As kids, we didn’t grow up in Utah. We were all over the country, a few years here, a few years there. We learned to love the deep dish pizza and museums of Chicago, the southern hospitality (which is completely 100% real) of Houston, and the sunny days of Denver (Denver has more sunny days than San Diego: fact). But every summer, we came “home” to Utah to play with cousins and drink in mountain air and eat Aggie ice cream. Lots of it.
I don’t remember exactly when I discovered this local gem of a holiday, but I remember thinking it was at least a little strange that everyone in an entire state knew about the pioneers (remember: I hadn’t grown up in Utah-I was the one and only Mormon kiddo in a lot of classrooms). But two treks and several years of living in Utah later, I love this holiday. I love the special invitation to think about the people who came before us-whether or not they crossed the plains-and celebrate a vibrant legacy of goodness and courage and faith.
So, to celebrate Pioneer Day for singing time (or Family Home Evening!) here’s what I have planned.
I made a big wagon wheel. (Why a wagon wheel? Well, the basic shape is super simple to recreate-even with little to no artistic gifts. And it has multiple, removable parts that can be taken apart and put together as a “puzzle” type game.)
Each spoke (eight spokes total) has a pioneer trivia question on it. In addition to a question, the spokes have a song or a story on the back (well, all but two spokes). Here’s my list of questions and the song/story I included with them:
1. Who was leading the church when the first wagon train headed west? (Brigham Young)
SING: We Thank Thee, O God, For a Prophet (or Follow the Prophet)
2. Name one thing that made the trek hard for the pioneers. (harsh weather, hostile Indians, hunger, fatigue, death of fellow travelers, etc)
STORY: Agnes Caldwell, running to catch the wagon-Okay, I love this story. She was 9 at the time she crossed the plains with the Willie Handcart Company. Moral of the story: sometimes the hard things and being pushed to our limits end up being the things that save us.
3. About how many pounds (of belongings) per person were allowed on the handcart? (A. 3 pounds B. 10 pounds C. 17 pounds D. 24 pounds)
SING: Pioneer Children Sang As They Walked
4. From which continent did many converts come from? (Europe)
SING: Baptism (which is the song for July and it ties really nicely in talking about why the pioneers came-to keep the promises they had made to God)
5. Name a trait the pioneers are honored for. (courage, sacrifice, faith, hard work, etc)
SING: To Be a Pioneer
6. How many pioneers used handcarts to cross the plains? (A. 30 B. 300 C. 3,000 D. 30,000)
STORY: Brigham Henry Roberts, falling asleep in barrel of molasses- There are so many amazing pioneer stories-I picked this one because it’s fun and I’m trying to avoid sobbing through Primary-I’m a crier so this seemed like something easy to tell that the kids would enjoy.
7. In what state did the pioneers begin their trek west? (Illinois)
8. If you were a pioneer, name one special thing you would want to take with you in the handcart.
I’m also going to have two kids up front (one boy and one girl, one from each side of the room). With each question that’s answered correctly by their side of the room, they’ll put on a piece of pioneer clothing. (Girl: skirt, apron, bonnet and Boy: shirt, vest, cowboy hat) I’m also showing up in full pioneer gear.
This is simple to replicate for a FHE. Make the wagon wheel, put the trivia questions on back. Leave out the songs if you’d like-or talk about the principles the songs bring up… that they crossed the plains and did these hard, hard things to follow the prophet and to keep their covenants. And the stories could lead to some great discussion-add some of your own! Whatever you do, take some time to remember these incredible people-they weren’t perfect, but they were good. Really good. And they tried.
P.S. I have to tell you. I wore this dress on a real trek. It’s actually what I was wearing when I kind of met my husband. (Explanation: I met him and remember it, there’s actually a picture of us crossing the Sweetwater pulling the same handcart. Him? Not so much…haha.)