top of page

Mormon Handcart Expeditions: Iowa Time Machine June 7, 1856

Iowa Time Machine ⏰: On June 7, 1856, the first of ten companies of Mormon pioneers prepared to push handcarts out of Iowa City. Destitute but determined to join other Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City, nearly 3,000 Mormon pioneers participated in the handcart expeditions between 1856 and 1860.

Arriving in America from England, Wales, Scotland, and Scandinavia, the European converts used funds from the Perpetual Emigrating Fund to emigrate to the United States. Due to a poor harvest in Utah during 1855, funds ran short for the journey west. Brigham Young proposed a plan to use handcarts in September 1855, hoping to reduce the cost of the journey west by one-third.

Arriving by railroad in Iowa City, thousands of Mormons set about building the 5’ x 4.5’ single-axle handcarts. Weighing sixty pounds when empty, the carts could carry between 250 and 500 pounds. While many of the handcart expeditions proved uneventful, the trek ended disastrously for the Willie and Martin Companies. 

Both companies started their journey dangerously late in 1856 and encountered heavy snow and severe temperatures in central Wyoming. Despite a dramatic rescue effort, more than 210 of the 980 pioneers in these two companies passed away during the journey. Today, the handcart expeditions are remembered in Iowa City’s Mormon Handcart Park. #IowaOTD #IowaHistoryDaily #IowaHistoryCalendar


bottom of page