Christen's Reviews > Devil's Gate: Brigham Young and the Great Mormon Handcart Tragedy

Devil's Gate by David  Roberts
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's review
Apr 24, 09

it was amazing
bookshelves: discussion-books, non-fiction, history, mormon
Read in April, 2009

***Footnote: 4/23/09 I just found out that my great-great grandmother was a member of the Martin Handcart company. What a terrible ordeal she had to suffer.

On page 255, the author states, "...the Mormon catastrophe of 1856 remains far and away the most deadly in the history of westward migration in the United States." The real tragedy is that this catastrophe mostly goes unacknowledged. Even at the time, the Desert News glossed over the situation. On Nov 19, after 2 members of the resuce party had ridden back to SL for reimforcements, the paper states, "...the condition of the immigration to be very favorable." !!! Multiple people dying each day from starvation and cold is favorable??? Temperatures were recorded at -9 degrees Fahrenheit!

We all hear about the Donner party, but in contrast, they only lost 1/6 of their members in comparison. So many mistakes and bad decisions were made. What makes it even more tragic is how preventable it all was.

Oh, but my favorite: The people who actually survived the handcart journey, 20 + years later, were still paying off their accrued debts. They had been charged for the 'provisions' (flour, salt, coffee) provided to them during the trek! In order to lighten their loads, a lot of their belongs also got left at the ruins of Fort Seminoe, which was bravely guarded during the winter by 20 volunteers from the handcart companies. But in order to get their goods back the next spring, they had to pay a "freight bill". Unbelievable.

But, concerning those who did die on the journey, Brigham Young stated, "I should be pleased, when the time comes, if we could all depart from this life as easily as did those our brethren and sisters. I repeat, it will be a happy circumstance, when death overtakes me, if I am privileged to die without a groan or struggle, while yet retaining a good appetite for food."

A great historical read. The author did enormous research. I enjoyed the abundance of primary sources. Have patience. It took me a hundred pages or so to get into the book, but by the last 1/2, I couldn't put it down.

I could go on and on, but I will conclude with the same quote the author concludes with. John Chislett, in 1870, says, "Whether Brigham was influenced in his desire to get the poor of Europe more rapidly to Utah by his sympathy with their condition, by his well-known love of power, his glory in numbers, or his love of wealth, which an increased amount of subservient labour would enable him to aquire, is best known to himself. But the sad results of his Hand-Cart scheme will call for a day of reckoning in the future which he cannot evade."

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