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