Devil's Gate: Brigham Young and The Great Mormon Handcart Tragedy  -     By: David Roberts
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Devil's Gate: Brigham Young and The Great Mormon Handcart Tragedy

Simon & Schuster / 2009 / Paperback

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Product Information

Format: Paperback
Number of Pages: 416
Vendor: Simon & Schuster
Publication Date: 2009
Dimensions: 8.44 X 5.50 (inches)
ISBN: 1416539891
ISBN-13: 9781416539896

Publisher's Description

The revelatory story, now in paperback, of the worst disaster in the history of the Western migrations—and how Brigham Young made it a parable of the indomitable Mormon spirit.

• Dramatic re-telling of a terrible but little-known tragedy: In 1856, 220 Mormons traveling west to Utah, pushing and pulling their belongings in handcarts, died of malnutrition and hypothermia. Roberts draws on contemporary letters and diaries to re-create the drama and suffering.

• A powerful indictment of Brigham Young: Young had been warned that the pilgrims were at risk from winter storms; he could have waited until the next year or sent aid eastward sooner but failed to do so until it was too late. Not only have Young’s biographers ignored or minimized this tragic and preventable event, they’ve tacitly accepted the official version of the story, which casts it as an unavoidable act of God that tested—and proved—the faith and steadfastness of the Mormon spirit.

• Follows the success of other books about the Mormons: Devil’s Gate will appeal to the same readers that made Jon Krakauer’s Under the Banner of Heaven and Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith’s The Mormon Murders into explosive, national bestsellers.

Author Bio

David Roberts is the author of numerous books on mountaineering, travel adventure, the outdoors, and western history. He lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Editorial Reviews

"Devil's Gate is the chilling story of the greatest disaster in the history of American westward settlement: the Mormon handcart tragedy. With meticulous research and elegant writing, Roberts tells a gripping story of impoverished Europeans brought to the New World with a promise of hope, who died in the wilderness of the American West under the most appalling circumstances. It is more than just history: it is an indictment of fundamentalism itself. This book is proof that people who are serenely certain they know the mind of God are not only presumptuous, they are dangerous. Devil's Gate is a book of history with an important message for the modern world." -- Douglas Preston, author of Blasphemy and The Monster of Florence
" This disturbing account of the Mormon immigrants who in 1856 pushed handcarts for more than 1,000 miles from Iowa to Salt Lake City is narrative history at its best. It's also pertinent to our time, for David Roberts shows how, in the cover-up of the most deadly catastrophe in the history of Western migration, political and religious leaders turned failed experiments into triumphs and tragedies into hymnals. Roberts has swept away the cobwebs in his stirring book." -- Ted Morgan, author of Wilderness at Dawn and A Shovel of Stars
" The tragedy of the handcart people forms the largest carnage of the Western migration and is one of the great wounds that made Mormonism America's most successful native religion. David Roberts in this fine book shows how the dying came not from bad luck, not from early snows, not from God, but from the Prophet Brigham Young and his pursuit of profit and power. An eye-opener on the man who brought Zion to our desert and our national life." -- Charles Bowden, author of Desierto and Blues for Cannibals

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  1. 1 Stars Out Of 5
    May 29, 2009
    Handcarts were used over the span of several years and hundreds made it to Utah without incident. The ill-fated Martin and Willie companies traveled against Church recommendation. It was too late in the season. They were the only recorded incidents of disaster. To state otherwise is proof that this author wants to manipulate your understanding. While two handcart companies met disastrous end, all others were successful. It was the lowest cost way to cross the plains. It is noteworthy to state Gov. Lilburn Boggs of Missouri had instituted an Extermination Order against Mormons (in effect until the 1980's) and made it legal to rape, torture, and murder any suspected member. Numerous mobs took advantage of the opportunity! Local Church leaders tried to stop these companies, but members were naive and insistent. All were unaware of the early tendencies and severity of a Rocky Mountain winter. Half of them paid with their lives. Of those who lived, not one spoke out against leaders. When other members disputed the wisdom of the leaders, many handcart members spoke up in defense. They knew no one could have talked them out of the exodus. The journey, because of it's great difficulty, made them more wise and dedicated than ever despite the great cost. Their faith was tested and they proved victorious. When Church leaders in SLC learned of the late exodus and dire state of these two companies (stuck in heavy snows in Wyoming), they canceled their semi-annual Church conference and sent large search parties to rescue them. It was stated that no amount of prayer could compensate for immediate action. These things I know because my G-G-Grandmother was a surviving member of the Martin Handcart Company. Her journals and histories, among those of many others, tell the true story of this arduous journey and our family is stronger because of her amazing example.
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