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Devil's Gate: Brigham Young and the Great Mormon Handcart Tragedy Hardcover – September 16, 2008

4.3 out of 5 stars 42 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In 1856, two groups of Mormon emigrants using handcarts to transport their belongings got a disastrously late start on their westward trek to Utah. Unexpected October blizzards and the lack of restocked supplies left them stranded in Wyoming, coping with frostbite, starvation and disease. 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.)
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From Booklist

Although well known among the Mormon faithful, the story of the Mormon handcart tragedy remains unfamiliar to most others. Roberts seeks to remedy this via his passionate account of one of the most disastrous and ill-conceived cross-country journeys in the history of the American West. Laying the blame squarely on the shoulders of Mormon leader Brigham Young, who hatched the preposterous plan to transport more than 3,000 European converts on foot from Iowa to Utah, pushing all their belongings in handcarts, Roberts smashes the Mormon myth embellished and spun by Young that somehow managed to turn tragedy into triumph. 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

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; First Edition edition (September 16, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1416539883
  • ISBN-13: 978-1416539889
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.6 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (42 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #463,859 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
This book provides an important perspective on one of the greatest horrors of the settlement of Utah.

My great-great-great grandmother was a member of the Hunt wagon train that trailed the two hand cart companies that are the focus of this book. She died a day before the remains of her family arrived in Salt Lake City in December, 1856. Three of her children died along the trail. Two others arrived seriously frostbitten. All available evidence suggests that the surviving family members remained true to the Church. But it is hard to believe that the family would have made the trek from England to Utah had they had any realistic notion of what awaited them.

My grandfather was a man of faith, a good Mormon, who lived his entire life in Utah; all of it with a serious attitude about the leadership of the LDS church. I have often wondered about the roots of his somber hostility toward higher ups in the Church, whom he generally regarded as feckless fancies more concerned with appearance than truth. I find this same strain of disgust in the attitudes of my uncles. In my family, there is great appreciation and affection for everyday people who live in the understory of the the Mormon hierarchy, and very often a generally accepted bitterness toward Church leadership, in word and manner.

I have long suspected that the strain of deep bitterness evident in the family had its roots in a deep sense of great injustice sometime in the past. This book may provide the answer.

The stories my grandmother shared about the horrors of the last emigration of 1856 were honest yet focused on faith and enhancing understanding and appreciation for the hardships suffered by our ancestors.
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Format: Hardcover
Devil's Gate by David Roberts proves to be a well written account of the Mormon Handcart expeditions. Although the handcart expeditions constituted only about 10% of new Mormons coming into Utah Territory during this period, the legends and mythology of the trials and suffering of the members of these handcart expeditions make them a near demi-gods to Mormon historians. The book explained very well the essence of these handcart expeditions and their history.

However the key elements of this book lies in the Willie and Martin Handcart expeditions, both handcart trains that left on their journey to Utah Territory late in the season and how they were caught in the on-coming winter storms. Over 200 Mormons died due to exposure, weakened by lack of food, clothing and burdened with physical and mental hardship. The author's intent was to proved that these deaths did not have to happened and could have been preventable. Once more, the deadly finger of blame lies toward the leadership of the LDS Church who created the handcart expedition plan for that year. Brigham Young, ultimately stand in the center of this since he was the leader of the Church, helped initiate and plan the handcart expeditions. Thus as the leader, the buck stops with him. The blames can equally be shared with lower level of Mormon command structures, the elders who shared Young's plans and encouraged by his mindset. They encouraged Willie and Martin handcart companies forward into the wilderness. The people who made up these companies were just new arrivals from England, knowing nothing of the terrain they were about to go over nor the weather they could be expecting. They relied solely on their American Mormon breathens and the leadership from Salt Lake City that took them this far.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Devil's Gate is a place along the Mormon Trail in the middle of Wyoming (Natrona County), where the Sweetwater River passes through a narrow canyon a few miles west of Independence Rock, just one of those apealing appelations people tag onto natural formations of dirt and rock. But, in this case, it is a placename attending "The Great Mormon Handcart Tragedy", part of the subtitle for this very readable book, an account of suffering and sacrifice in mid-ninteenth century America.
Zealous fervor (to use the kindest language for the intensity for irrational belief) is common among human factions, displayed in many forms. Delusion, too, is not limited to language groups or geographical locals; people often are carried away to unrealistic goals (though through luck and perseverance, often succeed). Events, though, can proceed occasionally to death and martyrdom, and, within a closed society, survivors of initial hardships steel themselves in confirmation of their faith - true whether persecuted into self-righteousness or beligerantly aggressive to convert the uninformed.
"Devil's Gate" is a condemnation of Brigham Young's intent to flood Deseret with pilgrims with scant support, depending entirely on the zestful yearning his followers had for soul-salvation in a place ordaned as nearly perfect for life in close association with their God. It is a study of stubborn determination (on behalf of Church elders surely and, indeed, regarding the pilgrims' persistence), and an indictment of a hairbrained scheme, one that took advantage of misplaced faith in a despot with a deep-seated persecution complex.
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