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Sturdy Shoes and a Waterproof Tent

Posted by imawheatwatcher on January 11, 2009

William G. Hartley, “Sturdy Shoes and a Waterproof Tent,” Ensign, Oct 2001, 38

Church history teaches many lessons about personal preparedness.
“If men could learn from history, what lessons it might teach us!” wrote Samuel Taylor Coleridge in 1831. While it may sound surprising, a look at Church history can teach us about preparedness for our day.

Lessons from Crossing the Plains

For more than 60,000 Saints who journeyed to Utah during the wagon train period (1846–69), outdoor trail realities tested their preparation and showed what worked and what didn’t.

Lesson 1: When we ignore preparedness counsel, we can expect unhappy consequences.  Before leaving Nauvoo, members had Church-published lists of what to take with them. But when the first companies left in February 1846, several hundred members panicked and crossed the Mississippi River without proper clothes, food, or shelter. As a result, they brought suffering upon themselves, slowed down others, and drained resources from those properly prepared.

Lesson 2: Protect against nature. Trail death tolls reveal that the highest numbers of deaths were among infants and the elderly. Some pioneers became cold and wet because wagon covers and tents were not waterproof. Others suffered sunburns when they lost their hats. Their lips chapped from the dry air, wind, and sun. Many suffered diarrhea and lacked medicine to stop it. Some travelers, while dressed properly for summer heat, lacked coats and gloves for the cold mountain temperatures experienced before reaching the Salt Lake Valley. In addition, pioneers had to guard against wildlife, particularly snakes and wolves. In many campsites they suffered from swarms of mosquitoes that badly hurt children and angered horses and cattle.

Lesson 3: Be accident cautious. Accidents injured or killed many on the trail. Pioneers lamented their carelessness when they lost hats, binoculars, knives, axes, guns, watches, pans, shovels, and even horses and cattle. A few became so busy and distracted that even their children wandered away and became lost. When emergencies occur, we must be extra careful not to hurt ourselves by falls, burns, knife and axe cuts, or similar accidents. We need to be strict about putting things away.

Lesson 4: We should protect ourselves from uncaring or dishonest individuals. Pioneers learned to guard against potential theft, assault, and even kidnapping. Some were put in charge of enforcing basic rules of conduct and expelling those who would not cooperate. And, as happens in groups during major crises, pioneers had to tune out complainers, whiners, and even rabble-rousers and doomsayers.

Lesson 5: Protect against discouragement. Our best protection against discouragement during a crisis is to maintain our health by not becoming overly exhausted, which can lead to sickness and bad judgment. Some unwise pioneers were afraid to ask for help when they needed it, thereby bringing suffering upon themselves and those they cared for. Most wagon train travelers, in order to keep up their spirits, made friends with fellow travelers, held dances, sang together, and helped those whose wagons broke down or who became ill.

Lesson 6: Be creative and adaptive in difficult times. Pioneer women took advantage of the bumpiness of the wagons and filled tubs with soap, water, and dirty clothes. By day’s end the clothes had been agitated clean. Some women also put cream into containers hung underneath the wagon and let the jostling churn the cream into butter.


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