New York Times Best Selling Author

True Sisters

In 1856, the Church of Latter-day Saints (LDS or Mormons) conceived the idea of bringing impoverished converts from Europe to Iowa, where they would be fitted with handcarts instead of ox-drawn wagons. The emigrants would pull and push the carts the 1,300 miles to Salt Lake City. The carts, which were essentially square boxes on two wheels, cost a fraction of the price of wagons, and emigrants would not have the care of oxen or mules.

The idea might have been a good one, but the execution was poor. The carts were not waiting for the converts when they arrived in Iowa. The people had to build the vehicles themselves, and out of green lumber. That not only delayed their departure but meant the carts fell apart as the wood dried. Moreover, supplies were not waiting along the trail for the travelers, as they had been promised. Worst of all, the last two of the five handcart companies left late in the year and were trapped in the snow. More than a quarter of the 575 members of the last company, the Martin Company, froze or starved to death.

True Sisters, which is scheduled for publication in the spring of 2012, is about four women, three of them converts, who are members of the Martin Company. They are Nannie, who is traveling with her sister and brother-in-law, after being abandoned on her wedding day. Louisa is married to a church leader, a man she believes speaks for God, although others find him overbearing. Jessie and her brothers hope to find land in Zion where they can farm. And Anne, who fails to convert to Mormonism, has no choice but to follow her husband, since he has sold everything to make the trek to Utah. The characters are fictional, but they are based on journals, stories, and accounts of real women who braved the horror and hardship of the handcart trek, finding faith, friendship, and even joy in the journey.

Author’s Note

As a high school student in Salt Lake City, I was intrigued with the heroic-size bronze statue of a family pushing a handcart, that stood on the temple grounds of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I knew that in the 1850s, early Mormon emigrants from Europe had piled their belongings onto these carts and set off on a 1,300-mile trek across the prairie and mountains. Later, reading LDS history, I learned that the journey had been a difficult one. But not until I read David Roberts’ critical book, Devil’s Gate, did I realize that the Mormon handcart expedition was the worst Overland Trail disaster in U.S. history. As I poured over the accounts of handcart survivors, I was moved by their humanity. I am not a Mormon, but nonetheless, I felt compelled to tell the converts’ stories—stories not just about victims but about people embarked on a venture of joy and faith, people willing to sacrifice everything, even their lives, for God and their religion.

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