Today is Pioneer Day, a Utah Holiday which celebrates the faithful people who journeyed to settle this place to seek religious freedom and escape murderous persecution in Illinois and Missouri.
I can hardly imagine how it must have been – to leave everything and walk endlessly across the Great Plains, not knowing where it would end or, for some of the later groups– if you would survive.
Bodil Mortensen, a nine-year-old girl, captures my whole heart when I think of what she must have been through:
Bodil (Lyrics by Jenny Phillips)
Many of those who crossed the plains were only children. One of those children was Bodil Mortensen, age nine, from Denmark.
Bodil Mortensen came alone, before her family to join the saints in Salt Lake City, her older sister had traveled a year before her and was in Salt Lake. Bodil joined the Willie Handcart Company with a family from her country Denmark.
Winter storms began early that year and slowed the travel of the company. Rocky Ridge was a long hard journey for the children. The distance was about 15 miles, including a two-mile stretch in which the trail rose more than 700 feet in elevation. It took some of the children 27 hours to reach camp. The snow was already more than a foot deep, a blizzard was raging, and the temperatures were freezing. A howling October snowstorm blinded nine-year-old Bodil Mortensen as she climbed with several younger children, shivering and hungry, up the snow-covered slope of Rocky Ridge.
Bodil was exhausted and weak, the young girl struggled on her way, hoping to reach Salt Lake City to be with her sister. Bodil was apparently assigned to care for some small children as they crossed Rocky Ridge.
When they arrived at camp, in the wee hours of October 24th, she must have been sent to gather fire wood. All she could find was twigs of sagebrush. The next morning she was found leaning up against the wheel of a handcart, twigs clutched in her hands, frozen to death. (source)
Bodil (Lyrics by Jenny Phillips, Vocals by Jenny Phillips and Chloe Mueller)
Only nine leaving behind your home
what faith to leave all you know
so far to go
you are cold
shivering through the storms
your little fingers never warm
always one step more
you didn’t know your journey would end
before you’d see the valley
but you left such a legacy
you didn’t know
that your faith changes me
I can’t feel my feet (your faith changes me)
There’s nothing left to eat (your faith changes me)