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Handcart Pioneers Pulled Belongings 1,300 Miles

The next time you catch yourself grumbling over a wobbly wheel on your shopping cart, consider this. From 1856-1860, more than 3,000 Mormon handcart pioneers pushed and pulled  their worldly belongings 1,300 miles  in glorified wheelbarrows.  They travelled from Iowa City, Iowa to Salt Lake City, Utah. That’s  1,030 miles from Florence, Nebraska. (And we complain about carrying groceries through the parking lot to an air conditioned car.)

My Purse Alone Weighs Seventeen Pounds…

It gets even more exciting. Adult handcart pioneers were allowed to pack seventeen pounds each and children only ten pounds. Weigh-in (which was very strict) included bedding, clothing, cooking utensils and keepsakes. Five people were assigned to each cart.

According to FurTrapper, ten “handcart companies” pushed about 650 of these hickory wood contraptions. Each company of approximately 100 people also had a wagon drawn by two yoke of oxen. This wagon carried extra provisions, primarily food and five tents, each of which slept twenty people.

Who Were These Determined Handcart Pioneers?

The handcart pioneers were mostly immigrants and recent converts to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They were Swiss, Danish, Scottish, Norwegian, Welsh and English. The people in any given handcart company frequently did not share language, but they did share a desire to live among the members of their newfound church.

More than 16,000 church members had already come to the United States from Europe by ship,then made their way to Utah by rail and ox-drawn wagons. The remaining 3,000 people did not have enough resources for trains or wagons and help from Utah had shriveled due to the poor harvest of 1855.

Brigham Young himself designed the hand carts and master minded the organization of companies. The journey was highly successful for the first groups, but was disastrous for the last two because they started their journey late and were caught by heavy snow in Wyoming. Despite a dramatic rescue effort from Utah, more than 210 of the 980 pioneers perished.

Celebrating Strength Of Handcart Pioneer Character, July 24

Although the Handcart Pioneers represented only ten percent of the emigrants to Utah, they are honored to this day as an important symbol of the culture of the LDS.  On July 24, Pioneer Day is a state holiday in Utah. Held since 1849, the celebration now includes the third largest parade in the United States.

In 1997, on the 150th anniversary of their arrival, a three-month long re-enactment of the 1847 Mormon Pioneer wagon train left Omaha, Nebraska in April and arrived in Salt Lake City, Utah on July 22.
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