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This is a Pioneer Day tribute to Martine Larsen, my great, great, grandmother.

Martine was only 5 when she travelled with her family and other saints from Denmark to the United States. Her father, Peder, was a cabinet maker, and her mother, Ane Kirstine Nielsen was a seamstress. Both provided their goods to Danish royalty.

Martine had her sixth birthday on May 27, 1856 while aboard the ship Thornton. She had learned to tap dance and entertained the other passengers with her dancing.

On July 5th, in Iowa City, while her family and others made handcarts and sewed tents, her mother gave birth to a baby boy, Lars Julius. She enjoyed taking care of her baby brother while others prepared for the long trek ahead with the Willie Company.

At Florence, Nebraska, the group determined that they could not stay the winter there, so they pressed on. On Oct. 1st, they reached Ft. Laramie, but supplies there were inadequate. Their rations were cut, and they were beginning to weaken. They were forced to leave bedding and other items behind to make the rest of their trek easier.

On Oct. 3rd, about 21 miles west of Ft. Laramie, Martine’s father died. Two weeks later, near where the Martin’s Cove Visitor Center now stands, her baby brother, only 3 months old, also passed away. Although rations were further reduced and the cold and snow were getting worse, Captain Willie returned on Oct. 21st with the first company of rescuers. Martine’s sister, Anna Sophie, also passed away that day.

In spite of the raging blizzard, the group continued on and climbed Rocky Ridge on Oct. 23rd. This 15-mile stretch required 27 hours for some of the saints to complete, and 13 died upon arrival. Martine, her mother, and her brother survived, but her brother Niels, became sick and weak and died about a month later. Martine cried and also wanted to die, but she pressed on with her mother, and they eventually arrived in Salt Lake and later settled in Manti.

Martine later married William Bench and raised 10 children. She supported the family alone when her husband served a two year mission in England. Martine became a skilled and caring nurse, and while caring for a sick family when she was in her 60’s, she accidentally got some type of poison in her eyes and became blind. She continued attending meetings and working in the temple for the next 24 years and passed away in 1933 at the age of 83. There is a monument to Martine Larsen Bench in Manti, Utah.

Martine and many like her that valliantly press on in doing good and in faithful obedience, in spite of significant challenges, is inspiring to me. Happy Pioneer Day!

My source for information about Martine is a book called Tell My Story, Too, by Jolene S. Allphin.

We returned from our handcart trek five days ago, and I still don’t feel like I have fully recovered. Although I did walk a few miles around Martin’s Cove, it was not the walking that was so demanding for me. I think we were exhausted before we even left. We collected food and packed coolers on Sunday evening, and by the time everything was ready, it was close to midnight. Then we were up by around 4am to get ready to go.

Then, we drove for 6 hours. Along with 5 others, I was responsible for preparing all of the meals for about 70 people. Inevitably we encountered problems with each meal- winds that blew out the flames on our stoves, hamburger patties frozen in a solid block, missing or inadequate equipment, etc. We did our best to improvise, and I think the food in general was very good. It just seemed as though we would run from preparing and cleaning up from one meal to having to start the process all over again. I can’t think of a single meal in 4 days where I actually sat down or had more than a few quick bites. We were basically on our feet all day, every day, from early morning to late at night. There were times when I literally could not think straight or even form a coherent sentence. It was good though to be so busy and engaged, and we were fortunate to have many people that were willing to help when needed.

Many are familiar with Francis Webster’s quote where he defended the Martin Company’s decision to make the trek late in the year, even knowing the likely calamity that they would face. If you are interested in reading the full account, check here (search for “testimony” to find this specific story).

I am intrigued by Francis’ statement that he and other pioneers that suffered gladly paid the price that they did because it was through these trials that they became acquainted with God.

What are your thoughts? Do we need to go though extreme tragedy as these pioneers to come to know God? If not, since few of us will ever experience anything close to what these saints did, how do we come to the same knowledge of God that they did?

I have my own ideas that I am happy to share but would love for others to give their thoughts about this.

Our ward’s youth conference this year is a pioneer handcart trek at Martin’s Cove in Wyoming. I am not exactly sure how it came about, but my wife is in charge of buying, storing, and preparing food for this 4-day activity with close to 80 participants.

Trek has consumed our lives and is now taking over our home. Fortunately many ward members are loaning us coolers and other items that will come in handy while we attempt to feed hungry trekkers in the middle of nowhere, but those items are now stacked up in our living room, which is now a maze of several Igloo coolers large enough to sleep a family of four, pots and pans, canned food, large bins, etc.

I have been to Martin’s Cove a few times, and I know what a special place it is. I recognize that this can be an important event in the lives of some of these youth, and I hope that I can contribute to the activity’s success. But even though our conditions will be luxurious in comparison to the pioneers, I find myself murmuring and looking forward to the end when I can be back at home rather than looking forward to enjoying my time there.

What most impresses you about the pioneers? What to you are the characteristics that define a pioneer?

For me, the pioneers’ perseverance is amazing. Even in good conditions, it is incredible to me that they could keep going day after day. In my next post, which will most likely be after I return, I plan to discuss the source of this perseverance and hope that others will share ideas on how we can develop pioneer strengths.