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Nebraska man follows Mormon handcart trek of his ancestors


Kent Steinke, 35, is shown with his Mormon handcart that he is pulling from Iowa City to Omaha, Neb., along the same route that his great-great-great-grandparents took in 1857. Steinke was in Brooklyn last week and planned to stay near Grinnell before heading west.

Kent Steinke is journeying across Iowa pulling a Mormon handcart along a trail his ancestors took more than 150 years ago.

Steinke of Beaver City, Neb., was in Brooklyn last Thursday on his travels along the Mormon Handcart Trail (1856-1860) from Iowa City to Omaha, Neb.

“I really want to know and understand the motivation of the pioneers in the 19th century and where they were headed,” said the 35-year-old Steinke during a stop at the Brooklyn Historical Society.

The Mormon Handcart Trail followed a more northerly route that includes Tiffin, Oxford, Marengo, Brooklyn, Malcom and Grinnell. It took place about 10 years after the original Mormon trek to Salt Lake City in 1846, that traveled along what is now Highway 2 in Southern Iowa.

Mormon Church founder Brigham Young coordinated the handcart trek in an effort to bring 3,000 Mormons of British decent to the United States for a better life. Steinke’s great-great-great-grandparents, Jesse and Mary Griffen of Derby, England, were among a group of 148 Mormon immigrants who came to the United States in May of 1857. Steinke said his greatgreat-great-grandparents left Iowa City on May 22, 1857, and landed in Omaha on June 13, 1857.

“It took my ancestors about three weeks (to get to Omaha),” said Steinke. “They were frequently stuck in camp because of rains.”

Steinke said Mary was pregnant and became too ill to continue beyond Omaha, where they settled. Steinke was born near Omaha.

Steinke, who is Methodist by faith, said the handcart trail followed Old Highway 6, and parts of New Highway 6. “And a theoretical trail I would call really old 6,” he said.

Much of what Steinke has learned about the trail is from old pioneer journals and family records.

When asked why he is following the Mormon Handcart Trail that his ancestors traveled, Steinke said, “We are all on a journey. I think we can learn a lot from the pioneers journey and vision, and it can help us in where we want to go today.”

Steinke said he tried to cross one creek near Oxford and became stuck. Luckily, someone was nearby that helped him pull the handcart out of the mud.

“You can’t do this by yourself,” Steinke said he quickly learned. Adding to that, Steinke said the early pioneers had difficulties, “but it wasn’t something they couldn’t overcome,” he said.

Just like his ancestors, Steinke’s journey began in Boston on April 22. He took a train from Boston to Chicago. From there he arranged a ride to Iowa City aboard an Interstate Railroad freight train, arriving at an old depot in Iowa City on April 29.

Steinke spent a few nights sleeping in a tent in Mormon Handcart Park in Iowa City before loading his belongings in a handcart he borrowed from a Mormon Church youth group in Council Bluff, pulling out May. 4. The handcart was shipped to Iowa City for the journey. It weighs about 200 pounds loaded. Steinke said he should be in Omaha in about two weeks. He’s camping out and staying in various homes along the way. He planned to spend a couple nights at the Jacob Krumm National Reserve southwest of Grinnell before continuing westward. The grave marker of a Mormon child, Job Welling, is located at the reserve.

His diet has consisted mostly of apples, beef jerky and dried fruit. Steinke, who is a certified nursing assistant and works with Alzheimer’s patients at a western Kansas nursing home, is documenting his journey in words and with photos. When he returns to Nebraska, Steinke said he plans to publish a book about his great-greatgreat-grandparents and the Mormon’s trek west.

“This has all been quite the experience,” he said.

UPDATED May 12, 2009 3:20 PM

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