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New book chronicles experiences of 7th Handcart Company

Lesser-known companies also endured hardships

While the Martin and Willie Handcart Companies are commonly recognized for their harrowing journey across the American plains during the mid-19th century, other, lesser-known handcart companies also faced enormous challenges in reaching the valley of the Great Salt Lake.

A new book titled "Before Zion: An Account of the 7th Handcart Company," chronicles the journey of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who left Scandinavia and came to Utah in the Christian-Christensen Handcart Company.

"I think it's a story that needs to be told," said Allen C. Christensen, director of the Ezra Taft Benson Agricultural and Food Institute at Brigham Young University and author of the book. "While the Martin and Willie Handcart Companies suffered greatly, there were other people who also paid a big price."

"Before Zion" covers the conversion stories, Atlantic crossing and journey west of members of the company, who endured many challenges including a lack of food and the hardships of frontier living.

Christensen provides more than an account of the handcart company's plains crossing.

"The book is not a trail journal," he said. "It's an overall picture of this particular company and the circumstances surrounding its members in 1857."

Christensen divided the book into two parts, the first focusing on the Scandinavian beginnings of the group and the second focusing on their journey across the plains.

A synopsis of the history influencing religious freedom in Europe is given, as well as varied aspects of American history related to the time the Scandinavian pioneers were traveling west.

The group made the journey west in 93 days, the fastest of any handcart company, even though they often did not have enough food to eat. The company had few people who were experienced hunters or frontiersmen.

At times, the company traveled near advance parties of the Utah Expedition, or Johnston's Army, as it made its way to Salt Lake City. They also traveled west without assistance from the Church's Perpetual Emigration Fund.

Christensen, whose ancestors were among the company, said the story follows families in the company.

"It's a story of faith, endurance, sacrifice and persistence in the face of real difficulty," he said.

Many noteworthy people, including Floyd Gottfredson of Walt Disney Studios and television pioneer Philo T. Farnsworth, are descendants of members of the 7th Handcart Company.

"I hope most who read the book will be stimulated to know that people who didn't have much, who laid all on the altar of sacrifice and who probably never became noteworthy in their own lives, have produced a rather remarkable posterity," Christensen said.

For more information, call Allen C. Christensen at (801) 422-3032.

Writer: Thomas Grover

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