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"Sweetwater Rescue" to be aired Oct. 1 recounts handcart companies disaster

Marks sesquicentennial of Martin and Willie Handcart Companies

This year marks the sesquicentennial of the journey of the Martin and Willie Handcart Companies. In commemoration of the sacrifice made by these pioneers, documentary filmmaker Lee Groberg, author Heidi Swinton and hundreds more joined together in a nearly two-year project to create "Sweetwater Rescue: The Willie and Martin Handcart Story," which will air Sunday, Oct. 1, at 7 p.m. on KBYU Television.

From 1856 to 1860, 10 groups of handcart pioneers traveled to the Salt Lake Valley, the place they considered Zion. Eight successfully crossed the plains from Iowa to the Salt Lake Valley. But two —the Willie and Martin Companies — met with a wintry disaster in October 1856, as they found themselves stranded on the high plains of Wyoming in treacherous snowstorms. Those who traveled from the Salt Lake Valley to rescue the pioneers faced the same horrific snows.

"As a documentary filmmaker," Groberg explains, "I look for good stories from history. Since producing 'Trail of Hope: The Story of the Mormon Trail' 10 years ago, I have been intrigued by the idea of capturing the emotion of an amazing chapter in that story. In 1856, two of the handcart companies that crossed the plains that year became trapped in Wyoming because of leaving too late and because of harsh winter conditions. The rescue of those 1,200 emigrants is an amazing story. I wanted to tell it because it is somewhat overlooked in America's history books and because it is such a powerful statement of the triumph of the human spirit."

An award-winning filmmaker, Groberg has produced several other documentaries that have aired on PBS, including "American Prophet: The Story of Joseph Smith" (1999) and "America's Choir: The Story of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir" (2004).

For more information and rebroadcast dates, visit byubroadcasting.org.

Writer: Jim Bell

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