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But the handcart plan was badly flawed. The carts, made of green wood, constantly broke down; the baggage allowance of seventeen pounds per adult was far too small; and the food provisions were woefully inadequate, especially considering the demanding physical labor of pushing and pulling the handcarts 1,300 miles across plains and mountains.
Five companies of handcart pioneers left Iowa for Zion that spring and summer, but the last two of them left late. As a consequence, some 900 Mormons in these two companies were caught in early snowstorms in Wyoming. When the church leadership in Salt Lake became aware of the dire circumstances of these pioneers, Young launched a heroic rescue effort. But for more than 200 of the immigrants, the rescue came too late.
The story of the Mormon handcart tragedy has never before been told in full despite its stunning human drama: At least five times as many people died in the Mormon tragedy as died in the more famous Donner Party disaster.
David Roberts has researched this story in Mormon archives and elsewhere, and has traveled along the route where the handcart pioneers came to grief. Based on his research, he concludes that the tragedy was entirely preventable. Brigham Young and others in the Mormon leadership failed to heed the abundant signs of impending catastrophe, including warnings from other Mormon elders in the East and Midwest, where the journey began. Devil's Gate is a powerful indictment of the Mormon leadership and a gripping story of survival and suffering that is superbly told by one of our finest writers of Western history. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.
About the Author
David Roberts is the author of seventeen books on mountaineering, adventure, and the history of the American Southwest. His essays and articles have appeared in National Geographic, National Geographic Adventure, and The Atlantic Monthly, among other publications. He lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Excerpt From Publishers Weekly
… While Mormon retellings of this story have emphasized the subsequent daring rescue, Roberts sees the whole episode as an entirely preventable disaster from start to finish. Moreover, he fixes the blame at the top, arguing that Brigham Young, then president of the church, consistently undervalued human life, created dangerous situations with regard to provisions in order to pinch pennies and dissembled after the fact about not having any knowledge of the emigrants' late start.
Roberts builds a persuasive case, arguing from dozens of primary sources and using the emigrants' own haunting words about their experiences.
He competently situates the tragedy within the context of the 1856–1857 Mormon Reformation, a time of religious extremism. This is a solid and well-researched contribution to Mormon studies and the history of the American West. (Sept.)
Although some may be uncomfortable with his searing indictment of Young, this compelling account of a major frontier catastrophe is hard to put down. --Margaret Flanagan
"… With meticulous research and elegant writing, Roberts tells a gripping story of impoverished Europeans brought to the New World with a promise of hope, who died in the wilderness of the American West under the most appalling circumstances.
It is more than just history: it is an indictment of fundamentalism itself.
This book is proof that people who are serenely certain they know the mind of God are not only presumptuous, they are dangerous. Devil's Gate is a book of history with an important message for the modern world." -- Douglas Preston, author of Blasphemy and The Monster of Florence
" The tragedy of the handcart people forms the largest carnage of the Western migration and is one of the great wounds that made Mormonism America's most successful native religion. David Roberts in this fine book shows how the dying came not from bad luck, not from early snows, not from God, but from the Prophet Brigham Young and his pursuit of profit and power. An eye-opener on the man who brought Zion to our desert and our national life." -- Charles Bowden, author of Desierto and Blues for Cannibals --This text refers to the Paperback edition.