Pioneer Camp (Part 1) – Westward Ho!

O Pioneers!

in the Tetons: Sam and McKay

This picture was taken long before Grandma Dottie’s Pioneer Camp. It was taken when my grandson was about 2 years old. But doesn’t it just make you want to be a pioneer for a day?

  I have several ancestors who trekked across the Plains and  Rocky Mountains to settle the West. This particular camp was prepared to help my grandchildren gain an appreciation for these pioneers and a little understanding of the way of life in the 1800s, all while making happy memories of our own.

Everyone has ancestors who lived through the 1800s, and no matter where they were, life was similar in the type of clothing, ways to cook, clean, wash, travel and hunt, so this camp works for anyone and activities can be associated with family members from the past. I based many of our activities around the stories of some of our family’s pioneer ancestors.

Preparing for Pioneer Camp--loading our handcart

My first Pioneer Camp at my home. We have our “handcart” (wheelbarrow) packed and ready to trek. Instructions are being given…um, no one appears to be listening.

McKay and Weston

Panning for gold at Grandma’s Camp: Pie plates were used for panning gold marbles buried in a little pool filled with dirt, sand, and water. The kids learned to swirl the water and sand like real gold panners.


We visited the grave of Ann Jewell Rowley who had been part of the Willey Handcart Company.

The Pioneer Camp theme with my grandkids was so much fun that I used the ideas a second time. When it was my turn to plan the annual family reunion, I decided to have a mini Pioneer Camp again, this time with children and adults of my extended family.

Some of our family’s pioneer ancestors:

William Morely Black-001

William Morely Black

William Morely Black headed for the gold fields in Oregon. His wagon train stopped in Salt Lake for supplies. He met some Mormons and was invited to church. He joined the LDS Church and let his wagon train go on without him.



Ann Jewel Rowley

Ann Jewel Rowley joined the LDS church with her husband in England. As a widow and mother of seven children she immigrated to the United States. Traveled by train to Iowa. Joined the Willie Handcart Company and walked to Utah with her children.

Come, Come Ye Saints!

Family Reunion Pioneer Trek

Pioneer Trek Camp for the whole family had to be adjusted to accommodate about 30 people. I sent my brothers and sisters and their adult children an email invitation, “Call to Move West” which included a list of a few supplies that would be needed.

Dear Families,

You are hereby called to organize into The Hawkins Handcart Company that will head West into the frontier. This Company will meet at the Huntington Park on Saturday, August 1 to assemble. We will then head up the canyon and start our Westward  Journey.  

Every person needs to bring a bedroll (a blanket folded in thirds and rolled like a sleeping bag) and a water gun or super soaker for our buffalo hunt.  We will divide into four families.  We will need four “handcarts.”  Other supplies will be distributed after the company has assembled.

After the trek we will all have pioneer Dutch Oven Supper before heading home.

(The location of our meeting point and map were included in the email.)

I look forward to seeing you all at the gathering place!


The Gathering

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We all met at the spot in a canyon near my home that my husband and I had previously chosen and mapped out. The children were divided into families, with a Ma and Pa appointed for each family.

The required supplies from their call letter were accounted for…

  • Handcarts (red wagons or wheelbarrows–we only needed three or four)
  • Bedroll (a blanket to use when we stopped for lunch)
  • A Water Gun (the bigger the better)HawkinsTreck 006-001

Next, individual supplies were given to each child:

  • A hat–sunbonnets for girls, cowboy hats for boys. My sister made about 20 pioneer bonnets. I bought the hats at the Dollar Store or somewhere cheap.
  • A small bag to hold the gold they were going to find. My sister also made the little bags for gold–about 25.
  • A lunch of cheese, jerky, apple, and dried fruit. I bought these.
  • A gold-panning-pan. We decided not to use these, so they were eliminated from this version of the trek.
  • A trek map for each family. A simple drawing showing the events and stops we would be making.
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Cowboy hats and sunbonnets and little linen sacks for gold discovery are some of the supplies handed out. Even the babies had hats and bonnets.

The kids are ready to find out which family they belong to, put their bedrolls and guns,  in the family “handcart.”

I love the expressions on their faces as they WAIT for adults to get organized and ready to go. I hated waiting as a child–I still do.Hawkins Pioneer Trek

Wagons Ho!

Then the Wagon Master called out Wagons Ho!  Anyone remember that old TV shows “Wagon Train?” And  so, following the Wagon Master, our train of  (little red) wagons (and wheelbarrows) began to move and our journey/adventure begins.

“And Soon We’ll Have This Tale To Tell!”