The Ultimate Sorrow


“Tongue nor pen can ever tell the sorrow,” says a heartbreaking film on the tragic 1856 Mormon handcart disaster at the Handcart Historic Site near Rawlins, Wyoming operated by the Mormon Church. When Mormons fled Illinois in 1844 after the murder of their founder, Joseph Smith, they were brought west by new prophet Brigham Young, who founded Salt Lake City in Utah Territory. He promised an opportunity to build a wonderful new life without religious persecution. At first, converts came by wagon trains, but many couldn’t afford that cost, so Young came up with the idea of handcarts—people would pull their own wooden carts almost a thousand miles from Iowa or Nebraska to Salt Lake City. Hundreds answered the call, including many converts from Europe. And it worked, until 1856 when two companies left Nebraska in August, way too late to get through Wyoming before winter set in, The converts in the Martin and Willie Handcart Companies got as far as Devil’s Gate in the Sweetwater Valley of Wyoming Territory. The lucky ones froze to death. The unlucky ones starved to death. Children watched their parents die and parents watched their children perish. A thousand people started out and over 200 died. Brigham Young wasn’t aware these two units were still out there until it was too late. He save those he could, but canceled all future handcart travel after that.

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