Thursday, June 16, 2022

Missing Something

This week my wife and I are off to trek. This will be the fourth time we've done so. To celebrate, I thought I'd share some of the facts I've recently learned about the Church's handcart companies.

Nearly 400 pioneer companies traveled the 1,000 miles from Winter Quarters, Nebraska to the Salt Lake Valley during the years after Joseph Smith’s death. Of those companies, only ten handcart companies made the trip between the years 1856 and 1860. Overall, handcart pioneers made up less than 5 percent of the total pioneers that traveled to Utah. Half of those pioneers were 21-years-old and younger.

Membership of the handcart companies came almost exclusively from European converts of the Church. (So when I make gags like the one this week, try reading it in your head with a British or Scandinavian accent.) Converts first traveled by boat across the Atlantic Ocean. The first seven handcart companies were outfitted in Iowa City (after arriving by rail, steamboat, and ferry) and then traveled 250 miles to Winter Quarters, Nebraska, where they made final preparations before the trek West. Starting in 1959, pioneers were able to reach Nebraska by train.

Five of the ten handcart companies made the trek in 1856. Two more traveled in 1857. The threat of the so-called Utah War suspended handcart companies in 1858. In 1859, one company made the trek. The final two companies traveled to Utah in 1860. The advent of the Civil War in 1861 played a part in the end of handcart companies and shortly after the end of the Civil War, Church members were able to reach Utah via train.

When we think of stories of the handcart companies, we often think of the ill-fated Willie and Martin companies who suffered greatly due to a late start and disastrous weather conditions. Collectively, those two companies saw over 200 Saint die on the trail. However, for the other eight companies, deaths on the trail corresponded to larger mortality rate at the time. Over 80 percent of handcart deaths took place within the Willie and Martin handcart companies.

1 comment:

  1. "OK. Let's go over our family members."
    "Honey, I think we left the kids at home."
    "Well, who are we missing?"
    "All of them."