Monday, January 9, 2017

The Mormon Handcart Pioneers "17 Miracles"



Very often, when I watch a film, the subject matter makes me want to learn more and this was the case with a movie that I saw on the BYU channel.  (BYU stands for Brigham Young University.)
"17 Miracles" tells the story of the Mormon pioneers who used handcarts to travel to Utah in 1856 and endured terrible hardships by traveling during a brutal winter.  The film emphasizes the documented miracles that occurred during the journey. 

Note: By 1850, the Mormons had  30,747 members in Great Britain compared with 21,092 in North America.  Many of those in the Willie and Martin Handcart Companies were from the British Isles or from Scandinavia.


In 1856, five handcart companies traveled from Iowa to Utah (a distance of 1300 miles.) The first three companies made it with few problems but the last two, the Willie Handcart and the Martin Handcart companies were late leaving and suffered during a severe winter which started in October. At times the snow was 18 inches deep and the temperatures below freezing.  The pioneers had very little clothing.  They were each allowed one cup of flour (which didn't last long) and whatever they could kill on the way.  Many died on the journey from starvation and the cold.


You may read more about the Mormon handcart pioneers here and here.
Levi Savage tried to persuade the leaders to wait until spring to make the journey. Here are his words...





Levi Savage

July 1856
"Brothers and sisters, wait until spring to make this journey. Some of the strong may get through in case of bad weather, but the bones of the weak and old will strew the way. . . .
"What I have said I know to be true; but seeing you are to go forward, I will go with you, will help you all I can, will work with you, will rest with you, will suffer with you, and, if necessary, I will die with you. May God in his mercy bless and preserve us" (Stewart E. Glazier and Robert S. Clark, ed., Journal of the Trail [1997], 30–31).



Even though this was a terrible tragedy, the image of the pioneers pulling a handcart is a powerful symbol of faith for the Church of the Latter Day Saints. (Mormons).

Levi Savage, who I have mentioned above, is one of the main characters in the movie, "17 Miracles".  He had been one of those who had rescued the survivors of the Donner Party from the Sierra Nevada.  He knew the desperation that people are faced with in times of great hunger and despair.
"17 Miracles" is a powerful film and one that will stay with me for a long time.



26 comments:

  1. Another subject for me to investigate. Thank you.

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    1. You would find it fascinating, I am sure of it.

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  2. It does not seem a very sensible thing to do, dragging handcarts across vast distances so close to winter, and not being better equipped for it in terms of food and clothing. Were they forced to leave at that time, or why did they not listen to the voice of reason in the shape of Levi Savage?

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    1. The handcarts were really like big wheelbarrows (that is what they look like to me) and Brigham Young thought it would be faster for the pioneers rather than bringing wagons and animals. It seems to have worked fine until those last two companies who started late and then, it was an extremely cold winter when they crossed the Great Plains.
      You might be able to see this film. If so, let me know what you think of it!

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  3. Oh, now I want to see this movie too. What an interesting story, one I have never heard of although I remember reading a book when I was quite young about the early Mormons going to Salt Lake City, and found it fascinating.

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    1. I am sure you read the Miracle of the Gulls in Salt Lake City! You would find this film interesting, I am sure.

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  4. I watched the trailer right now, whew, heavy stuff!

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    1. True stories, that is what I want to know about and this was one story of the West that I didn't know.

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  5. Life was not easy then. Many of them, i think, wanted to leave sooner rather than later because of persecution where they were living. It all reminds me not to take my blessings of a roof over my head and a heading pad in my lap for granted!

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    1. Yes, it is easy for us to look back and think, why did they do this or that, when in fact, we really have no idea what they could have been experiencing at the time.
      I am grateful that I did not have to walk all the way to the West. The pioneers (and that applies to all of them, not just Mormons) had to have been extremely hardy souls.

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  6. Why do people consistently underestimate the savagery of winter weather?

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    1. It does make one wonder. Were the majority of them so newly arrived to this country that they had no idea of the length of the journey or the severity of winters on the plains? It is heartbreaking to watch this film and to see the children that die on the way, so sad.

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  7. I just finished reading The 19th Wife and leaned a lot about the Mormons that I hadn't known.

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    1. I just looked it up, it is a novel based on the 19th wife of Brigham Young.
      I read the book "Under The Banner of Heaven" by Jon Krakauer. I would say that not too many Mormons would like that book, that is my guess anyway. I am not Mormon myself but it seems he took some cheap shots at them.

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  8. I so wanted to see that and hope they run it again. I read q book about the Donner Party and it has stuck with me for years! xo Diana

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    1. If you ever get the chance (I know you are so busy!), you should watch the show that was done on PBS about the Donner Party by Ric Burns (not Ken Burns, his brother RIC Burns.) I looked it up and you can watch it on YouTube. Once again, something I saw years ago and have never forgotten it.

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  9. As a Mormon I've seen this film and even have the DVD. I often wonder if I would have gone with the Saints that took this trek. There are many stories and events that happened in Mormon history that make me wonder if I would have made it through those trials. After I saw this movie I wondered if it would be a good one to show non-members and if they would get the real meaning behind it or just think that the people were dumb to make that trek or the Church was dumb to ask it of them. Makes me examine what the word Faith really means. I remember a story about a group of Saints in Salt Lake talking about the handcart company a few years after that trek. They hadn't taken the journey. Basically they were saying how foolish it was. An old man stood up and told them that they should be quiet because they didn't know what they were talking about. He was in that handcart company and the times he felt he couldn't pull that cart any farther, he felt Angels pushing it for him. He said he felt closer to God during that time than any other time in his life. I know the Church has been getting a bad rap in the media of late but I've been a convert member for over 40yrs and have a great love and respect for those pioneers and also for the faithful Saints that I know and serve with today. Glad you like the movie! (sorry my post is so long!)

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    1. THANK YOU! I am so glad you saw this and left this comment, Yaya. I was very moved by this film and I hope my respect for these pioneers came through in this post.
      Religion in general is getting bad press these days but I hope that will not apply to my blog!
      Thanks again for your thoughtful comment, Yaya. God bless. x

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  10. How very interesting...thanks for bring our/my attention to this part of history.

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    1. History, true stories of real people!

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  11. That does sound like a great movie about an incredible journey. Those people had a whole lot of faith to make a journey like that.

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    1. I wish more films would be made like this, true stories that makes one research further details. Life is always more complex than can be depicted in two hours.

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  12. truly inspirational subject .thank you for bringing it to notice .it is worth watching friend!
    loved the photo of handcarts and people in journey .Faith is a thing which gives to one's heart an un defeat able courage and endless light of hope that keeps him moving always .
    glad you shared .

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    1. Thank you very much for your comment. "Endless light of hope", that is perfectly worded, thank you.
      Happy that you took the time to leave me these heartfelt words, my friend!

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  13. It is interesting how watching or reading one thing can lead to another isn't it!

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    1. I am constantly researching a great number of things, I kinda drive myself crazy with it sometimes!

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