|Mormon 'Family' Handcart|
Why handcarts and not covered wagons you might ask?
In 1856, a series of poor harvests left the church with only a meager fund to help immigrants buy wagons and oxen. (Brigham) Young suggested a cheaper mode of travel: "Let them come on foot with handcarts or wheelbarrows; let them gird up their loins and walk through and nothing shall hinder or stay them."Often conditions make the task of pushing and dragging the hand-drawn carts unbearable, especially when faced with the challenge of crossing a stream or river. Movement is slow, fatigue is rampant.
Source: This Day in History - Old West
As one optimistic forecast predicted: 'Fifteen miles a day will bring them through in 70 days, and after they get accustomed to it they will travel 20, 25, and 30 with ease… .'
The picture should be crystal clear by now, except for who is exactly making the journey, the point of origin and destination. With the mention of Brigham Young, perhaps that was clue enough. It is on this day, June 9, in the year 1856 when nearly 500 Mormans began the arduous journey as they depart Iowa City heading west for Salt Lake City, Utah in a travel experiment, which represented a major change in the pattern of Morman immigration. The handcart experiment continued into 1857 and worked well until its ending in 1860.
|The Handcart Pioneer Monument, by Torleif S. Knaphus, |
located on Temple Square in Salt Lake City, Utah
The resolve and fortitude it took to complete this journey is today possibly unfathomable, inconceivable to say the least.
In summary, about 3,000 emigrants in 10 companies were transported west between 1856 and 1860, in 653 carts and 50 supply wagons. Generally, they traveled successfully, and cheaper and faster than wagon trains. The handcart era ended after 1860, when the Mormons switched to large church ox-team trains sent out from Salt Lake City to haul emigrants and freight west from the Missouri and other points. (This change is detailed in "Church Team Emigrants, 1860- 1868.")
One Mormon girl later estimated that she and her family had each taken over a million steps to reach their goal, pushing and pulling a creaking wooden handcart the entire way.