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Main Event

The Norman Trek was accomplished with great efficiency and very little loss of life. The church established a Perpetual Emigrating Fund to lend money to those lacking the means to finance their own way west. By 1855, the church realized that outfitting fully equipped wagon trains would soon break the fund. Brigham Young hit on a solution. He directed Mormon carpenters in Iowa to build handcarts as cheap substitutes for the horse-drawn prairie schooners. The emigrants would walk to Salt Lake City.

The small, boxlike carts looked like miniature covered wagons. They were equipped with only two oversize wheels, designed to roll easily over rough terrain. Approximately 500 handcart “Saints” left Iowa City on June 9 and 11, 1856. Although the trek took longer than anticipated (the emigrants did not arrive in Salt Lake City until late in September), the emigrants arrived safely, and Young was encouraged.

Departure of the next two “Handcart Brigades” was delayed until July and August because of a shortage of carts. Faced with a scarcity of seasoned lumber, the carpenters had to use green wood, which shrunk in the hot, and air of the plains. Filled to overflowing, the carts broke down or simply fell apart, supplies ran short, and, worse still, the delayed departure from Iowa put the emigrants in Wyoming during the first snows. Of the 1,000 emigrants in the second Handcart Brigade, 225 died.


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