Several years ago I tried to make this point during a Sunday School class
discussion; it just hadn't seemed logical to me that life on the trail was
gloom and doom and as dire as I had been led to believe all my life. From the
ensuing negative comments I must admit I felt severely ridiculed and looked-down
upon for having had such thoughts!It made my day to read
""We have a skewed view of our pioneer experience," Bashore said.
"I don't think we should view our Mormon pioneers as beleagured,
troubled, always suffering, sacrificing their lives..." I have numerous
ancestors who crossed the plains and for decades I have enjoyed thinking of how
happy they were to be free.
Great story thanks!should note that even the martin and willie company
casualties were not significant for pioneers at that time.not surprising.
these people had so much more than most pioneers. not just their faith, but a
plan, a known destination, great leadership, trusted scouts...just glad i
don't have to make the trek! :>
You can rewrite their trek all you want, but face it, the entire handcart
concept was a debacle that should have been avoided. A lot of unnecessary
>>the entire handcart concept was a debacle that should have been
avoided.I don't think the statistics support that. Ten handcart companies made the trek, totaling ~3,000 pioneers. Of that
number, only ~250 died en route — an 8% mortality rate, which sounds high
until you realize that ~215 of those were in the Willie and Martin companies,
the two groups who got a very late start in the season. It's questionable
how much better a company traveling in covered wagons would've done in the
same circumstance.Anyway, remove those two companies from the
equation, and the numbers drop to ~2000 pioneers and only ~35 casualties -- a
1.75% mortality rate. Given the difficulties of traveling 1,000+ miles in those
days, it sounds like handcarts were a pretty safe mode of transport as long as
you made the trip during a warm season.
" We have a skewed view of our Pioneer Heritage" This all coming from a
bunch of tender foot students sitting in air conditioned rooms surmising what
people thought and how they felt. I would be willing to bet that none of them
have been eaten by wolves or been killed by a stampede, let alone frozen to
death, starved or murdered. I think it is a bit silly and foolish to diminish
people who put every thing on the line.
This story is fantastic! Glad to read it. What great experience for the
students, and what a great study to quantify an important perspective of the
trek West. I remember being told once that it was more like a ward camp out for
many of the pioneers. Yes, it was a long walk with tough days, but there were
dances, music, games, romance, hunting, etc. We forget that none of these
pioneers had running water, flush toilets, etc. at the start or end of the trek,
and the "roughing it" aspect was something a person in the Nineteenth
Century was far more familiar with.
I am not sure I agree with Impartail7's comment.It is my
understanding that the handcart concept was viable in principle, if supported by
wagons and teams with supplies and properly constructed handcarts. It is my understanding that the Martin and Willey situation was such an ordeal
was due to improperly constructed handcarts (green, unseasoned wood), an
extremely late start which placed the companies in late fall/winter weather, and
an early winter. We weren't there so the reasoning is conjecture for our
part.Handcarts would not have made it on the much longer Oregon or
California trails IMNSHO, but they were adequate for the "Valley". A
review of my ancestor's brief history of the journey from Florence to Salt
Lake did not mention extreme hardship. He had learned to push a handcart as a
youth in London so I figured he had a feel for what it would take and felt he
was up to the task.I am not sure I could have hacked it but you
never know unless faced with the challenge and muster the faith to head to the
"Valley". All pioneers were gutsy people.
On the contrary, the pioneers were spared the violence of the Civil War. That
was a blessing.
I once read the original manuscript of the journals for my families trek across
the plains. It basically was just a few paragraphs and said "we had an
uneventful trip - lost a few cows and had a couple of births - but all in all a
pleasant trip." More or less. I used to feel like my family
had the bad luck of having good luck - hence no great story of pain. Then I
reconsidered and realized how glad I was was for my family not to have suffered.
It was not sup rising when I considered their faith - In fact it always seemed
more likely that people were safe as opposed to in danger given their faith.But sometimes we like to exaggerate a few things in the church and this
is one of them. Doesn't make the gospel less true - but speak a little bit
to how we view ourselves.
There is a misconception that somehow the Mormons were wandering around the
wilderness with no idea on where they were going and hoping against him they
would stumble upon the promised land. In fact, they were probably among the most
prepared of pioneers. One of the few advantageous to being driven out of your
homes and forced to travel to a new place is that eventually you get pretty good
at it. Salt Lake was the seventh major settlement of the Mormons. Again,
practice makes perfect.If you want to look at a population of
overland travelers who were totally unprepared, take a look at the Forty-Niners.
@Impartial7Don't make this about the decisions of church
leaders at the time. They were out of options. They were moving for survival.
The church had been kicked out of basically every civilized place in the country
(despite having guaranteed Constitutional rights). They crossed the plains out
of necessity, not choice.So while you're criticizing the
church, take a moment to remember that if it hadn't been for the
anti-Mormon mobs and politicians, the saints wouldn't have crossed the
plains at all. The church would likely be headquartered today in New York
state. New York would have the significant LDS population, and Salt Lake City
would be something like Pocatello if it even existed at all.
If you watch the series "History of the Saints you would realize this
article is very right on with it information. The first lpart of the journey was
difficult for the very first companies with the bad spring weather of 1846, but
subsequent companies faired much better. The ting to remember is not the amount
of hardship the did or did not endure but whether they were willing to follow
the prophet. Brigham Young knew generally where they were going. As they met
with Jim Bridger at his fort in Wyoming and he tried to convince them the Great
Basin was not the place to settle. However they did not know the exact location
until they reached the Valley. Even though the journey was not like we
experience today in motorized vehicles it was their normal mode of travel in
those days and they were much more up to the journey than we. As I stated before
the biggest test was whether they would for the Lord's chosen leader. I am
grateful for my ancestors that chose to follow and listen to the council of the
Lord's anointed leaders.
After the Prophet was murdered and the Saints were denied their constitutional
rights and their property stolen, the United States was ripe for the judgement
of God. The Civil War. The blood and horror of 500,000 killed and
major loss of property. Meanwhile the Saints were flourishing as
prophesied in the Rocky Mountains.
Here is my take on it, and I have thought about it before. When I visit Nauvoo
and see the really nice homes the Saints lived in and think they were forced out
of that beautiful city, leaving their homes and gardens and refinements and
crossed an icy river in wagons and walking or riding in a WAGON across the
PLAINS and arriving to a desert home and LOG CABIN homes, I think reverently,
"Blessed, honored Pioneer." How dare any of us denigrate their
You don't need to die on the trail to realize how miserable it is to pull a
handcart across the plains. How about you randomly select 100 U.S. people today
and have them pull a handcart over the same terrain under the same conditions
(i.e. same supplies, weather, clothing, health care, persecution, etc.) and see
how they like it. I doubt any of them will call it a 'safe' journey.
Calling the pioneer trip 'safer' than we originally
thought is quite a misnomer if being 'safe' only means not dying. You
can travel through misery and not die, but no one will call it 'safe.'
So much for the blood-stained snow for those those pioneers who travelled
without shoes due to poverty or other problem. Since they didn't die on the
trail, it must have been a 'safe' journey (sarcasm).
Yeah, so challenges given and supported by the Lord are difficult but not
curses, in the end.
I stack it up to this, the reality or "ease" of the crossing of the
plains for the Mormon Pioneers vs. the embellished stories we often get in
church at this time, I think is a credit to the leadership of the church at the
time and the spirit of the pioneers. Yes, they were tough, well organized, well
prepared and generally well led.
My Dad was telling me this years ago. He said he had read a few pioneer
journals that talked about the dances they had at night and the fun times the
kids were having on the trail! Imagine dancing after being on the trail all
day. The handcart concept was a beautiful thing, definitely
inspired. Look at what it led to. Safety, building the kingdom of God, a
lasting legacy. Grateful for my pioneer ancestors and the blessings
they left for us in our lives.
Impartial7 is not correct. The handcart concept was a great success. The
difficulties of the Willie and Martin Companies tend to make us look at the
general handcart experience as a disaster, but it was not. Most handcart
companies fared quite well. Of course, frankly, I'd have rather taken the
train a few years later!
Death stats should not be extrapolated-many variables are involved that are too
complex to add into the equation. Those were times of great sacrifice and
suffering - being driven from homes, midwinter. over 700 hundred died during the
first Winter camp out (subzero weather) following exodus from Nauvoo. Before
going anywhere near downplaying their suffering, we with the easy life should
first follow the 1300 miles in their footsteps.
To get the full picture, you must recognize that some of the families had
already suffered persecution in their native countries before leaving their
homes, careers, relatives, native language and culture behind to move to a port,
secure ship passage, land somewhere on the American coast, and travel overland
again just to make it to the outfitting stations on the western edge of
civilization. Following their arrival in Salt Lake many were hardly settled
before being asked to move again to settlements that spread from current Mexico
to Canada. Then eventual prosperity was delayed again as many were called to
leave their farms and families to go on missions. Being a member of the Church
of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints meant more than one trek across the plains.
It was a life-long commitment to hard work and productivity with a long range
vision. And all that blessed sacrifice by our ancestors changed the
once harsh and lawless western landscape into an eventual haven, and millions of
us did prosper and spread back throughout the world, as prophesied.
So the the narrative has gone from, "pioneers made sacrifices and suffered,
why would they do that if the church wasn't true" to "they were
blessed for doing what Brother Brigham asked them to do, the church must be
true." Seems everything is faith promoting if you put enough spin on it.
In a similar way, some fret about the safety of modern day missionaries. The
way I see it, serving a mission, regardless of the location, is safer than
risking what their non-missionary peers fool around with.
The tough times were not on the trail, the real hardships began when they
arrived and were given the hard task of building a society.
I recall as a child I began to dread Pioneer Sunday sacrament Meeting. There
are only so many graphic stories of amputations and death by hypothermia that a
sensitive little girl can take! (Perhaps we had a few members who were slightly
overzealous in their descriptions of pioneer carnage?) It's wonderful to
hear these statistics speak. Some pioneers were called upon to sacrifice much,
and for that we should honor them. And it seems that many pioneers were enabled
to travel safely. We can gladly honor God for that.
Gosh, I am surprised at how people can over-react to a story. I do not think
that the researchers were denigrating or downplaying the pioneers or their
sacrifice or sufferings at all. They were just shedding light on what the
experiences were for the vast majority of the trekkers. This does not in any way
diminish the inspiration of the (true) stories we hear of the Willie and Martin
handcart companies and of their plight, their faith, and those who rescued them.
To denigrate the researchers' work because they are students or because
they studied in air conditioned rooms or because they haven't walked the
1300 miles is an insult to their sincere and interesting work. Some of you
should not be taking this so personally and some should not be getting so close
to making insults in your misinterpreting and dismissing their claims. We are
Latter-day Saints, after all, and are supposed to embrace the truth.
One other thing to take into account was the way station concept used by the
church. My family left Nauvoo with everyone at about the same time as the start
of the pilgrimage to Utah. But they were assigned to create and maintain a
way-station to assist the saints as they made their way west. They stayed in
Iowa and assisted other saints for 5 years before BY released them and they then
went to Utah. I assume they were replaced by someone else to do their job.
Interesting thing I found out doing fam history a few years ago. My wife's
family was baptized in the same place as mine (Canada) and lived in the same
places (Ohio, Missouri & Illinois) for the next few years. They lived and
worked at the same way station and then were assigned to completely different
areas after arriving in Utah in 1852. In 1990 I married my wife completing the
>>You don't need to die on the trail to realize how miserable it is
to pull a handcart across the plains. How about you randomly select 100 U.S.
people today...Well, sure, but you must remember that in the 1840s,
the only overland modes of transport that any American had ever known were
walking, horses, wagons, and the occasional train. Pulling a handcart 1,000+
miles, while somewhat unusual and physically taxing, wouldn't have been
that far outside their experience as it would be for us, who like to hop in our
cars when we have to travel more than a few blocks.And as noted
before, handcart companies that traveled during warm seasons suffered less than
2% casualties, losing only ~35 people out of ~2,000. If you told 19th century
pioneers that in the the primary mode of 21st century transport would kill
30-40,000 people per year -- enough to populate a major 19th century city --
they wouldn't call that s"afe."
Looking at my ancestry, many arrived safely in the Great Basin, but I can't
imagine the travails some enduredThe Floyds traveled with the
William Atkinson Company (18 May 1853 to 10-11 Sep 1853):Martha Ann Floyd
died age 7 28 May 1853Lucy Floyddied age 3 7 Jun 1853The family
returned to Massachusetts whereEnoch, Sr died age 47 10 Nov 1855Enoch, Jr died age 25 3 Aug 1859Julia Ann Floyd died age 7 5 Jun 1860
(an infant during the first crossing)The Mother, Sarah, her son Leonard,
and his new wife Caroline joined the Isaac A. Canfield Company of 1862Leonard's twin brother died while serving in the 50th Regiment,
Massachusetts Infantry, during the Civil War in 1863 in Baton Rouge. Having
married, Sarah Elizabeth Floyd remained in Massaxhusetts and passed away in
1866, leaving my great-great grandfather the sole child to live beyond 25 years
I also have been aware that the Mormon pioneers did not suffer as much as some
think. I live in the Wisconsin Pineries. The men & women who labored here
also knew how to take care of themselves in adverse conditions. Out of the
approximately 150+ men, women & children who were here from 1841-1845, there
was only one recorded death. Most of the Wisconsin Pineries Mormon Logger/worker
Missionaries also traveled west. They knew what it took. They were well prepared
to make that trek. I agree with Orem Parent. Even tho I'm not a
descendant, I have heard this many times. "Blessed, Honored Pioneers!"
I think we also have to look at this in the context that the only stories we
ever do hear about are the worst case scenario's and "horror"
stories. No one ever speaks in church or writes books without something
interesting to tell. We like to go for the shock value and then attach the
caveat of "great faith and sacrifice" at the end. We want to hold our
listeners and readers attention and then apply it to our own lives at the end.
We just keep hearing the same stories again and again, maybe with a little
different twist, but we think there are more, based on the frequency with which
they are told.
Interesting article. Even if you surmise that the pioneer trail was not as
difficult as previously thought (as if we have a true frame of reference for
either scenario), it still took an immense amount of faith to venture into the
middle of nowhere far from civilization where it would have been easier to stay
in the Midwest and renounce your faith to avoid getting killed.
It is good to put things in perspective. Having been on a stake trek
I discovered that there were times of real joy, dancing & games, camaraderie
that is gained from a shared experience, but for me even just 4 days pulling a
handcart was not easy. My respect for the Mormon pioneers increased 100 fold.
They did not have to experience the extreme hardships of the journey for my
respect and feelings of honor to extend to them. When my tiney trek
experience was done I found I missed living outside, and I'm not
necessarily a camper. I missed the closeness I felt to my fellow travelers and
the simplicity of my days having one focus, walking, vs. the complexity of a
regular life. However, I was grateful that indoor plumbing and a comfortable
home awaited me, and that I was not compelled by persecution to leave all that I
had worked for or to leave all that was familiar to me for the sake of my
testimony. The Mormon pioneers were tough, brave and committed
people - those who gave their lives and those whose journey was uneventful.
This is a really interesting article. It was a tough time to be alive whether
you were a pioneer or a regular citizen. The pioneers sacrificed much, but it
wasn't an instant death sentence crossing the plains like we have been led
to believe. I've always thought the journey across the Atlantic sounded
much worse than crossing the plains.
Without taking anything away from the brave, tough, faithful souls who journeyed
west, this story should give modern Saints courage. Have you ever thought how
much you are blessed for keeping the commandments of God and for listening to
the words of the living prophets? In the same thought, have you ever felt
guilty that your physical suffering doesn't equal theirs? Well, as we see, those who follow the Lord and His prophets really are spared
much unnecessary suffering in the end. For example, which kind of suffering
would you rather have endured--the kind of suffering that sanctifies and brings
you closer to your fellow Saints and God typical of the pioneer treks, or the
utter desolation and death awaiting those who stayed out east and eventually
suffered the ravages of the Civil War? In the beginning, it seemed like the
Saints had the short end of the stick. However, in the end, we see that the
Lord had our best interests in mind all along. No, the Lord will not spare us
suffering, but He will, if we allow him, make our suffering a blessing and
opportunity for growth. God has been very kind to the Saints.
I probably should've figured that out when playing the Oregon Trail.
Usually things go smoothly the first several hundred miles through the plains
and by the time things start getting rough you're almost to SLC. However,
if you're going to Oregon or California you still have 500 more miles to go
when things start getting difficult.
The nineteenth century as a whole was not a comfortable time to live, compared
iron&clay: "After the Prophet was murdered and the Saints were denied
their constitutional rights and their property stolen, the United States was
ripe for the judgement of God."Are you really implying that the
Civil War occurred for no other reason than the persecution of the Mormons. If
we're going to say it was retribution for evil, how about hundreds of years
of some of the most brutal slavery the world has known? The Mormons were
certainly mistreated and had their constitutional rights infringed upon, but no
Mormon, including those who were killed, were worse off than many hundreds of
slaves.-----1.96: "How about you randomly select
100 U.S. people today and have them pull a handcart over the same terrain under
the same conditions (i.e. same supplies, weather, clothing, health care,
persecution, etc.) and see how they like it. I doubt any of them will call it a
'safe' journey."How about you randomly select 100 U.S.
people and have them live through a Boston winter in an 1840 house with 1840
comforts. That, too, would be unsafe according to your definition.
It seems that persecution and suffering are Mormons' red badge of courage.
Some of the comments on here only serve to prove that point-- especially the
ones that appear to be indignant about the idea that some (if not most) pioneers
did not suffer greatly in their travel. As a life-long faithful Latter-day
Saint, I find that I am increasingly aware of the concepts of self-victimization
and persecution complex that permeate the culture of the Church. My own
grandmother drilled into my head that her immigrant mother, despite arriving by
train, suffered greatly when the train's brakes caught fire multiple times.
I'm sure her mother was scared, but my grandmother seemed even more
frightened (years later) that she would be thought less of for not having
"valid" (suffering) pioneer ancestors. As a (Mormon) culture we need to
maintain a far healthier perspective of this element of our history, and stop
playing the 'victim card' to inflate the poignancy of our personal and
I did it in 1980 in a run down Oldsmobile with no AC and it was hard enough.
People need to remember they weren't giving free ice water at Wall Drug
back in the days of the pioneers.
OHBU: I'm sure that he isn't inferring that the only cause for the
civil war was the murder of the prophet. Isn't that what a lot of people
refer to as a 'strawman' argument?
RE: The Devil’s Gate. Brigham Young and the Great Mormon Handcart Tragedy
by David Roberts is the debunking of popular myths connected to the
“handcart experiment.” There are many, and they are continually
believed and repeated within Mormon circles. [Howard Christy,
professor emeritus at Brigham Young University, said,] “In my opinion,
responsible leadership at the outset could have completely averted the
disaster.” Several recorded comments by church agents that they supposed
God would intervene to protect the emigrants “shows their knowledge of the
dangers of starting late. They were throwing all sense to the wind that all
would be well.”Apostle Richards’ prophecy failed
miserably; hundreds of pioneers in those handcart companies did not get to Zion
Shimlau: I would hope not, but his comment suggests otherwise:"After the Prophet was murdered and the Saints were denied their
constitutional rights and their property stolen, the United States was ripe for
the judgement of God.The Civil War. The blood and horror of 500,000
killed and major loss of property.Meanwhile the Saints were
flourishing as prophesied in the Rocky Mountains."1) Murder of
prophet = US ripe for judgement2) Civil War is god's judgment3)
Saints are blessed during this time.I don't see a lot of straw
here. Even if he's not suggesting it's the ONLY cause, to suggest it
is even the primary cause is problematic.
A very interesting article; it helps put the pioneer migration in perspective.
I also find it interesting to examine infant mortality rates across the globe
and recent advances - except in the U.S.: we continue to slip year by year
behind more and more countries, usually somewhere in 34th place or worse. Many
studies indicate premature births to be the major contributing factors. The
ever increasing use of Roundup and GMO crops has been shown to not only be one
cause of premature birth, but infertility as well. Also of interest is the lack
of detailed information and data collection on sudden infant death (SIDS). We
can do a lot better.
Reading last year's Biography "Brigham Young: Pioneer Prophet", the
book opins that the decision to bring the Willie/Martin handcart company rested
with Brigham Young. In later Conferences he distanced himself from the event and
laid blame on his subordinates. The Church also had continguency plans to move
to Northern California if the Saints couldn't make it a go in Zion.
Thankfully Gold shipments from California interests helped the Church establish
a toe hold in the Rockies. A fasinating period in American history. IMHO, the
Pioneer days ended with the coming of the Rail Road in May 1869.
I heard it this weekend at church how the Mormons suffered such terrible
persecution and hazards because of their beliefs but when you compare it with
other groups, they suffered very little. They weren't slaves, they
weren't lynched in great numbers, they didn't have a whole group of
masked KKK after them, they didn't have laws all over the nation
discriminating against them for voting, sitting in stores, where to shop, where
to sit when they rode the bus or or even where they could live. Granted the LDS
had hardships for choosing to believe what they did but their hardships were not
for being who they were from birth and would be until they died.
I have handcart ancestors, both among the Martin/Willie companies and otherwise,
and am deeply grateful for their faith, work, and sacrifices. But the emphasis
people place only on tragedy and hardship is skewed, and is contrary to the
faith and optimism and joy in Christ they felt:As o’er the
road the carts were pulled,‘Twould very much surprise the worldTo see the old and feeble dameThus lend a hand to pull the same.And maidens fair will dance and sing,Young men more happy than a
king,And children too will laugh and play,Their strength increasing
day by day.And long before the valley’s gained,We will
be met upon the plainsWith music sweet and friends so dearAnd fresh
supplies our hearts to cheer.And then with music and with songHow cheerfully we’ll march alongAnd thank the day we made a
startTo cross the plains with our handcart.For some must push
and some must pull,As we go marching up the hill.For merrily on our
way we go,Until we reach the valley-o!-The Handcart Song, John
The Heber J. Grant priesthood/relief society manual notes that President Grant
interviewed lots of pioneers and never found one for which the trek was not
joyful. They were walking to Zion. I have always thought that pioneer hardships
were too often presented as doom and gloom rather than hardships endured in a
I know this article claims that it's not a big difference, but 1% point is
one in a hundred more deaths than average. I submit that if that happened in
your ward (supposing you have about 600 people in your ward that's 6 deaths
more) over one summer, you'd most likely notice. These deaths
were unnecessary and still very tragic...
>>“In my opinion, responsible leadership at the outset could have
completely averted the disaster.”I don't think anyone
really disputes that point. In fact there were many members of the Willie and
Martin handcart companies who argued against starting out so late in the season;
and many of the surviving leaders and members of those companies later admitted
later that they should've listened to those who pleaded with them to wait
until spring instead of rushing ahead, blindly expecting that the Lord would
protect them from their bad decision.That lesson has not been
forgotten. Modern apostles and prophets in recent times have taught very clearly
that God expects us to use our common sense instead of hoping that He'll
always save us from the consequences of our own poor judgment.
Good article. Two points worth pointing out: 1) We often equate every pioneer
experience with the Martin and Willie Handcart Company, which left at the worst
time of the year to make the trek across the plains, and most importantly, 2)
this study investigated mortality rate, not suffering, much less safety. This
article is a bit of the usual journalistic generalizing. While the pioneers may
have been less likely to die than others in the US, that doesn't lessen the
suffering they endured. If anything, the study says more about pioneers'
survival rate in extreme conditions, and how the Lord blessed them to make it
through and how they pushed on in extreme circumstances.
Thanks mhenshaw for the break down of the numbers.I also think the
rates were low, because of the nature of the beast. ie, that the decision to
take the trek was self weening. That only those who were healthy and thought
they could make it, went. Whereas the unhealthy and "doubters" stayed
behind. So there was this filter towards healthier people going on the trek.
The comments are almost as fun to read as the article. Boy do you folks love a
good argument! Seems pretty clear cut that the pioneers chances of dying were
not that much higher then the general population. Certainly not as high and the
soldiers who fought in the civil war! That said, no one is saying the trek was a
walk in the park. To me it is a powerful witness of the faith and courage of
those noble souls. They were asked to lay everything on the altar and step past
the light and they did so willingly. They had no idea how dangerous the trail
would be, whether they would live or die or what the probability was. They
merely responded in faith and obviously the Lord blessed them for it. I
don't think this study diminishes in any way my pioneer ancestors. It
strengthens my faith to know that they did what the Lord asked of them through
his prophet and the blessed them for their willing sacrifice. Thank God for
those heroic pioneers! I thank God for bearing them up.
According to the study, more women travelled west than men. That's very
impressive but it does leave me wondering what was the justification for
polygamy? Based on the statistical study, I'm lead to conclude the
reasons for polygamy were not so noble after all.
Just look at the Ensigns from 1997 and you'll see lots of stories of
pioneer success. That is what we need to remember about the pioneers - they MADE
IT! They were SUCCESSFUL by the thousands. Some groups only lost 1 or 2 people
from the entire company - and they were elderly or from childbirth. One group
had NO lives lost. This is the MIRACLE of the pioneers. So pleased to see this
being discussed once again along with some empirical evidence.
Yes, if you were to read many of the journals of the trek west you would find
the trail quite joyful at times. The best times were pulling into camp at night
and enjoying the festivities. Yet you also read of the dust and the difficulty
of climbing the cliffs around Scotts Bluff into the high plains as they reached
to the Rocky Mountains and climbing many of the paths through the mountains and
into the Salt Lake Valley.It wasn't easy and as they song
states, "Faith in Every Footstep". Many stayed in Council Bluffs Iowa
for several years before they were able to move west to the Valley because of
money. My ancestors were among the last to leave Nauvoo and the last to leave
Council Bluffs in 1850. One ancestor born crossing Iowa would later walk across
the plains of Nebraska. I'm honored to know the trials and tribulations
they went forth but they went with Faith in God and knowing the truth of the
restoration. Leaving the Nauvoo temple behind and looking forward to a new one
in the Valley. Yes, the deserve to be praised and honored as a faithful people.
I had many grandparents who made the trek without problems. However, I also
have two grandmothers buried in Winter Quarters. You can't mistake singing
and dancing and gratitude for a lack of trial and tribulation. All these things
were present I'm sure.
My biggest question is why didn't god protect ALL of the Mormons coming
across the plains? They all had faith in god that they would make it, yet many
didn't. It doesn't add up to anything other then it was the luck of
the draw and god didn't interfere one way or another.
The fact that not every pioneer suffered terribly, died, lost limbs to frostbite
or got eaten by wolves in no way diminishes their faith or achievements.What they did was remarkable, not least of all because they were not driven by
gold or land but by faith.
Even though the trek west was not really as hard as we generally think, the
statistics as presented in the article do not give an accurate picture of the
mortality rates along the trail. As the article states, and the
accompanying graph also shows the death rate for the general population in 1850
was 2.5-2.9 percent. It is also noted in the article that the death rate for
all pioneers was 3.5 percent, and for handcart pioneers was 4.7 percent. The
statement that this was not much different from the general populace is wrong.
If you look at these statistics you will see that those traveling along the
trail had a 17 to 29 percent greater chance of dying, and those that were in
handcart companies had a 38 to 47 percent greater chance of dying. These statistics are significant. Nowadays if a state or other population
group had a mortality rate 17 to 29 percent higher than the general populous it
would be considered a major health catastrophe.
RE: JohnMill , “Faith blinded him to reason and zealousness replaced
common sense.”Franklin D. Richards gave us plenty of counsel
to be faithful, prayerful, obedient to our leaders, etc., and wound up by
“prophesying in the name of Israel’s God” that ‘though
it might storm on our right hand and on our left, the Lord would keep open the
way before us and we should get to Zion in safety.The Gathering of
Zion by Wallace Stegner the story is told of Franklin D. Richards’ 1856
return from his mission in Great Britain. Sometime in August Mr. Richards’
group of returning missionaries overtook the Willie handcart company at North
Bluff Fork. They camped with the pioneers for the night.The next
morning Mr. Richards called a general meeting where he rebuked Levi Savage for
his lack of faith. Mr. Savage had been the only Mormon pioneer to caution
the Willie and Martin handcart companies against pushing through to Utah so late
in the season. As recorded by one of the handcart captains, John Chislett.
In many ways the pioneer trek experience was like going on a mission is today,
working hard while living in an unfamiliar environment, eating new foods, even
learning a new language (the case fr the immigrants from continental Europe),
combined with the sense of responding to the call of a prophet of God in company
with hundreds of other faithful people helping each other and making sacrifices.
Both are respites from ordinary life, true adventures, especially for the young
who did not have the responsibility of providing for their families.
I have read many, many pioneer journals and they pretty much agree with this
article. I too think we love the drama of the Willie and Martin handcart
companies and so play up the suffering (human beings like soap operas for a
reason, you know!). Was there difficulty and deprivation on the trail? Of course
there was! There was also a lot of difficulty and deprivation living in the
slums of NYC or London, and at least the pioneers were not crammed into a
rat-infested building, were in charge of their own choices, and determined to
follow the Lord. Life in the 19th century would be challenging to all of us, no
matter were we to emulate a pioneer or a prince. I think understanding that the
pioneers walked across those plains with faith and resolve and at great
sacrifice of many things (most often loss of family ties and culture) is
impressive enough. I don't have to imagine them at the peril of their lives
every moment to make it more impressive. Though the adults had
plenty to be concerned about, a lot of the kids thought it was great fun!
I thought it was well-known that the Mormons crossing the plains had a much
lower mortality rate than other pioneers. Basically due to to the organization
and the numbers of people traveling together. However, I forget that my
generation actually heard stories from the people who crossed as children. I
remember one friend's great grandmother telling us that she crossed at age
8 and loved it! The children played and ran outside all day, camping at night
and enjoyed reasonable weather. It wasn't all doom and gloom.
It seems that the significantly lower death rate for infants is suppressing the
overall death rates.If one eliminated the infant statistics, the
death rate for the older individuals would be noticeably higher, as seen from
the comparisons between pioneers and general population by gender and age
group.However if we imagined the reduced instance of cholera that
could have existed had the pioneers not been traveling by a common water source
without a knowledge of hygiene, it appears the death statistics would come back
to general population norms.
Yet another example of distorted history. We are all learning a little to much
to put on our shelf.
This is now third-hand, but my grandmother told me that when she realized her
grandparents had walked across the plains as children she asked them about the
experience. I don't think she gave me their exact words, but in general
their comments reflected that crossing the plains was just something that had
happened in their lives, not a particularly harrowing nor even memorable
experience.I'm still proud to have pioneer ancestors, but I do
not tend to associate it with intense suffering on their part.
NoBoxScot:Those European countries that have passed us also eat
genetically altered foods etc. They probably have less of a wealth gap and more
of their poor people have access to health care than the United States.
It's great to be #1 but maybe the US isn't as special as we think we
"Mormon pioneers were safer on trek than previously thought". . . due to outstanding planning on the part of Church leadership.The original Mormon company followed the trail blazed by the Donner Party just
a year earlier.The Donner Party did the strength-sapping work that
made it possible for wagons and oxen to make it relatively easily into what is
now Salt Lake City. The Donners had not originally intended to take
that route . . . But on their way through Wyoming they were met by a messenger
from Lansford W. Hastings (already residing in California), with a map and
instructions for a supposedly faster Southern Route that would take them through
what is now Salt Lake City.Aside from being an altruist and a
giving friend to pioneers, Hastings, happened to be an agent of the Mormons
charged with investigating the feasibility of a settlement farther south in
Mexico.In short, a Mormon agent convinced the Donner Party to do the
hard, back-breaking work that allowed the original Mormon company to travel into
the Salt Lake Basin relatively easily just a year later. That made the trip much
safer and faster for the original Mormon company.
GaryO: Your explanation about Mr. Hastings is a complete fabrication of facts.
One there were no maps of the trek. He wrote a book but had never, ever seen
the way he described in the book. In fact, the first time he would actually
travel along the short cut he described would not be until after the Saints had
already started settling in the entire Salt Lake Basin. The other
comments about Donner party is also a false hood. He never met the Donner party
at all as he was actually in the east at the time talking to at then a leader of
the Church who would lead a party by ship around South America to California.
He hurried back to California with the idea that "Mormons" would be
migrating to California which never took place.Later on he would be
the one who tried to get California into the Confederacy but failed because the
war ended earlier than he thought it would. In fact he is counted as the man
who misguided the Donner Party over a path no one including himself had never
seen or passed.
As is often the case with Mormon history, the story of the handcart companies
has changed from one of failed prophecy and negligent leadership into a
faith-promoting legacy.Apostle Richards’ prophecy (“ in
the name of Israel’s God, the Lord would keep open the way before us and
we should get to Zion in safety”) failed miserably; hundreds of pioneers
in those handcart companies did not get to Zion in safety.Franklin
D. Richards by So certain was he of his prophecy, before continuing the
journey in their swift carriages Mr. Richards’ group requested fresh meat
from the pioneers. Captain Willie killed and gave the Apostle the fattest calf
in the handcart company camp. Mr. Chislett later wrote, “I am ashamed for
humanities sake to say [the group of returning missionaries] took it” for
many pioneers would starve to death as they traveled the remaining 700 miles of
trail toward Salt Lake City.
Great study. The only point of confusion here is the (1) wisdom of the handcart
concept and (2) the actual causalities among the Willie and Martin companies.
The objective studies put the 250 casualty rate at 50 to 100% more than 250, a
minimum of 350 and the extreme possibility of 500. This is not a story about
persecution but rather human sustainability in a harsh and unforgiving physical
environment. Mistakes were made, yes, by the leadership, but the Saints of God
still carried the day. They always will.
Standard Deviations -"You don't need to die on the trail to
realize how miserable it is to pull a handcart across the plains." If you compared the Pioneers to others in their day they are definitely
exceptional people.The Pioneers definitely fit the term of
"saints" for the sacrifices and challenges they were put through
especially if you compare them to those that call themselves "saints"
and born, live, and die within the state of Utah and never experience anything
similar to what the early saints experience.
Pioneers gave everything even some their lives. As I look forward to the
future, I know that my children, and their children, will live in a state and a
country that are in many ways different from the ones in which the pioneers and
I grew up. We won't necessarily share the same experiences. But I hope and
pray as did the pioneers, that we share the same bedrock beliefs.