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Wagon train re-enactment ends with grand entrance into Salt Lake Valley

July 22, 1997

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) _ A wagon train retracing the 1,000-mile route taken by the Mormon pioneers to their new home found something today that was lacking at journey’s end 150 years ago: Throngs of greeters.

A pair of mounted outriders galloped ahead of the wagon train, shouting and waving their hats, just as the company rolled out of the Wasatch Mountains and into This Is the Place State Park overlooking the city. It’s the spot where Mormon leader Brigham Young was said to have proclaimed, ``This is the place,″ 150 years ago this week.

Three bands, a drum line, a children’s chorus and an estimated 10,000 spectators filled the park, cheering and singing as the pioneer-era Mormon hymn ``Come, Come Ye Saints″ blared from loudspeakers.

``It’s just incredible! It’s amazing what they’ve gone through,″ said spectator Carol Walker of Orem, just as an outrider rode by, his arm in a sling.

The wagon train is the focal point of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ celebration of the Mormon migration to the West. The three-month journey re-enacting the difficult trip began in April at Omaha, Neb.

``I’m glad the walking and camping will be over, but the rest will be a real letdown,″ Harmonie Race of Taylorsville said today as the company prepared to break camp for the final leg of the journey.

She and her husband, Robert, and three children have pulled a handcart from Casper, Wyo.

Some 62 wagons, about 40 horseback riders, a dozen handcarts and an estimated 800 people headed this morning for the mouth of Emigration Canyon, where the 1,000-square-mile lake, the largest salt lake in North America, comes into view from the east.

Today’s arrival comes on the 150th anniversary of the day the first group of Mormon pioneers peered out over the valley. Young himself arrived two days later, on July 24, 1847.

Some 70,000 Mormons traveled the trail between 1847 and 1869 _ when the transcontinental railroad rendered wagon travel obsolete _ establishing their church and settling dozens of cities and towns in the Intermountain West.

The church was founded in 1830 by Joseph Smith, based on revelations he said were brought to him by heavenly messengers. He and his followers were driven from state to state, and Young led them west after Smith was killed by a mob in 1844.

This year’s celebration goes far beyond the usual parades, fireworks and business closings each July 24, a regional holiday known as Pioneer Day.

The Mormon Church has used the event as a way to tell its history as a flight from religious persecution, and to show the world it is a Christian religion gaining widespread acceptance and not a cult of polygamists.

The missionary-minded church counts 9.7 million members, with more than half of those living outside the United States.

Thousands of participants _ most of them dressed in pioneer-era clothing _ have created a circus-like atmosphere in communities they passed through or camps along the way.

For many, the trip has become more than a religious experience.

``They have a purpose out here,″ said Russ Leger, a wagon master and guide from Plattsmouth, Neb., who is not a Mormon. ``You hear about their (ancestors’) personal history and the trail comes alive. You start looking at the terrain and maps a little differently.″

The long, hot days have not been without mishaps. On Monday, a pair of mules bolted as they pulled a wagon down a steep hill in the Wasatch Mountains that ring the Salt Lake Valley.

The wagon broke apart, and three people suffered minor injuries.