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Pioneer writings include stories of remarkable youth who led their families across the plains, clung to their faith through opposition, and willingly sacrificed for their fellow saints and the Lord.

A demographic analysis of the Church History website’s Mormon Pioneer Overland Travel database reveals 51 percent of the 57,000 Mormon Pioneers currently documented were younger than 21 at the time they crossed the plains, according to Church History Library Director Keith Erekson.

Mary Martha Wanlass14 years old

Among these pioneer youth was Mary Martha Wanlass (spelled “Wanless” in some sources), who took her family from Missouri to Utah at 14 years old.

As told in Our Pioneer Heritage, Volume 3, Mary sailed to America with her father, stepmother, and two younger half-siblings when she was 8 years old. After taking a train to St. Louis, the family lived in Missouri for several years.

Mary’s father suffered a severe stroke during this time, shortly before her stepmother, Jane, gave birth to twins.

“It took Jane and Mary months to nurse him back to partial health,” Our Pioneer Heritage records.

The strain this put on Jane made her very ill, and she died in 1862.

“Mary now had to assume the role of mother and housekeeper,” the account reads. “What an enormous responsibility for a girl of 14—twins, 4 years of age, a little sister, 6, a brother, 9, and a bedridden father.”

But despite the daunting task before her, Mary was determined to get her family to Zion.

To read more about the Youth that crossed the plains, click here