Monday, April 30, 2012

True Sisters by Sandra Dallas

I love Sandra Dallas and when I heard she was writing a story of women in the Martin Handcart Company, you can be sure I preordered it!  I was eager to read this telling of Mormon pioneers written by a non-LDS (Mormon) author.

“True Sisters” takes place several years after the initial Mormon migration to Salt Lake City, led by the prophet Brigham Young.  Missionaries were in Europe converting thousands of new members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  The Saints were then encouraged to migrate to Utah or “Zion”.  Many of these people were poor and could not afford the $300 to outfit a covered wagon so the Church initiated the idea of the ‘handcarts’.  The handcarts were basically large wheelbarrows.  Each person was only allowed 17 lbs. of possessions to take with them.  Each family would push and pull the handcart and walk the 1,300 miles to Salt Lake City. 

Thousands of Saints used this method to migrate to Utah with few problems, but in 1856 one group started too late in the season and ran into dire consequences. Due to a miscommunication in Salt Lake, supplies were not waiting where they were expected and the dire consequences turned deadly.

This book is about four women in the group.  Nannie, who is travelling with her sister and brother-in-law after being abandoned on her wedding day; Louisa, who’s married to the over-bearing leader of the group; Jessie, who’s travelling with her brothers, each of them dreaming of the farm they will have in Zion; and Anne, who hasn’t converted to the Mormon faith but who has no choice but to follow her husband since he sold everything to make the trek to Utah.

You will love these women as they struggle with hardships we cannot even imagine.  They learn to depend on each other as they serve each other along the arduous trip.  Some of the men in the book will make you angry.  They are pompous, overbearing and not as sensitive as we modern have come to expect our men to be. Those of us who are LDS would not expect the men of our Church to act that way today, but I think that, in general, men were more domineering in those days.

Ms. Dallas does an excellent job of portraying doctrine and the feelings of the LDS people.  As a member of that church I would like to make a few comments about some of the things mentioned in the book.  Tea, coffee and alcohol are not used by faithful members of the Church today.  “Celestial Marriage” in the book was a reference to polygamous marriage only.  Today a ‘celestial marriage’ refers to a marriage occurring in the temple where husband and wife are sealed for ‘time and all eternity’.

The book does mention that the prophet Brigham Young, upon learning of the plight of saints stranded in the snow out on the plains, abruptly ended the meeting telling the gathered members they needed to go help them….now.  His actual words to the church members at the meeting were that their own salvation depended on their going to rescue the Saints of the handcart company. 

Many wonder how the stranded Saints felt about the LDS Church after making it to the valley.  There is an account of many years later a group of Mormons were gathered and were discussing the foolishness of the leaders in letting the company start out so late.  This discussion went on for quite some time and was getting very disparaging toward the leaders of the group. An older man in the back of the room stood up and told them to stop the discussion.  He was Francis Webster and had been a member of the Martin Company.  He stated that not one of the members of that ill-fated group ever fell away from the Church.  He said, “Everyone of us came through with the absolute knowledge that God lives for we became acquainted with him in our extremities [greatest suffering].”

An absolute must-read book!

5 Stars (Rated PG for gruesome details)

1 comment:

  1. There is a quote that my mom would like to add by Joseph Smith that states as follows: “a religion that does not require the sacrifice of all things never has power sufficient to produce the faith necessary unto life and salvation. … It [is] through this sacrifice, and this only, that God has ordained that men should enjoy eternal life.”