Family History Reunion–Pioneer Trek

Pioneer Trek Reunion

Another time when it was my turn, we went up Huntington Canyon and reenacted a mini pioneer trek. We used ancestor stories and planned around that. Each person was given a pioneer bonnet or a cowboy hat. One of our ancestors headed to Oregon for the gold fields. They stopped in Salt Lake for supplies and he joined the Mormon Church. So we salted the creek with some gold marbles for the kids to find as we began our trek (they could each pick up four gold nuggets), telling them the story of William Morley Black. The family was divided into families with a “Ma and Pa” for each family. Each family had a little wagon or a wheel barrow to use as their handcart. Each person brought a bedroll (to eat their lunch on) and a large squirt gun or super soaker (for the buffalo hunt) and put them in the handcart.

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Top Row: L-Panning for gold; C-On the trail; R-A pioneer ancestor visits us and tells her story. Middle Row:-Crossing a stream. Bottom Row: L-Guns read for the buffalo hunt; C-The hunt; R-The Trading Post.

Toward the end, some anonymous person handed each family a note that told of a challenge for their family such as one of their children broke his leg. They had to figure how to best help him. The trail crossed a small stream two times, and the leaders had to figure out the best place to across. Everyone made a stop to eat their lunch (cheese stick, jerky, and an apple). We had one of our pioneer ancestor–Ann Jewell Rowley appear to us and tell her stories of faith. The dads and grandpas acted as the buffalo and had a cardboard buffalo head as a shield. The kids had the most fun with this activity. At the end of the trek, they could spend their gold at the trading post. After the trek was over, the kids gathered around an aunt who helped them make a pioneer craft. Each family was given a small book that told the stories of their pioneer ancestors, to take home. We ate chili and scones for late lunch. The there was free time for kids and visiting time for adults.

Family Reunion Classes

Set Up Some Mini-Classes &

Learn From Each Other

All families have people that are really good at one thing or another. A fun idea is to ask family members in advance to teach a Class Activity and share their talents and break the group into classes. The possibilities are endless–look around your family and figure out who could teach what. After dinner, some could show what they’ve learned, like the dancing, acting, or rhythm, etc.

Here are some of our ideas:

Crafts–Have the crafty cousin bring supplies for a mosaic craft or some other trendy craft that people can sign up to do. This is one of the options my niece is going to have us do at our next reunion.

Family Trip--Provo River

Alisha’s Craft

Here is a craft that looks so perfect for a family reunion! Check it out at Saving with Sarah blog.


Another variation of this is found on Ginger Snaps blogab187fa0761aebb84d36a6d26a5630b4You can order supplies for these pendants at Photo Making Jewelry

Cake Decorating–I have two daughter-in-laws who decorate cakes. Either one could teach marshmallow fondant, or using tips at a family reunion. One year I made cupcakes and frosting ahead of time, and we had “Cupcake Wars” with the family divided into three teams. The cupcake flavors were Applesauce, Red Velvet, Chocolate, made before the event started. Everyone adults and kids participated and had a great time.

Grandma's Camp Wonderland

Quilting–In our family, a good class to teach would be the basics of patchwork. (Sewing machines are portable these days and can be transported to the reunion.) Our daughter learned quilting from her grandmother, and now teaches. Grandma tried to teach all of her granddaughters quilting and held Quilting Camp at her house for a couple of years.

Nina Quilting and Sewing

Grandma Nina was a professional quilter. Top Row L-teaching her granddaughters to put a quilt on frames and tie it. R-The girls finished quilt tops. The rest are Nina Grimes quilts. Bottom R-teaching a granddaughter.

Embroidery–Our  Grandma taught ribbon embroidery and traditional embroidery to one of our daughters. It would be a great class to teach something relating to an ancestor at a family reunions.  Quilting or Embroidery would be a great way to honor her in our family.

Self Defense or Personal Safety–Get some tips from someone in your family that is in law enforcement or has taken these kinds of classes.

Dance –Have the dancer in your family choreograph a simple dance.– Our daughter-in-law taught teenagers and younger kids a Stomp.

Music or Rhythm –Our grandson gave everyone some type of percussion instrument–look around there are all sorts of house hold things that can double as percussion instruments. He started a beat and we all followed it and the person next to him would start with another beat; you could follow or keep the same beat going. The longer it went, the more fun it was!

Act It Out

We’ve done this in so many different ways. You just need a director.

  • I had condensed “Joseph’s Technicolored Dream Coat,” and had some simple costumes for the main characters. We watched parts of the movie, and then rehearsed, giving tips on what their character needed to portray.
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All dressed up and ready to play their part. These guys write their own plays.

  • My mother had simple costumes and put together a reader’s theater about a Court Case of Thomas Hawkins–one of our ancestors, and they rehearsed it briefly and and put it on for the crowd.
  • Another time my mother dressed pioneer clothes and did a one woman show of her great-grandmother crossing the plains and mountains with seven children and a handcart. She had collected her history from family members as well as first hand accounts from her grandfather. Everyone loved it and learned so much about this ancestor.

Archery–Have the archer in your family bring some bows, arrows and targets and teach the basics of archery. We bought some inexpensive homemade bows that worked well for little kids, and a couple of adults had their own bows to share.

Grandmas Camp Medeival 2013

This archery event happened at Grandma’s Medieval Camp.

Shooting–Choose someone in your family that can teach gun safety if you are in areas where you can have target practice with guns, or maybe you are close enough to a shooting range. We live in a rural area, so its not hard to set up a shooting range in our 10 acres or go to North Springs Shooting Range near Price, Utah.


Headed out to teach gun safety and target practice at our Cowboy Camp.



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:

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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!”

Pioneer Camp (Part 2) – Discoveries on the Trek

Theme Quick Links: Pioneer Camp – Part 1 & Pioneer Camp – Part 3

The Gold Rush!

Many pioneers headed to California or Oregon to find gold, including one of our ancestors. The first activity on our Family Reunion Pioneer Trek was panning for gold.

The first stop was at the stream where we had previously scattered the gold in the creek. I thought about fool’s gold, but couldn’t find any; I was going to spray rocks gold, but I decided to just buy gold colored glass globs. I’ve learned to do some things the easiest way, as long as you get close to the concept, the kids imaginations do the rest.
Panning for gold is done with a shallow pan such as a tin pie plate, which we used in my first trek, but for this one, the gold was on the surface and the stream meandered instead of rushing, so I decided they could just pick it out of the stream with their hands, which made this activity shorter so as to fit into the time frame we had for all the activities planned.There's gold in that thar creek -- Pioneer Camp

I limited the amount of gold nuggets each child could find, in a socialistic way I’m afraid, but fairness makes Grandma’s Camps easier. Parents helped the littler kids find enough gold so that everyone had a small bag  of “gold” which they could spend later.

Onward and Upward

The trail continued on up the mountain to a grassy plateau. There we stopped for a break and here’s where my sister, Grandma Ginny, portrayed our angel ancestor.

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Grandmother Ann Jewell Rowley tells the story we call “Bless the Biscuits.”

 Ann Jewell Rowley  appeared to us and told us a little about her experiences with the Willie Handcart Company.

HawkinsTreck 061 The group listens as Grandmother Ann Jewell Rowley tells  how they encountered early winter weather in the mountains of Wyoming along with other obstacles that slowed the company down, and they ran out of food. When they had gone without food for days, Ann found an old sea-biscuit from their ocean-crossing voyage. One biscuit, however, could not feed all of her children. She put it in a pan, prayed and asked for enough food for her family, and when she took the lid off, the pan was filled!HawkinsTreck 059

Teaching Moment:

Here was a teaching moment of faith and courage!I think all of Ann Jewell Rowley’s descendants know this story and have been inspired by her great faith. Descendants may not know their great-grandparents, but further back into the great-greats, they know Grandmother Ann!

Crossing Sweetwater River

The actual pioneer trek required the pioneers to cross a river that snaked back and forth in Wyoming called Sweetwater. They had to cross that river six times in the course of their journey. So in our trek I thought we should have to cross a stream at least twice!  Our trail led to a small stream that required some strategy to get all the people and carts across without drowning or losing belongings.

…Okay–yeah, so this little stream can’t be called a river.  Here you have to use your imagination  a little. We just needed to get across without getting wet!

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Arranging the log in the river to walk across.

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Just like in the real story, young men went into the water to help each person across safely.

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Here’s another real scenario–Mom carrying two babies across.

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And then the handcarts.

Trail-side Rest Stop and LunchHawkinsTreck 158

It was time to get the bedrolls out and have a rest and refreshment. Each person had a lunch in their handcart.

Perils Along The Trail

Every pioneer had challenges on the trail such as illness and accidents, among other things. so for another teaching moment, a few of the kids were handed notes that indicated a problem such as a broken leg, or a serious illness. Their family had to determine how to help their injured co-travelers continue the journey.

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Helping a cousin with “a broken leg” finish the trek.

This turned out to be more pleasure than plight, but isn’t that the the point of Grandma’s Camp?

“But With Joy Wend Your Way.”


Pioneer Camp (Part 3) – The Buffalo Hunt

Theme Quick Links: Pioneer Camp – Part 1 & Pioneer Camp – Part 3

The Buffalo Hunt

The kids (and the buffalo) had the most fun with this activity!

We all know that Buffalo were an important part of the Western Migration, so I wanted to teach the kids about them and how the pioneers found buffalo hides a blessing of warmth and the meat was so welcome and often life saving. The idea of doing a buffalo hunt popped into my head, and  I excited to arrange it in our trek experience.

Going on a Buffalo Hunt

Here the kids are armed and waiting for the hunt to officially open.

 Each of the kids was asked to bring a water gun–mostly super soakers. (I had extras for the forgetters in the family, like me.)  The fathers and grandfathers of the children were to be the buffalo, and they each held  a cardboard cutout of a buffalo head to use as a shield against the mighty hunters.

Buffalo Hunt -- Pioneer Camp


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The kids loved picking on their dads, grandpas and uncles.

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Some of the Grandpa Buffaloes seemed easy targets for the littler kids, so they ganged up on them!

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BUT sometimes the buffalo fought back!

Values and Principles–Another Teaching Moment

The needless slaughter of the buffalo herds causing Native Americans to suffer is very sad, even heart breaking.  After our fun sport, I talked to the kids about this. Our ancestor, William Morely Black– the one who joined the wagon train in search of gold–experienced the sport of the huge buffalo herds. The herds were so large that people could feel the ground shake before they heard the thunder of their hoofs. They traveled in herds of about 10,000 (some estimate).  In his writings: Sketch of the Life of William Morley Black. he expresses his regret of participating in the hunts:

“The journey…was a prosperous one. The most lively incidents were the days when for sport we hunted buffaloes, thousands of them  were shot down for the mere fun of the thing. No one seemed to consider that they were the property of the Red Men, and that they by generations of inheritance claimed them as we claim our marked and branded cattle. Sad indeed was it for the Sioux nation when the white man made a thoroughfare through their well stocked hunting grounds.”

What better way to talk about the terrible consequences of sport killing and how the slaughtering of millions of buffalo changed the whole Western landscape than hearing a great…grandfather’s words?

Trading Post–End of the Trail

On the final stretch of the Pioneer Trek, they came to a Trading Post. I had purchased souvenirs from the Pioneer Museum in Salt Lake City and other souvenir shops in Salt Lake. I had some beaded dolls and pop guns, Native American medicine pouches, bracelets, necklaces, cups, little boxes with bugs (artificial) and a lot of other inexpensive things that I had been gathering for months.

Trading Post -- Pioneer Camp


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The kids were so delighted at the chance to spend their gold!

Ancestor Story Books

My niece had made two spiral-bound books with a simple retelling of the stories of the ancestors we had been talking about: Red Bill about William Morely Black, and Mama’s Faith: The Miracle of the Sea Biscuit about Ann Jewell Rowley. The books were very cute with illustrations and all!  It was the best souvenir that  would be a reminder of  our Pioneer Camp Adventure, and could be read to coming generations of children. Each family, not each child, received the two books.

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We ended with Dutch oven potatoes, chicken, and fried scones with jam and honey.

Our Pioneer Camp was over by early afternoon. We met at 11:00 and ended about 2:30. Getting organized took about 30 minutes. The Trek, with our breaks and games and trading post took about 2 hours (we didn’t travel very far). Then we ate and visited and cleaned up, which was another hour and a half or so.We made lots of happy memories as well as introduced our grandchildren to a couple of their ancestors in a super fun way!

Happy Day! All Is Well!