Juvenile Instructor » Pioneer Day, The Sweetwater Rescue, and the Role of History in Mormonism
 


Pioneer Day, The Sweetwater Rescue, and the Role of History in Mormonism

By: Ben P - July 24, 2011

While I generally like to challenge–if not completely burst–historical myths, both in and outside the classroom, I sincerely hesitated to write and publish this post on Pioneer Day. I don’t like being an iconoclast for iconoclasm’s sake. But in hearing the story discussed below several times over the last week (including in the ward I am currently attending, in the classroom, in the Ensign, and even on the internet), I thought this was an issue that needed to be addressed. Thus, I hope that the discussion is more sophisticated than merely degenerating into “average Mormons don’t know diddley squat about history.” That would, indeed, be missing the point.

Everyone knows the traditional story of the Sweetwater Rescue–and I imagine that most readers of this blog know the problems with it. In November, 1846, the beleaguered Martin Handcart Company reached the Sweetwater River in Wyoming. Plagued by a late start, they faced terrible weather conditions that slowed them down and made the trek nearly unbearable. Brigham Young, when hearing of their plight, sent out rescuers to help them finish the final leg of their migration. The rest of the story is the stuff of legend. The most famous account is provided by Solomon F. Kimball:

After they [Martin Company] had given up in despair, after all hopes had vanished, after every apparent avenue of escape seemed closed, three eighteen-year-old boys belonging to the relief party came to the rescue, and to the astonishment of all who saw, carried nearly every member of the illfated handcart company across the snowbound stream. The strain was so terrible, and the exposure so great, that in later years all the boys died from the effects of it. When President Brigham Young heard of this heroic act, he wept like a child, and later declared publicly, “that act alone will ensure C. Allen Huntington, George W. Grant and David P. Kimball an everlasting salvation in the Celestial Kingdom of God, worlds without end.”[1]

This story has been memorialized in many ways. It has been repeated again and again, from seminary teachers, Ensign publications, and even from General Conference pulpits. It is reenacted by youth groups every summer, including last week’s stake handcart trek attended by the youth in the home I am currently staying in. In a way, this moment has become symbolic of the Pioneer Saga, the most famed story embodying all the principles  heroism we place on our pioneer ancestors.

There are, of course, several problems with this. Beyond the mere factual questions, the focus on this single episode distorts how we remember the handcart companies–let alone the pioneers in general. Out of the dozen handcart groups in 1857, the Willie and Martin Handcart Companies were the only two to experience monumental struggles, and those struggles came as a result of their decision to go against counsel and begin their trek much too late in the summer. Indeed, some of my ancestors were part of another handcart company, and their only complaint was wearing out their shoes from dancing every night around the campfire. The handcart treks were tough enough as it was, we don’t need to exaggerate their image in order to make it more heroic.

And then there are the factual problems with Solomon Kimball’s story itself. Chad M. Orton, archivist extraordinaire at the Church History Library, published an article with BYU Studies on “The Martin Handcart Company at the Sweetwater: Another Look.” In this strong piece of scholarship, Orton contextualizes Kimball’s narrative by placing it amongst the many other accounts in order to provide a more accurate reconstruction. “These various accounts,” he writes, “which include both published and unpublished statements, frequently differ regarding specific details. Taken together, however, they present a fairly unified view of the heroics on November 4, 1856.” The resulting narrative is, in my mind, still deeply heroic and exemplary, even if they strongly differ from the standard account. It may not highlight three selfless boys who literally sacrifice their lives, but it does teach of a group of dedicated Saints willing to sacrifice much in saving their brothers and sisters in the gospel.[2]

But old narratives die hard–especially if they have the Hollywood-type power as Solomon Kimball’s. Or, perhaps more importantly: especially if they have someone like President Gordon B. Hinckley who constantly repeated it. John C. Thomas, a religion professor at BYU-Idaho, recounted in an MHA paper his experience in teaching this episode in his Church History class. He had made his students read Orton’s article, and the following took place during the class discussion:

Referring to that paragraph in Kimball’s 1914 narrative, I asked my students something like, “What’s right and what’s wrong with that account?” The first hands went up on the back row, where three or four male students sat (all returned missionaries). Soon after the first student started talking, I felt heat rising on the back of my neck. He said that “he only ‘felt the Spirit’ when reading the traditional account.” Then a nearby student weighed in: “I don’t see what’s so wrong with that version anyway,” he said, questioning the value of revisiting the story. And one of them raised another issue: Why would President Hinckley use this story if there’s something wrong with it? In retrospect, these seem like predictable concerns, but they caught me by surprise that day, in part because student reactions had been so positive the previous semester. Taken aback, I saw their concerns as pitfalls to avoid rather than a puzzle to engage. What might have been the beginning of a thought-provoking discussion felt more like a standoff.[3]

To most historians, this response would appear confusing; to most Latter-day Saints, familiar with similar encounters in Sunday School, it is, sadly, familiar. Two more experiences that demonstrate the same problem: an instructor this last week said that when he tried to use Orton’s revisionist take on Sweetwater, a student countered by saying, “all you have is this ‘academic journal’ [implying the fallibleness of academia], and I have my belief backed up by a Prophet.” Second, while I was discussing the problems with a certain individual’s historical work, a BYU student emphasized, “but [this individual’s] work is loved by General Authorities, thus making it legit.”

This points to a much larger problem in the Mormon tradition. We have enough of an “anti-intellectual” and “pro-General Authority” strain that we have a particular–and in some ways, highly problematic–approach to validating truth. By tying knowledge to priesthood authority, “experts” in the LDS tradition are generally identified as priesthood-holding, male, ecclesiastical leaders–no matter whether the issue is doctrine, theology, or even, say, psychology. This is not a unique problem for Mormonism, as it pervades most religious groups with fundamentalist leanings.[4] But it does have some serious consequences: a Prophet’s invocation of a historical narrative is as legitimate as a historical source, a scholarly argument is legitimate only inasmuch as it correlates with LDS tradition, and the validity of one’s intellectual views are tethered as much to priesthood as they are to critical thinking.[5] In order to alter how the average Saint understands the past means not only a deep revision of the facts themselves but of the framework in which they are interpreted.[6]

There are potential signs of change. When Elder Quentin L. Cook referred to the Sweetwater Rescue in his recent General Conference address, he not only failed to repeat the traditional story but even referenced Orton’s article in his published footnotes.[7]recent podcast run by the LDS radio specifically repudiated the story. And in this month’s issue of the Ensign, which republishes President Hinckley’s talk on the rescue, the portion that repeats Solomon Kimball’s account is conspicuously absent. (Though that may very well be for space restrictions.) It seems the growing academic nature in the Church History Library, led by able and visionary individuals, will continue to challenge these problematic and antiquated historical narratives.

But, again, merely excising the problematic stories won’t be enough. We need a reorientation of how we understand history and what constitutes a “valid” historical sources. And that, I’m afraid, is where I’m stumped.

___________________________________________

[1] Solomon F. Kimball, “Belated Emigrants of 1856,” Improvement Era 17, no. 4 (February 1914): 88.

[2] Chad M. Orton, “The Martin Handcart Company at the Sweetwater: Another Look,” BYU Studies 45, no. 3 (2006): 8.

[3] John C. Thomas, “Sweetwater Revisited, Sour Notes, and The Ways of Learning,” The Religious Educator 10, no. 2 (2009), found here. Thomas’s article then goes on to discuss how he navigates the problem now, and what he learned from the encounter. It’s a great and very informative discussion.

[4] See Randall J. Stephens and Karl W. Giberson, The Anointed: Evangelical Truth in a Secular Age (Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, forthcoming).

[5] In a recent podcast, Boyd Petersen mentioned how his wife, BYU Professor Zina Nibley Peterson, is often challenged in her Book of Mormon classes by male returned missionaries because they feel their priesthood validates their interpretations over her own views. The podcast is found here.

[6] Matt Bowman skillfully mused about these competing approaches to interpretation here.

[7] Quentin L. Cook, “Give Heed unto the Prophets’ Words,” General Conference, April 2008, footnote 5, found here.

*The image is Clark Kelley Price’s “Rescue at the Sweetwater.”



27 Comments

  1. I appreciate this very much Ben, both as a scholar and as a descendant of some of the dead from the M&W disaster. I was not surprised to hear the traditional narrative repeated not more than an hour ago in my in-laws’ ward in Spanish Fork. You have done a nice job of highlighting the complex dynamics involved when we study such stories. These stories tell us about the cultures that construct and narrate them, and the reactions of some members of those cultures to challenges reveal even more. Pretty fascinating. Thanks.

    Comment by SC Taysom — July 24, 2011 @ 3:45 pm

  2. Couldn’t agree more, Ben, including on the stumpedness. Thanks.

    Comment by Jared T — July 24, 2011 @ 5:10 pm

  3. I hope your post is better received than my related one from 2009. Although the remarks on screen are generally favorable, I was taken to task on blog and in comments that were too vile to post for “accusing the brethren of teaching false doctrine over the Conference pulpit.” Not only are there people who refuse to consider revisions to the historical record, even when they don’t challenge gospel principles, even when they’re presented by faithful LDS historians, even when they are published in respected LDS journals — there are people aren’t content with that, but who must accuse us of apostasy and speaking evil of the Lord’s anointed for even bringing up the possibility that the historical record needs to be corrected.

    So in that case, who’s really teaching false doctrine, the historians, or those who are blinded by the traditions of their fathers?

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — July 24, 2011 @ 5:39 pm

  4. Ardis: I had thought that you had written on it before, but was too lazy to go find it. I’m glad you linked to the discussion!

    Comment by Ben Park — July 24, 2011 @ 5:51 pm

  5. Ben, I’m puzzled why you’re approaching the Sweetwater rescue story as a historical myth that needs bursting. The payoff from Orton’s article is that maybe 20+ young men carried people across the stream instead of just three, and that their ages ranged from 16 to 24, and that the handcart rescue effort was a very large undertaking involving a lot of people and many other events. How does any of this additional context make the popular account something shameful, something that needs to be “excised”? To quote Orton: “What happened at the Sweetwater was truly inspiring, and the rescuers who braved the frigid water are indeed deserving of praise” (32).

    Orton also points out that none of the young men seem to have died of the aftereffects, which comes as a relief. Who wants the hero of the story to die anyway?

    There is the theological problem of what kind of divine reward people can expect for performing heroic acts, but that is, of course, a theological problem that’s not easily resolvable by resorting to history.

    You say that the focus on just one episode distorts history. But all narratives and all acts of memorialization are selective. When people write about saints, they write hagiography.

    The pioneer trek is one of our founding myths. If a historian can offer greater understanding of it, people will, I think, be receptive. Orton’s article is a good example of how to go about doing that. If you take the “everything you know is wrong!” approach, reception may be chillier. Especially in a case like this, where Orton’s article doesn’t support that approach.

    Comment by Jonathan Green — July 24, 2011 @ 7:43 pm

  6. I am grateful for clearer history when it is available. I don’t see it as bursting myths, but shedding more light. That the arc of the story does not change is even more reassuring, frankly, not less. That there were more heroes than three (and I always assumed there were, but that those three happened to be mentioned) is not an issue to me, and I’m happy to have the full story available.

    I suspect we retell the tales as they’ve been told to us simply because it’s easier than doing the real work of study. (I know that’s my case.)

    Comment by Paul — July 24, 2011 @ 8:04 pm

  7. Jonathan: if you read my opening paragraph, you’ll see that I am in full support of your final paragraph. I also state plainly in the post that I see the story of Sweetwater–the real one, that is–faith-promoting and worth repetition. Actually, I think you missed the point of the post completely. The fact that you think I am advocating the “everything you know is wrong”–a position I sharply and clearly renounce here and elsewhere–makes me question how closely you read the post.

    I look at the story of the Sweetwater rescue to examine an issue: why we, as a Church, are prone to accept certain narratives as valid when they are told from specific positions rather than if they have any historical legitimacy. I agree with you that Orton’s article is a good example of faithfully and gently correcting faulty narratives, but the fact is this: many Saints–from my own teaching experience, from the experience of my colleagues, and from the experience of John Thomas mentioned in the post–reject such correctives, no matter the packaging, because they would rather cling to the story told by a prophet or narrated through an official Church capacity.

    I’m not interested in the Sweetwater story in-and-of-itself; I’m only interested in how we tell it, and what those types of telling reveal about our culture. The question of whether it was 3 or 20+ young men isn’t significant to my post, but the fact of why we seemingly must cling to three because that is the traditional narrative, and because it is repeated by Church leaders and in Church curriculum, is what I’m looking at. The fact that Orton’s article, which we both agree is an example of the best way to approach this type of discussion, still receives a chilly reception amongst many Saints should give us pause.

    Comment by Ben Park — July 24, 2011 @ 8:14 pm

  8. Ben, when you wrote about “merely excising the problematic stories,” I got the impression that you wanted to excise a problematic story. Sorry for the confusion.

    I did understand the larger point you want to argue. The problem is that you don’t have much to hang your argument on except some anecdotes. Yes, it is true that not all Mormons are completely enlightened in their understanding of historiography. I don’t see anything unusual about this. I believe that appeals to authority are also found outside the LDS tradition, yes?

    I see two problems with your concerns. First, I don’t think you’re clearly distinguishing academic from devotional contexts. All people are invested in their foundational myths, and you’ve got to respect that in a setting like a Sunday School class. If a teacher sets up a discussion as academic scholarship vs. prophetic utterance, that teacher has made a fundamental pedagogical error.

    When you say, “We need a reorientation of how we understand history and what constitutes a ‘valid’ historical source,” who is this “we,” and what contexts are you talking about, and what understanding of history needs to be reoriented?

    Take the example of citing Roger Williams from “Picturesque America,” a book from the 1870s. That’s terrible historical practice, and I can get behind hoping that people would quote from standard editions of Williams’s works even in their sacrament meeting talks. But I don’t think that asking people to disinvest the colonization of North America of meaning is reasonable. People create meaning, and the only way that Mormons won’t find meaning in history is if they ignore it entirely.

    Second, I think you have an exaggerated view of how quickly scholarship diffuses into the wider culture. Orton’s articles were published in 2006, just five years ago. Heck, in five years, you’re lucky to get a few citations from other scholars, let alone any penetration into more widespread consciousness. That Orton’s article appears to be getting some broader traction is pretty remarkable.

    Comment by Jonathan Green — July 25, 2011 @ 3:42 pm

  9. And by “merely excising the problematic stories won’t be enough” (notice the plural “stories” which hints to the fact that I’m not speaking specifically about this story anymore), I am obviously pointing to a deeper, if related, problem.

    To answer some of your objections: Of course I’m hanging my hat on anecdotes. This is a post from personal experience. But I think I’ve had enough of the experience, and I’ve heard enough from others who have had similar experience, that I think it’s a legitimate issue to address. The “we” includes all of us: historians, common Saints, ecclesiastical leaders, etc. This is a very insider issue, and I don’t want to present myself as the enlightened sophist that you want to caricature me as. And I don’t care if it’s been five years: I’m talking about experiences with people as they are exposed to these new facts. It could be a 40 or 2 year old article, it still has the same reaction.

    Look, I’m not going to get much into your comment because I still don’t think you are getting the point of this post. In fact, I’m pretty sure of it. I’ll chalk that up to my inability to coherently present my argument and stop there.

    Have a good day!

    Comment by Ben Park — July 25, 2011 @ 4:35 pm

  10. Oh dang. Another one bites the dust. In a recent visit to Atlanta, I spoke to the YM president about the difficulties of getting the inner-city youth out to Church. Much of it is financial. Parents (often single mothers) must choose EITHER Sunday services or the youth activities, but can’t afford both. The bus fare is too much. If the president himself were to pick up every YM/YW, it would take him about four hours. As we talked about this, Darius Gray referenced the inspiring story of “the Sweetwater rescue” and asked why we as a Church love telling this story over and over, but when it comes to modern-day rescues–like maybe getting a church bus to pick up the youth nd assigning a senior couple to this specific task–we are short-sighted and often fall back to, “They need to learn self-reliance.” Okay, so maybe the real history is even better. Everyone helped. It wasn’t just three kids. Now I have to read what Ardis wrote in her post.

    Comment by Margaret Blair Young — July 25, 2011 @ 6:14 pm

  11. Well, the links Ardis provides take you to BYU Studies, but not the articles. You have to subscribe first.

    Comment by Margaret Blair Young — July 25, 2011 @ 6:19 pm

  12. BYU Studies keeps rearranging its website and breaking my links. They’re there for free download, Margaret:

    Francis Webster and Martin Handcart Company. The free download link isn’t nearly as prominent as the “subscribe for $30″ link, of course.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — July 25, 2011 @ 6:44 pm

  13. I don’t have any problem with fallible academics who put the Willie and Martin companies on the trail in 1856 (in a direct quotation from another’s work), in 1857, where they must have had some interesting encounters with Albert Sidney Johnston et al. and in 1846, when they must have trekked through the dust stirred up by the Donners. : )

    Comment by Mark B. — July 25, 2011 @ 6:56 pm

  14. Ben, if you’d like to open up a discussion, then…discuss! If not now, then some other time, perhaps. All best.

    Comment by Jonathan Green — July 25, 2011 @ 7:21 pm

  15. Jonathan, have you ever stopped to think that we* may all be a little exhausted from “discussing” things with you because your typical approach is to condescendingly express “puzzle[ment]” at what they say and deliberately misrepresent their point of view? Somewhere in your comment there is a valid point that deserves to be discussed, and I’d like to encourage you to rethink your general approach and tone before commenting again.

    Ben, this is a great post and I appreciate the reminder about Orton’s important article. I especially like the optimism expressed in your penultimate paragraph. This may seem obvious to others, but I hadn’t really considered one major benefit of a more open and honest approach to the past by the institutional church to be a more careful and accurate selection of historical stories in addresses by Church leaders.
    __________________

    *By “we” I mean several of the contributors here at JI.

    Comment by Christopher — July 25, 2011 @ 10:02 pm

  16. Good thoughts Ben. I’d hope we can expand this discussion.

    I think that in a devotional setting the approach is all important. I essentially taught Chad Orton’s Sweetwater article twice in my last ward, once in RS and once in Gospel Doctrine, to quite positive results. (Interestingly that year’s stake trek leader missed the RS version–I call that a tender mercy–probably both for myself and for her.) Expanding the story of heroism from 3 martyristic supermen to dozens and then hundreds of individuals should never be a bad thing. I think President Hinckley would like the more complete and balanced version a lot better.

    I think that critical evaluation is a skill we all need and we need to teach it (especially to those not innately cynical…i mean critical). I like using Elder Oaks’ talk to CES teachers in the midst of the Hoffman tragedy. It was given after they bought the Salamander Letter and before they knew it was a forgery. He gives an essentially lay audience a lesson in what I’ll here call faithful methodology. (Using faithful since I can’t think of a more useful label at the moment.) While we don’t so much need to believe that a salamander and a spirit might in some crazy context be the same thing, the methodological process he outlines is really useful–and a great non-disputable source.

    One of his steps is recognizing limitations. We are all limited. Our sources are all limited. I make mistakes and President Monson makes mistakes. President Hinckley made mistakes. But if we culturally believe in some version of prophetic infallibility those limitations will never be recognized. (Talking about the Hoffman context of Oaks’ talk also provides an in for prophetic–or apostolic–fallibility.)

    We have to better deal with this. Thanks to the JSP, we already have lots of known errors in our Doctrine and Covenants introductions. We will continue to find more issues. Someone may easily accept that James Coville was a Methodist minister rather than a Baptist preacher…but what about something more theologically critical?

    No global answer from me, but I do think we have a responsibility to work on it in our own corner of the garden.

    Comment by Janiece — July 25, 2011 @ 11:16 pm

  17. “…those struggles came as a result of their decision to go against counsel and begin their trek much too late in the summer.”

    While I appreciate your post, I have a problem with this statement.

    From what we’ve been able to piece together from various accounts and what’s written in our family history records is that they didn’t have the supplies needed to stay the winter in Florence, Nebraska. As a result of the shortage of supplies (and after a lot of debate) the council decided to keep going. The probability of severe hardship/loss of life may have been just as great had they stayed in Florence for the winter.

    Anyway, thanks for this post. It’s nice to get more information and sources on what happened. My husband’s side has ancestors that were in both handcart companies, so we’re always interested to hear additional information on the subject.

    Comment by Marie — July 25, 2011 @ 11:26 pm

  18. Marie: you are definitely right that there were more motivations in going than the simplistic statement I made. I guess I was just trying to invoke that it was going against what they were told–whether that decision is defendable or not–and that BY and the other Church leaders were surprised when they found out the handcarts had, indeed, left. But, as you point out, history is never that black/white, so thanks for the added context.

    Comment by Ben Park — July 25, 2011 @ 11:52 pm

  19. Really, Christopher? Google finds comments from me on six threads here in the last six months, including this one. Two of those are limited to saying “congratulations” and “yes, you are so right.” If that’s causing exhaustion, you’ve got to get more exercise.

    On three threads, the post fell not too far from my own research, so I could offer a somewhat informed comment. But it’s OK if you don’t want that kind of engagement–it’s yall’s blog, you can do whatever you want with it.

    And then there’s this thread, where I’m sympathetic–really!–with Ben’s concerns, but less so with the post’s excessive hand-wringing and its call for sweeping change (“We need a reorientation of how we understand history and what constitutes a ‘valid’ historical sources”). It’s more useful to figure out how to teach the students we actually have than to keep asking ourselves why they’re so benighted. Best of luck to you all.

    Comment by Jonathan Green — July 26, 2011 @ 2:05 am

  20. Unfortunately Jonathan, 6 months of good behavior doesn’t make your condescension yesterday or today any less tiresome. I still think there’s some value in what you’re saying here, but the arrogance and rudeness of your tone continues to make it difficult to find.

    But thanks for the permission to operate our blog how we see fit. That’s really, well … condescendingly kind of you.

    Comment by Christopher — July 26, 2011 @ 7:16 am

  21. Yeah, you seem to get along with Fleming’s work, which makes sense, but my picture of your participation on other threads that are not in the realm of your expertise is as Chris described. You seem to have a knack for missing the point and then offering your correctives.

    Comment by Jared T — July 26, 2011 @ 10:21 am

  22. Ben, Thanks for this. Three experiences that give me hope:

    1. I taught from Orton’s articles in my ward last time we did Church History and D&C (the manual repeats the Kimball version of events). This past Sunday, July 24, I received a phone call from a sister in my ward who recalled the lesson I taught and wanted to make sure she remembered the details correctly to help her friend who was teaching about the rescue in primary that day. I sent her a pdf of both of Orton’s articles. (I’ll send them to you Margaret if you are still struggling with the links).

    2. Our ward, instigated by our bishop, did a three day two night ward trek, kids and all, at Martin’s Cove last year. (My family and I went, somewhat reluctantly, but that is for another time. I braced myself for what I anticipated would be faith promoting rumors passed off as history) Day two of the trek included carrying kids across the Sweetwater. However, the missionaries who supervised the experience read a written statement to us which I quickly recognized as drawn from Orton’s article. It corrected old stories and told a more accurate version of events as laid out by Orton. I shared this with Orton, upon my return, who was pleased. (They still did a “woman’s pull”, but when a member of my ward started to say it represented the Mormon Battalion being called away, the missionary corrected her and pointed out that the Battalion experience had nothing to do with the handcart migration).

    3. I taught both of Orton’s articles in my Mormonism class at the U. I also integrated my own experiences from my ward trek into the discussion. It was a very open and positive discussion, with a lot of great ideas as to how and why handcarts have grown to disproportionately represent all forms of migration in Mormon collective memory. (More Mormons migrated via some other way, and most of those who migrated via handcarts did so successfully). The missionaries at Martin’s Cove told us that they would have over 3,000 trekkers at Martin’s Cove that WEEK–more in one week than the entire 19th century handcart migration. I’m blown away at how handcarts have come to stand in for all forms of Mormon migration (I’ve heard from the pulpit in my ward that Mormons leaving Nauvoo pulled handcarts) and that the Willie and Martin companies have come to stand in for all migrant companies. Why do we love our tragedies and privations so much?

    My experiences with the Orton articles have been positive, in other words. Although the last point I make should take into account that I teach at the U and the students who took my Mormonism class were not looking for a SS experience.

    Comment by Paul Reeve — July 27, 2011 @ 1:49 pm

  23. Is Martin’s Cove worth seeing? We’re going by Devil’s Tower and Mt. Rushmore next week and my wife *really* wants to go see it. However I have nightmares about the little historic sites I’ve visited in the past which typically were underwhelming.

    Comment by Clark — July 27, 2011 @ 2:26 pm

  24. BTW

    why handcarts have grown to disproportionately represent all forms of migration in Mormon collective memory

    This has been kind of surprising to me as well. I think it’s a bit of a martyr complex in some ways. (The way how Haun’s Mill has remained so prominent) But I constantly meet people praising relatives who came to Utah that way while blithely ignoring the majority of their relatives who came in other ways (and came unscathed)

    It also is just inconceivable to me why the bad choices of the disastrous handcarts aren’t emphasized more. To me those handcarts, despite the faith while in bad circumstance, also illustrate the importance of preparation. (That’s how I’ve taught it in the few times I’ve had opportunity)

    Comment by Clark — July 27, 2011 @ 2:29 pm

  25. Thanks for sharing, Paul. Those experiences do indeed give hope.

    Comment by Ben Park — July 27, 2011 @ 4:33 pm

  26. Clark, I don’t know that it is worth “seeing.” There is not that much to “see”. They have a visitor’s center, a reconstructed fort, but they are really set up for trekkers. They have numbered handcarts which they check out to people and then have designated camping sites and various trek experiences. You can hike to Martin’s Cove independent of all of the handcarting that will be going on, but like I said there really isn’t much to “see”. It is a cove where you can reflect upon the tragedy. Devil’s Gate is close by and remarkable. Maybe others who have gone have a different impression? Some people who visit report a strong sense of connection to those who suffered and died there and recount it as compelling for them.

    We just did Devils Tower and Mr. Rushmore last month, had a great time. Enjoy your trip.

    Comment by Paul Reeve — July 27, 2011 @ 5:06 pm

  27. My wife and I did that same circuit last year, Rushmore, Tower, Martin’s Cove. We enjoyed Martin’s Cove,the walk and just the terrain. You just have to appreciate the sacrifice some were willing to make for their religion and faith. That’s a pretty good place to breathe that in.

    Comment by Jeff Spector — August 12, 2011 @ 11:06 am