The story of the 1856 Mormon handcart tragedy has never before been told in full despite its stunning human drama: Far more people died in the Mormon tragedy than died in the more famous Donner Party disaster. It is the worst tragedy in the history of the Western migrations, and yet it remains virtually unknown today outside Mormon circles.
Nine years after establishing a new Zion in what is now Salt Lake City, Brigham Young and other Mormon leaders conceived a plan to bring thousands of impoverished European converts from the Old World to Zion. The European Mormons would travel by ship to New York City and by train to Iowa City. From there, instead of crossing the plains by covered wagon, they would push and pull wooden handcarts all the way west.
But the handcart plan was badly flawed, and ultimately many of the new immigrants succumbed to the lack of adequate provisions and the demanding physical labor of crossing 1300 miles of plains and mountains. Some 900 Mormons found themselves trapped in early snowstorms in Wyoming; when the church leadership in Salt Lake became aware of the disaster, Young launched a heroic rescue effort. But by then it was too late for more than 200 of the immigrants.
Based on the author's research in Mormon archives and his own retracing of the route, Devil's Gate is a powerful indictment of the Mormon leadership and a poignant story of survival and suffering.