Comments about ‘New study: Mormon pioneers were safer on trek than previously thought, especially infants’

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Published: Sunday, July 20 2014 11:05 p.m. MDT

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Farmington, UT

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.

San Diego, CA

Embellishments abound....

Saratoga Springs, UT

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 suffering.

Leesburg, VA

>>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.

Woodland Hills, UT

" 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.

West Valley City, UT

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.

Salt Lake City, UT

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.

Sore loser
tampa, fl

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.

Henry Drummond
San Jose, CA

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.

Brave Sir Robin
San Diego, CA


Don'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.

Rawlins, WY

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 sacrifices!

1.96 Standard Deviations

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).

Sunnyvale, CA

Yeah, so challenges given and supported by the Lord are difficult but not curses, in the end.

Howard Beal
Provo, UT

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.

Orem Parent
Orem, UT

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.

Gilbert, AZ

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!

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