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Life IS history in the making. Every word we say, everything we do becomes history the moment it is said or done. Life void of memories leaves nothing but emptiness. For those who might consider history boring, think again: It is who we are, what we do and why we are here. We are certainly individuals in our thoughts and deeds but we all germinated from seeds planted long, long ago.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Resolve & Fortitude

This day in (Old West) History: June 9, 1856

Mormon 'Family' Handcart
Picture this: You are making more than a 1000-mile trek across rocky, mountainous terrain with everything in a two-wheeled wooden handcart heaped with the maximum load of 400 to 500 pounds. Bear in mind you are on foot pulling the cart. If you are fortunate to have children old enough, they provide assistance by pushing as you pull.

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."
Source: This Day in History - Old West
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.
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… .'
Source: HISTORYnet.com

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.