June 5, 1997
Location: Fort John/Laramie - 508 m. left, Wyoming - Location: 42:12:46N 104:31:00W Elevation: 4250 feet (Fort lays about 1-1/2 miles west from the river. Ford is good in low water. River 108 yards wide. Wall and houses are adobe, or Spanish brick. Altitude, 4,090 feet) -522 miles from Winter Quarters
Summary: Torrington to Ft. Laramie - Wyoming
Journal entry: I was scheduled with Jerry and MarJean Toone to be with them all day in the Souvenir wagon. I wanted to travel with them, arrive at the destination, help set up, and sell souvenirs for a day. This was my day to be a souvenir salesman for the wagon train. I was talking with Jerry when the wagon train pulled out of the Torrington Fairgrounds. I sensed a different feeling, looked around, and found the wagons and walkers gone. It was an interesting observation.
We drove our vehicles including the souvenir wagon to our next campsite which was Ft. Laramie National Historic Site. Here we discovered that no souvenirs could be sold inside a national park area. So, basically, that shut down the Toone's for two days. We abandoned hopes of opening and I retired to my camper to write letters. I spent a rather peaceful day.
Occasionally my thoughts returned to the wagon train. I wondered where they were along the trail and how they were doing. I always am concerned about the handcart people and the walkers. They are my family. They are my best friends out here. We really feel a close-knit bond. Today I was especially concerned because of the distance between Torrington and Ft. Laramie - a scheduled 25 miles. That is a long way to walk - pulling a handcart.
In camp we all waited, anticipating the wagon train's arrival. It was much later than usual - about 5:30. We were located in a huge field - the camp at one end and the approaching wagon train was across the river a good mile away at the other end. I was standing next to a woman who was filming their arrival. The spirit of the approaching wagons engulfed us. Her comment to me was simply, "Can you feel it coming?" I was surprised. I said, "I can always feel it coming. And it's growing in power."
Somehow I knew I felt this approaching strength - but no one had ever commented to me that they had felt it too. It was a relief to vocalize what before I had only kept private. I asked her to help me describe what she sees and feels. She only said, "I have tried and I can't."
I stand on a hill, the Wyoming wind is gently gusting about, playing tag games with my hair. The sun is warm - but not too warm. The fragrance is grasses, prairie grasses and a slight dusty odor. In the distance a meadow lark does her constant little chirp. The crickets chirp even in the daylight.
It is late afternoon. The heat of the day has passed and a slight feel of a cooler evening is approaching. We wait for their arrival, this wagon train. We have seen and felt it come and go many times before. We long to be with it.
It is a strange longing - like the memory of something long ago that was wonderful. Something that made you feel good all over. You can't remember what it was - you can only remember the feeling. You want to run to it, to be with it, to walk beside the wagons, to smell the dust and hay and horses, to shuffle your feet along the trail and feel the soft grasses underfoot. You know you will be hot and sweaty and dirty - but that doesn't matter - because something inside of you says you have to be there. The feeling is exhilarating and quiet and powerful and gentle. It is everything -- and you have to go and be there and forget your small private world for awhile and experience this........wagon train. Because if you don't go, you will always have a little hole inside of you that is empty - a little hole of regret. And if you come, you can treasure that memory and tuck it away in a safe place, and feel its warm glow when you need a "feel good." And it will always be there.
But today we only watch its arrival. It is slow. I treasure its slowness. Thus I have a longer length of time to feast upon the uniqueness of this simple beauty. The skies are a hazy blue, the trees that frame the field and follow the distant river are early summer green. It is a calm and peaceful scene. As they approach, you hear the sound of leather and metal and wheels and horses. Peoples' laughter and voices fill the air. Horses whinny, riders call out and encourage their four-legged friends to finish the length and children jump from the wagons and begin their play.
It is a scene from long ago.
It is a scene from today.
Someone comments, "Well the wagons made it, Now the handcarts." He crossed his fingers for luck.
I have strange feelings today about the walkers. I strain my eyes to see their arrival. Nothing.
I can't wait. I have to know where they are. Are they OK?
My inner voice says, "Go find them."
I inched my way through the barbed wire fence, caring not to drop my wallet. I couldn't figure out why I had my wallet, but I suddenly knew why. I started trotting down the same road the wagons had come into camp on.
I ran but had to slow down. I was out of breath.
I ran til I got to the paved road. I walked quickly.
A car passed and I wished it to stop. It didn't.
Another car passed and I wished it to stop. It did.
Driving the car was one of our camp jacks and his wife. They were driving out to meet the walkers. I felt a great urgency.
"Will you please drive another mile into town so I can buy some candy for the walkers? I think they need it."
He willingly obliged. We reached the mini-mart, we both went in and gave the clerk enough money for candy bars for 60 walkers.. We drove back to the river bridge. No sign of the walkers. People were milling about waiting for them to come.
"Let's drive down this dirt road," suggested the driver. We went almost a mile before the road ended. In the distance, in the trees, were the hand- carts - moving steadily ahead - followed by the sag wagon. In the lead was Bob Lowe, on his horse, carrying the American flag.
I had to run to them but got caught behind a fenced corral. I ran back to the car and they were almost here walking on a very poorly marked trail.
I handed some M&Ms to the lead group and hurried to the first handcart and did the same. They appeared to be OK. The group of over 150 walkers was diminished to about 60. Many had taken the last bus back to camp miles ago. Only the full-time walkers and a few hearty souls remained.
As I continued passing out candy, I could see the looks of extreme fatigue, depression, and near panic in their faces. They had been walking for ten and a half hours and had eaten lunch five hours ago. Some reached out and took the candy. Some I had to physically lift their hands and put the candy in them, telling them to eat.
As I moved further down the line of walkers, I could feel myself losing my control as I stuffed candy in their hands. In my entire life I had never seen such horrible exhaustion and despair as I saw in their faces. I was appalled that this could have happened in such a short time. I was crying. Joseph was crying. I threw my arms around him and asked if he was OK. He said he was fine--- but Pam and Joe were way behind.
Mike called for a rest stop and asked Kathy to pray. She asked for strength to finish and invoked the power of Elder Ballard's blessing to be with the walkers, that they would feel the presence of angels to help them and that they would have the blessings of heaven. They all arose and picked up the carts. The group started out and began singing. I was told later that they sang all the way back to camp and that they felt light in their walking and that there was no pain and they had energy and strength. It was at least two and a half miles to camp.
The Odyssey crew arrived with their 4-wheel drive vehicle and drove back to get Pam and Joe. The walkers who finished the job today were the heroes. There was not a dry eye in the bunch as they walked into camp. Many commented that they felt like they could have danced into camp. There was a rousing cheer when they knew they had made it. They had walked for eleven and a half hours and gone 30 miles.
Today the memory of yesterday is just that--a memory. The people who walked say it was their best day yet. My memory is that of the look on their faces when I got to them. Perhaps I am the only one who will remember that day with tears. Those who walked the trail and endured to the end feel a wonderful sense of calm and joy and peace.