New study: Mormon pioneers were safer on trek than previously thought, especially infants

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  • Gregorio Norco, CA
    July 25, 2014 5:23 p.m.

    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.

  • Aurelius maximus Berryville, VA
    July 25, 2014 4:31 p.m.

    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.

  • James B. Young SALT LAKE CITY, UT
    July 25, 2014 8:58 a.m.

    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.

  • donn layton, UT
    July 25, 2014 7:45 a.m.

    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.

  • bj-hp Maryville, MO
    July 24, 2014 1:19 p.m.

    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.

  • GaryO Virginia Beach, VA
    July 24, 2014 6:44 a.m.

    "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.

  • Howard Beal Provo, UT
    July 23, 2014 4:02 p.m.


    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 are.

  • John Reading LITTLETON, CO
    July 23, 2014 1:25 a.m.

    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.

  • J.D. Aurora, CO
    July 22, 2014 8:07 p.m.

    Yet another example of distorted history. We are all learning a little to much to put on our shelf.

  • Meg Stout ANNANDALE, VA
    July 22, 2014 3:49 p.m.

    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.

  • Applelovernow Henderson, NV
    July 22, 2014 3:15 p.m.

    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.

  • KinCO Fort Collins, CO
    July 22, 2014 10:34 a.m.

    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!

  • coltakashi Richland, WA
    July 22, 2014 9:24 a.m.

    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.

  • sharrona layton, UT
    July 22, 2014 8:57 a.m.

    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.

  • Ghosttown Bob Pleasant Grove, UT
    July 22, 2014 8:02 a.m.

    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.

  • JohnMill Australia, 00
    July 22, 2014 2:53 a.m.

    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.

  • Brahmabull sandy, ut
    July 22, 2014 12:07 a.m.

    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.

    July 21, 2014 10:23 p.m.

    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.

  • bj-hp Maryville, MO
    July 21, 2014 9:18 p.m.

    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.

  • Go2 Utah, UT
    July 21, 2014 8:02 p.m.

    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.

  • ThinksIThink SEATTLE, WA
    July 21, 2014 7:52 p.m.

    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.

  • Txjbird Rowlett, TX
    July 21, 2014 5:54 p.m.

    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.

  • LDSareChristians Anchorage, AK
    July 21, 2014 4:25 p.m.

    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.

  • B.G. West Lafayette, IN
    July 21, 2014 3:49 p.m.

    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.

  • mhenshaw Leesburg, VA
    July 21, 2014 3:40 p.m.

    >>“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.

  • Hunam Layton, UT
    July 21, 2014 12:57 p.m.

    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...

  • NebraskaMan Kearney, NE
    July 21, 2014 12:51 p.m.

    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 joyful life.

  • Prodicus Provo, UT
    July 21, 2014 11:43 a.m.

    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 world
    To see the old and feeble dame
    Thus 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 plains
    With music sweet and friends so dear
    And fresh supplies our hearts to cheer.

    And then with music and with song
    How cheerfully we’ll march along
    And thank the day we made a start
    To 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 McAllister, 1856

  • Instereo Eureka, UT
    July 21, 2014 11:28 a.m.

    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.

  • BYU Track Star Los Angeles, CA
    July 21, 2014 11:21 a.m.

    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.

  • NoBoxScot Salt Lake City, Utah
    July 21, 2014 11:14 a.m.

    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.

  • OHBU Columbus, OH
    July 21, 2014 11:01 a.m.

    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 judgement
    2) Civil War is god's judgment
    3) 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.

  • sharrona layton, UT
    July 21, 2014 11:00 a.m.

    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 in safety.

  • Shimlau SAINT GEORGE, UT
    July 21, 2014 10:50 a.m.

    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?

  • FT salt lake city, UT
    July 21, 2014 10:30 a.m.

    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.

  • ButtonGear North Ogden, UT
    July 21, 2014 10:27 a.m.

    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 collective stories.

  • OHBU Columbus, OH
    July 21, 2014 10:19 a.m.

    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.

  • TheProudDuck Newport Beach, CA
    July 21, 2014 10:12 a.m.

    The nineteenth century as a whole was not a comfortable time to live, compared to today.

  • Frozen Fractals Salt Lake City, UT
    July 21, 2014 9:51 a.m.

    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.

  • Alex 1 Tucson, AZ
    July 21, 2014 9:34 a.m.

    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.

  • andyjaggy American Fork, UT
    July 21, 2014 8:38 a.m.

    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.

  • jeanie orem, UT
    July 21, 2014 8:22 a.m.

    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.

  • Pac_Man Pittsburgh, PA
    July 21, 2014 7:58 a.m.

    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.

  • hockeymom Highland, UT
    July 21, 2014 7:51 a.m.

    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.

  • MaryJ Neillsville, WI
    July 21, 2014 7:27 a.m.

    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!"

  • Gilbert Bean Ogden, UT
    July 21, 2014 5:41 a.m.

    Looking at my ancestry, many arrived safely in the Great Basin, but I can't imagine the travails some endured

    The Floyds traveled with the William Atkinson Company (18 May 1853 to 10-11 Sep 1853):
    Martha Ann Floyd died age 7 28 May 1853
    Lucy Floyddied age 3 7 Jun 1853
    The family returned to Massachusetts where
    Enoch, Sr died age 47 10 Nov 1855
    Enoch, Jr died age 25 3 Aug 1859
    Julia 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 1862
    Leonard'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 of age.

  • mhenshaw Leesburg, VA
    July 21, 2014 4:40 a.m.

    >>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."

  • ER in AF Harare, Zimbabwe, 00
    July 21, 2014 3:49 a.m.

    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 circle.

  • gittalopctbi Glendale, AZ
    July 21, 2014 12:46 a.m.

    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.

  • Mrs. Bonner FPO, AE
    July 21, 2014 12:03 a.m.

    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.

  • Oatmeal Woods Cross, UT
    July 20, 2014 11:58 p.m.

    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.

  • John C. C. Payson, UT
    July 20, 2014 11:22 p.m.

    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.

  • Mr. One Two Layton, UT
    July 20, 2014 11:14 p.m.

    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.

  • John C. C. Payson, UT
    July 20, 2014 11:09 p.m.

    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.

  • jzwillows willows, ca
    July 20, 2014 10:57 p.m.

    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.

  • Rockyrd Gilbert, AZ
    July 20, 2014 10:52 p.m.

    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!

  • Orem Parent Orem, UT
    July 20, 2014 10:50 p.m.

    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.

  • Howard Beal Provo, UT
    July 20, 2014 10:42 p.m.

    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.

  • 1Reader Sunnyvale, CA
    July 20, 2014 10:20 p.m.

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

  • 1.96 Standard Deviations OREM, UT
    July 20, 2014 10:12 p.m.

    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).

  • Straitpath PROVO, UT
    July 20, 2014 8:10 p.m.

    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!

  • iron&clay RIVERTON, UT
    July 20, 2014 7:40 p.m.

    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.

  • lsbingham Rawlins, WY
    July 20, 2014 6:45 p.m.

    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.

  • Brave Sir Robin San Diego, CA
    July 20, 2014 5:34 p.m.


    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.

  • Henry Drummond San Jose, CA
    July 20, 2014 5:17 p.m.

    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.

    July 20, 2014 4:55 p.m.

    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.

  • Sore loser tampa, fl
    July 20, 2014 4:51 p.m.

    On the contrary, the pioneers were spared the violence of the Civil War. That was a blessing.

  • Strider303 Salt Lake City, UT
    July 20, 2014 4:16 p.m.

    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.

  • MikeWinder West Valley City, UT
    July 20, 2014 3:28 p.m.

    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.

  • U-tar Woodland Hills, UT
    July 20, 2014 3:21 p.m.

    " 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.

  • mhenshaw Leesburg, VA
    July 20, 2014 3:16 p.m.

    >>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.

  • Impartial7 DRAPER, UT
    July 20, 2014 2:43 p.m.

    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.

  • happymomto9 Saratoga Springs, UT
    July 20, 2014 2:13 p.m.

    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! :>

  • MoreMan San Diego, CA
    July 20, 2014 2:06 p.m.

    Embellishments abound....

  • ultragrampa Farmington, UT
    July 20, 2014 2:06 p.m.

    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.