Archive for July, 2008

Thursday, July 10, 2008 – Macedonia Old Town Park, Macedonia, Iowa

Tuesday, July 15th, 2008

Got going a little slow this morning, but completed the full mileage for the day – another 19 day. But let me tell you, it was HOT and HUMID. To cool off, I dumped water on my shirt and head, but because of the high humidity, it didn’t evaporate for a couple hours. The breeze helps cool me off somewhat.

Denny shotgunned, driving the support truck. Allyson refuses to drive. There were a couple more of the Class B roads today for me to hike down, but we have a new Official Trek Policy & Procedure which reads, “Thou Shalt Not Drive the Trucks On Class B Iowa Roads.” Denny did an end run around those sections.

As I was walking a mile section of Class B mud, I noticed a rust stain. Kicking at it, I scared up a metal fragment that looked old. Since I was very close to the original Mormon Trail, it kind of excited me a tad. Walking a little further, I found about eight rusted metal fragments, two appearing to be wagon wheel tire irons and one a bridle ring. What got me even more excited was finding a piece of “clinker” – evidence of blacksmithing since there’s nothing else like it in the area.

DISCLAIMER – these fragments had been washed downslope along a modern dirt road, so their historical relationships had already been disturbed, but I did NOT remove them from the area. There was also a low probability that they really belonged to the Pioneers, but it was possible, so I did not remove them. One should NEVER remove possible historic artifacts from an area. It’s OUR history – not YOURS.

About a mile further on, Rich Cody, a local that raises cows for a living came up on his ATV. I did not mention my prior experience with Iowa cows.

Cody is an enthusiastic person – hearty laugh, quick to joke with you and a big hearted guy. All three of Cody’s sons have played arena football. Quite interested in our project and we left him with a brochure explaining the Trek. Maybe he’ll come see us in Council Bluffs at month end.

When I mentioned the metal fragments, Cody explained that they were most likely from the farm of a couple brothers who had died a couple decades earlier. They were reclusive and did everything “old style” even to blacksmithing their wagon. Hardly ever went to town. So, little mystery solved and we didn’t disturb any historic materials.

We’re spending tonight at Macedonia, a town founded by LDS pioneers but which did not exist at the time the Battalion was formed. It’s on a branch of the Nishabotna River, so it was a potential stopping point for those rushing to get to Council Bluffs for the enlistment.

There have been zillions of lightning bugs this week. We haven’t been able to get it on video properly. It’s a child’s delight.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008 – Atlantic, Iowa

Tuesday, July 15th, 2008

Today was (hopefully) NOT typical of how the Trek will go. Because the past two days have challenged our equipment, I decided to use my “Mulligan” (golfers will understand the term) and not hike. Yep, I “rode the sick wagon” even though I wasn’t sick.

We spent the day working on the RV (again), doing wash, and conducting mud removal from the truck.

The locals advised us to take the unit to “The Car Guys” in Atlantic, Iowa. Not a name to instill confidence that they can do RV work, but we have to tell you, these folks know their stuff. They worked quickly and effectively in repairing some water problems in addition to the electrical issues. Not to mention, their rates are less than Council Bluffs.

In the evening, we’re camped at Cold Springs County Park in Lewis, Iowa. A number of trails pass through or near Lewis; the Iowa Dragoon Military Trail, the Mormon Pioneer, the Mormon Handcart as well as early railroad and stagecoach routes. The local historical society is working to restore an early home that served as the ferry house for the Nishnabotna River. The handcarts walked right by this building. Valda Kennedy, her husband Bob and Dana Kunze spent a couple hours sharing early Lewis history with us.

The Hitchcock House is another draw. It was a slave refuge on the “Underground Railway” pre-Civil War. Check out Lewis.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008 – Cold Springs County Park, Lewis, Iowa

Tuesday, July 15th, 2008

Today was probably LESS typical of how the Trek will go – at least I sure hope so.

Jerry and Denny drug the RV over to Council Bluffs and wheedled the service manager to take on our “emergency” project. They got it half done – power to the AC, lights in half the unit and the fridge is running – but still not very cool. Hummmm.

For Allyson and I, we had an early start like yesterday and made good time. She drove the support truck while I hiked. It wasn’t too hot, the breeze was helpful and an all round pleasant day to hike. If only we had only to hike.


For those of you who want to hold me in high regard for the entire Trek, you need to skip the remainder of this blog post.

Battle of the Cows (Almost)

OK, I admit a particularly fond place in my heart for Gary Larson’s “Far Side” cartoons, especially any dealing with cows.

Iowa has lots of cows – LOTS! And, without much to entertain myself with during the hike (no, I’m not using a “pod” music player) I find that I sometimes amuse myself by talking to the animals (See – I warned you that reading this would destroy your high opinion of me). Specifically, I like to “moo” at the cows and try to imitate bird calls in hopes of getting a response. A regular Doctor Doolittle, I am.

So, about 10 AM while walking along, I start “mooing” at a herd of cows on a hillside.

Now, cows are naturally curious beasts and the entire herd all turn to look at me – even the calves.

The whole herd starts slowly advancing towards this two-legged faux-cow who is obviously full of bull.

Thoroughly enjoying the novelty of having someone/something pay attention to me and being oblivious to the impending confrontation, I “moo” some more. Out of the herd, about six particularly large cows take the lead in checking me out.

Delighted at the obvious “connection” I’ve made with my bovine cousins (and being not too bright), I “moo” one more time and then the LARGEST cow takes a 50 yard long, full blown charge towards me and ONLY the itty-bitty, teeny-weenie, yellow insulator electric fence twenty-five feet away stops the Big Bad Momma Cow from making a hamburger of me.

May I report that I had an epiphany of how Lt. Frost felt during the 1846 Battle of the Bulls – only I didn’t have a loaded .69 musket with which to defend myself.

How Mean Is That Doggie In the Window?

Having been a missionary, I know the importance of staying on the good side of barking dogs – especially ones that still retain their teeth.

So, in the early afternoon a LARGE “chow-chow” looking rust colored dog decides it’s HIS road and I’m NOT entitled to walk past HIS territory – even if I’ve taken the precaution of moving to the far side of the road. After the Almost Battle of the Cows, I decide to be circumspect and avoid a confrontation; so, no, I didn’t bark at the dog.

The chow-dog charges anyway, however this time there isn’t even an itty-bitty “invisible fence” kind of thing to stop Chowie from becoming Chewie. I keep facing him without looking him in the eyes (some say that’s a direct challenge and only aggravates the animal) and carefully pull out our 2-miler walkie-talkie.

Allyson, bless her heart, answers quickly and comes charging with the support truck/trailer, gunning it in between Chowie and your humbled servant.

Performing a Harrison Ford style jump onto a moving vehicle (Scouts – don’t try this at home OR scout camp), I grab hold of the outhouse, then blow a raspberry at Chowie as we leave him in a cloud of Iowa dust.

Thanks Allyson for saving my bacon.

Of course, that quarter mile wasn’t actually hiked, but please don’t ask me to go back and challenge Chowie for the honor of doing so.

Iowa Mud Bloggin’

Did I mention Allyson was driving the support truck/trailer combo for the first time today? No? Well, it’s true. Despite all her pleading and weeping, we explained that since Denny had to go help get the RV fixed, Allyson was the ONLY person available to drive the support truck/trailer combo.

She did fine, I’m happy to report. Really. No tree branches impaled into the box truck. The port-a-potty contents didn’t slosh out of the tank. Nothing thrown from the shelves. Perfect driving for a first time combo driver.

To fully appreciate today’s entry, you need to know that Iowa county roads are divided into three general classes. First – concrete or asphalt hard surface, all weather roads. Second – gravel or limestone covered roads that are generally passable in all weather. Third – dirt roads marked with the sign “Class B Service Road – Proceed At Your Own Risk” – and they mean that. Really.

During the day I’d had to hike down a couple of those Class B roads. Yesterday evening’s rain had fairly well dried up and the roads were good enough for the truck to follow along. No problems.

About 4 PM, I finish the day’s 19 miles and I jumped into the truck with Allyson and we started following tomorrow’s route to check it out on our way to camp. That is, until we get to a downhill “T” intersection, BOTH sides of which are Class B roads (remember, “Enter At Your Own Risk”?) and both going uphill with a slight angle on the road surface.

So, I have Allyson turn right onto the shorter hill and we get all of 50 feet past the intersection when the road turns to Iowa gumbo mud. THIS area had been blessed by a shower earlier in the afternoon and the top two inches were pretty slick.

It’s obvious we are NOT going UP the hill, so I take the drivers seat and attempt a delicate backing job – to no avail. The trailer is stuck in the right ruts and the front cab wheels drift down slope into the left ruts - leading to a beautiful jack-knifed configuration of our little combo unit forming a nice “V” across the entire width of the muddy road.

At 4:30 PM I start hiking out (with 20 pounds of Iowa gumbo mud on my shoes) to the nearest farmhouse about half a mile away. Nobody home and since it’s at least another mile and a half to the NEXT farmhouse, I decide to wait a little past 5 PM in case they get home soon after work.

To add insult to injury, a thunderstorm blows up with HARD rain lasting 20 minutes, right where poor Allyson is sitting alone in the truck. Allyson’s CB radio goes dead and of course, we’re so far out in rural Iowa that my cell phone doesn’t work to inform Denny & Jerry what’s going on. I have visions of Allyson, the truck and trailer sinking out of sight into the deepening mud.

After the weather calms down (about 5:45) and deciding the house I was at wasn’t going to see its owner anytime soon, I hike to the next visible home. Mrs. Erickson calls her son Rex who drives over and asks if his “little tractor” will be able to pull us out.

Being a “city kid” I offer the opinion that bigger will probably be better in our case. He takes the hint and goes home to get his “big tractor.” When he comes back, it is a BIG, blue, eight-wheeled, independently steered front/rear wheel tractor.

Even with that beast, it still took us 45 minutes to extract us from the mire. Rex had to pull us downhill past the “T” intersection, pull us around the right hand turn, then uphill onto the limestone road about 100 yards while we’re throwing mud off the tires.

There’s mud all over, under and in the truck – on the steering wheel, pedals, seat and all the controls I had to touch. What a hoot! But all’s well that ends well and we’re all safely at Cold Springs county park for the night – laughing. Really.

Monday, July 7, 2008 – Mormon Trail County Park, Iowa

Tuesday, July 15th, 2008

Today was probably more typical of how I hope the Trek will go. I got up before sunrise, grabbed some quick chow, broke camp, loaded my gear into the support “wagon” truck, then started hiking to get as much in as possible before it got hot. It’s a pleasant time hiking early in the day.

We had a severe thunderstorm this evening after we got to camp at the “Morman Lake” county park. The RV was connected to local power when the circuits got hit by lightening. Now everything is acting up and we’re concerned we have major damage to the electrical systems onboard.

In the morning we’ll send Denny and Jerry into Council Bluffs to see if we can get the RV straightened out.

Sunday, July 6, 2008 – Creston, Iowa

Sunday, July 6th, 2008

It’s Sunday and we’re “laying over” today to rest. You may ask why are we laying over after just ONE day. Well, in my planning I thought it might be a good idea to put a rest in immediately after the first day of hiking to let blisters subside, sunburns to abate somewhat and rest our weary bones if not adequately in shape. Good Plan!

While “tuning up” for the Trek, I hiked over 100 miles breaking in my new shoes and getting stronger legs. Nary a blister in that whole time. First day of the Trek and what do I have? Two small but tender blisters – one on each big toe’s callus. How’s that for ironic?

My guess is that it’s due to walking on hilly graveled roads rather than the flat roads in Michigan. The ups and downs force your foot into the shoe differently while the gravel makes you push off the toes differently. For whatever reason, the outside of the big toes got a little more work and are complaining a little.

Valiant Jones and the young men left this morning, headed back to Michigan. Now it’s just the four of us in the core group for awhile – myself, Denny, Jerry Watts (Denny’s dad) and Allyson Jones. We’re doing some reading, journal writing, speaking with family by phone which is very different than 1846.

And, just to explain the odd posting on the Blog. Since we aren’t in a routine yet, compounded by the fact that we don’t always have broadband internet connectivity, we will post as often as we can but sometimes it won’t be a daily posting. Come back often to visit though and we hope to have some photos up soon.

Kevin Henson
Aka “Ebenezer Brown”

Saturday, July 5, 2008 – Creston, Iowa

Sunday, July 6th, 2008

We were up at sunrise – and a beautiful sunrise it was. We had a quick breakfast, struck the large tent and without much ceremony, started the Trek. Passing his home, we bade Bob Brown goodbye and headed westward along 170th Street. We crossed the Grand River in the first mile, the same Grand River that flows through the valley of Adam-Ondi-Ahman down in Missouri.

Coming UP out of the Grand River valley was almost enough to make me reconsider the Trek. That’s a TALL HILL! It’s got to be every bit of 100 feet higher than the river bottoms! Nothing like that at home.

The spring floods here in Iowa had washed out another bridge, creating some confusion for our drivers moving the support vehicles but they managed to work around the detours and incorrect maps.

We hiked six miles (2 hours), rested about a half-hour and completed the morning hike just after noon. Following the old Army practice, we took a long lunch and rested before completing our day’s hike about 5 PM.

Mulberries! The roadsides are planted with mulberry trees and its’ been a GREAT YEAR for the mulberries. Sweet! Almost every tree we passed we stopped to much on a few. Our hands and lips were quite stained. Maybe I gather enough for a pie and ask Phoebe to help me make one.

We’re camped in a flood plain where just three weeks ago stood a few feet of water. But, it’s dried out now and Richard Byerly is our host for the weekend. He’s a retired state legislator, college president, teacher, coach, horseman and a few other things we didn’t get written down.

Friday, July 4, 2008 – Mt. Pisgah, Iowa

Sunday, July 6th, 2008

Some of “my” Scouts arrived at camp today. Three of the six young men who started our Mormon Battalion reenactor’s group drove over to join us for the first day’s hike.

Also along is my Scout file leader, Valiant Jones – a man aptly named. Val can scrounge equipment like no other and he manages to keep me in line as I work with the 11 year-old patrol scouts.

A few years ago, Val saw the importance of having our young men march with “muskets” in our reenacting events, something I’d missed. They sharpened up and acted even better than their usual exemplary behavior.

Alyson, Val’s oldest daughter will accompany us for a month as she prepares to begin her masters’ program in American Studies. Allyson will learn about reenacting and hopefully help us put some perspective into the women’s lives.

Late in the afternoon we were joined in camp by the Reynolds family from Des Moines. They participated in the wagon train back in ’97 and had some good advice for us novices.

After a tasty Dutch oven meal, we packed up the last of the equipment, then headed to bed. Oh, and our young men provided our group with a fireworks display to finally celebrate Independence Day. And, in that spirit, I’ve always been impressed by the following verse of “America the Beautiful.”

O beautiful for heroes proved
In liberating strife.
Who more than self their country loved
And mercy more than life!
America! America!
May God thy gold refine
Till all success be nobleness
And every gain divine!

Thursday, July 3, 2008 – Travel day to Mt. Pisgah, Iowa

Sunday, July 6th, 2008

We pulled out of Nauvoo this morning after filling some of our water tanks. For the next ten days we will be in rural Iowa and think it best to have a modest supply in case we don’t meet up with our expected sources.

Using Gregory’s Franzwa’s recently released book, “The Mormon Trail Revisited” (Patrice Press), we traced some of the eastern Iowa portions of the Trail today. It’s important to understand the trail leading to Mt. Pisgah and Council Bluffs in order to understand the origins of the Battalion.

For a few minutes, we stood on the western shore of the Mississippi River opposite Nauvoo, looking back at the scene the Pioneers had in February 1846 – without the snow of course. But this morning was gray and except for the green trees and nearly flood stage river, the view probably hasn’t changed much. The temple stands magnificent on the bluffs, a faithful echo of its’ earlier predecessor. The town of Nauvoo truly is a “beautiful place.”

A few miles further west, following Gregory’s directions, we poked around off the main road and found the Sugar Creek campsite. It must have been a sight with all the wagons and tents surrounded by snow and mud. Twenty degrees below zero temperatures were reportedly experienced by the advance party. We had a balmy 70 degrees as we motored along at 55 miles per hour. The Pioneers were fortunate to do more than eight miles per day.

By four PM we pulled into the area of Mt. Pisgah. It isn’t a town these days. It’s marked only by a small cemetery, a few historic plaques and a small county park. It’s a peaceful place, far enough from the highways that you don’t hear traffic. Not many airplanes either, so it’s very quiet.

Bob Brown and his family own about 1,500 acres surrounding the park. Bob has spent years helping research the Mormon Trail in Union County. He’s a wonderful host to us and permitted us an area to camp as we complete our preparations.
We’re pretty much ready to start, but we still have to set up the portable toilet, mark some of the equipment and rearrange stuff that’s been thrown around inside the truck while on the back roads.

Tomorrow evening, I shall change into my pioneer garb, step back in time and officially begin the Trek.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008 – Nauvoo, Illinois

Sunday, July 6th, 2008

Our day today was spent attending to last minute e-mails, arranging materials and conducting some research locally.

The Nauvoo Legion seems a good topic as some of its leaders became leaders in the Battalion’s story. The Legion was typical of local militias. Unit leaders up to the rank of Colonel were elected from amongst the prominent community members. Militias were very “democratic” entities and not subject to the same standards as the federal Army.

There was not a common uniform that everyone wore. The only common item was a red sash waistband. Perhaps that’s why the modern Mormon Battalion uniform utilizes a red sash?

Another possible line of research for someone to follow: How many and which of the Battalion members had served in the Legion? What were their respective ranks?

Anyway, I was seeking more insights into the on-going conflicts between the Army and Battalion member’s. Hopefully Sherman Fleek will expand on this theme at our seminar Fort Leavenworth on August 9.

July 1, 2008 - Driving Miss Denny

Wednesday, July 2nd, 2008

We’re off!
After two years of planning, we’re finally starting on our way.
At 7 AM this morning, we (wife Denny, father-in-law Jerry and your reporter) finished loading the last of the gear into the truck and RV, then we headed out from Michigan for points west.
Our goal today was to reach Nauvoo, Illinois which is about 12 hours driving time. And we happily report there was room at the Nauvoo State Park where we set up camp about sundown.