. On this, the third day, everyone got two scoops. I felt uneasily akin to a drug dealer, spooning out the powder to our eager, possibly addicted children.
As we walked, I talked with our daughters about what real-life pioneers might have looked for in a spouse. We agreed that they probably focused more on things like physical strength, cabin-building prowess, and hunting skills. Who cares if he’s got great hair, can he chop enough fire wood to keep me warm during the winter? I wondered aloud if the pioneer-era males might have looked for different qualities in their wives. Pa Beck thought it over for all of about two seconds and said, “No, I think we’d still just look for someone cute.” He may or may not have been joking.
I found that pioneering, even just in our reenactment, brought out the chivalry in men. In modern times, women seem so determined to do everything themselves and to prove that they can do whatever men can do, that they deny men opportunities to help. We don’t like to admit it, but the males are bigger and stronger. It’s unlikely we’ll out-trek or out-pull them. Pioneer women were clearly tough as nails, but I think they also welcomed help whenever they got it and never felt the weaker for it.
One instance when young men’s physical strength was put to the test was during the winter of 1856. Rescuers had left Salt Lake to help the starving Martin Handcart company. Most of the members of the company were too ill to cross the frozen Sweetwater River. Three 18 year-old men volunteered to carry the pioneers over the ice-strewn water. As the story goes, due to exposure, the three died in young adulthood. Upon hearing the tale, Brigham Young wept like a child and said that that act alone guaranteed their salvation in the Celestial Kingdom.
As we waited for our turn to cross our very small (think trickling stream) version of the Sweetwater River, Captain Tanner read us the details of the 1856 crossing. I’d heard it many times before and I’d always thought that those young men were rare, blessed with more compassion and strength than you’re likely to find today. This time, however, as I heard the story, I looked at our three trek sons and had the strongest impression come to my mind-- “If they’d been there, these boys would have volunteered.” It was an impression confirmed by the spirit, that while that act certainly was courageous and loving, there are equally valiant young men in every time period, and some of the most choice were reserved for today.