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'Mormon Exodus' from Nauvoo is celebrated

NAUVOO, Ill. — LDS Church members and friends marched in a procession down the Parley Street "Trail of Hope" on Feb. 4 to commemorate the pioneer exodus from Nauvoo in 1846. The parade was led by missionaries carrying flags and wearing uniforms that represented the Nauvoo Legion. Most participants wore pioneer clothing and walked the one-mile route; others rode in horse-drawn wagons.

In a short ceremony on the banks of the Mississippi River, the marchers gathered and paid honor to the early Saints who braved the difficult conditions and crossed the river to commence the trek west.

Those who marched in the commemoration, by contrast, faced little hardship. The day was warm for February. But the river was frozen all the way across from a very cold December and January. The low clouds and the great, gray expanse of ice on the water set a somber mood. After a colorful flag-raising ceremony, missionaries and guests took turns standing before the crowd to read the names of their relatives who died along the Mormon Trail.

When the first of the pioneers crossed the river in 1846, the current was carrying heavy chunks of ice. Later in the month, the river froze over and allowed a somewhat easier crossing, but the ice was a mixed blessing. The frigid temperatures exposed the people to agonizing conditions. In the first camp near Sugar Creek, a few miles beyond the Mississippi, the refugees suffered, and some died.

Each participant in the commemoration wore a tag bearing the name of one pioneer who was part of that 1846 exodus. Many wore the names of their own ancestors. The symbolic walk provided the participants an opportunity to imagine the feelings of those early church members who looked back at the temple on the hill one last time and then stepped forward to do what they had to do.

The Pioneer Memorial at the foot of Parley Street is called "The Exodus to Greatness." On the walls are the names of more than 2,000 pioneers who died on the trek west. But the memorial emphasizes the triumph of the Saints rather than the tragedy. The 2010 participants expressed their thankfulness for the heritage of those who faced such harsh circumstances and kept the faith, then passed it on to future generations.

Dean Hughes is a public affairs missionary in Nauvoo, Ill.