Reenacting the Handcart Debacle: The Work of Rescue at Martin’s Cove on the Mormon Trail

  • Capper NicholsEmail author


The chapter analyzes contemporary depictions of the 1856 handcart pioneer disaster, at Martin’s Cove and Sixth Crossing on the Mormon Trail in Wyoming, sponsored by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Here, handcart emigrants suffered through autumn blizzards, and many died before rescue parties arrived from Utah. Today, these are pilgrimage sites for Latter-day Saints (LDS) tourists, including teenagers, who undertake handcart trek reenactments. The sacrifice of the handcart pioneers and the generosity of their rescuers are presented at the sites as model behavior for the LDS, especially young people in the Church. But this story of salvation depends on the suppression of a portion of the history, specifically the question of why the handcart pioneers set off so late in the season, when Church leaders knew that to do so was a mistake. This matter of responsibility is ignored, since the didactic emphasis on a renewable pattern of faithful conduct depends on a story of unequivocal virtue.


  1. Bagley, Will. 2009. ‘One Long Funeral March’: A Revisionist’s View of the Mormon Handcart Disasters. The Journal of Mormon History 35 (1): 50–115.Google Scholar
  2. Foote, Kenneth. 1997. Shadowed Ground. Austin: University of Texas Press.Google Scholar
  3. Hafen, Leroy, and Ann Hafen. 1960. Handcarts to Zion: The Story of a Unique Western Migration. Glendale, CA: Arthur Clark.Google Scholar
  4. Handcart Companies. 1992. Encyclopedia of Mormonism. Accessed 1 Sept 2018.
  5. Handcart Trek Reenactments: Guidelines for Leaders. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Accessed 1 Sept 2018.
  6. Lennon, John, and Malcolm Foley. 2000. Dark Tourism. London: Continuum.Google Scholar
  7. Moore, Carrie. 2006. Historians Fault Leaders in LDS Handcart Tragedy. Deseret News, May 27. Accessed 17 Dec 2018.
  8. Oman, Nate. 2006. Levi Savage and Obedience to Church Authorities. Times and Seasons (weblog), October 28. Accessed 17 Dec 2018.
  9. Rea, Tom. 2006. Devil’s Gate: Owning the Land, Owning the Story. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.Google Scholar
  10. Roberts, David. 2008. Devil’s Gate: Brigham Young and the Great Mormon Handcart Tragedy. New York: Simon & Schuster.Google Scholar
  11. Stegner, Wallace. 1942. Mormon Country. New York: Duell, Sloan, and Pearce.Google Scholar
  12. ———. 1964. The Gathering of Zion: The Story of the Mormon Trail. New York: McGraw-Hill.Google Scholar
  13. Sturken, Marita. 2007. Tourists of History: Memory, Kitsch, and Consumerism from Oklahoma City to Ground Zero. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Swensen, Jason. 2017. Sixth Crossing Visitors’ Center Dedicated as Tribute to Tenacious Pioneers, Selfless Rescuers. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, June 19.

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of MinnesotaSt. PaulUSA

Personalised recommendations