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The Gathering of Zion: The Story of the Mormon Trail (1964)

by Wallace Stegner

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2134109,195 (4.14)10
Pulitzer Prize-winning author Wallace Stegner tells about a thousand-mile migration marked by hardship and sudden death--but unique in American history for its purpose, discipline, and solidarity. Other Bison Books by Wallace Stegner include Mormon Country, Recapitulation, Second Growth, and Women on the Wall.… (more)

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Drawing largely from diaries and journals written by those who took this trail, Wallace Stegner gives us a look at the factors that led the Mormons from Kirtland, Ohio to Nauvoo, Illinois and eventually on the Mormon Trail which led to the Great Salt Lake Basin area. With a wealth of primary source materials available, he is able to give us a detailed glimpse at what life was like for persons accompanying Brigham Young westward. Stegner himself was a Presbyterian but he offers us a glimpse at their life with a balanced approach. While he did not use footnotes for reference purposes, one can often tell which account is being utilized by the context, and he does offer notes on the sources used in each chapter at the end of the book. There is an index mostly comprised of names and locations which will be useful for persons interested in specific persons or in places along the Trail. ( )
  thornton37814 | Jun 24, 2015 |
I read this book during the first four weeks I lived in Salt Lake City. As a newcomer both to the city and the culture, this book has really helped shape my vision of this city and its people. Stegner, with the narrative style of a novelist, takes the reader from Kirtland, Ohio, to Salt Lake City, Utah. He outlines the trials and triumphs of the Mormon pioneers in a realistic and non-idealistic way. The pioneers are human, with human pettiness and pride. Death and despair feature heavily in this history but are ultimately triumphed by faith, perseverance, and community. I look at the grid of streets in SLC and see the history behind them. I take my daughter out to the hills east of town, and I turn back and try to envision the valley through the eyes of the pilgrims as they finished their more than 1000-mile march to Zion. Knowing the character of those who founded this city has helped me to understand the character of the people who live here today.

I'm not a frequent reader of nonfiction or history, and I found it difficult to keep track of all the "characters" in this epic. I also found that Stegner assumed that the reader understood certain terms, like "fustian trousers," that at least this modern reader did not understand. By and large, though, this was a thoroughly enjoyable and enlightening book. ( )
  ImperfectCJ | Dec 31, 2012 |
This is my first Wallace Stegner book but he's been on my radar for a long time. Earlier this year I read a fictional account of one of the handcart companies that travelled the Mormon Trail. True Sisters told the story of the Martin Handcart Company that took a group of British immigrants from Iowa City to Salt Lake City in 1856. They set out much too late in the year to make the 1400 mile journey and suffered the consequences of bad weather and insufficient food. I had a pretty bad opinion of Brigham Young and the elders of the Mormon church after reading that book. This unbiased account of the opening up of the trail, including an account of the handcart companies, changed that a bit (for the better).

Opening the west to settlement wasn't only done by Mormons. Lots of other people went west to Oregon and California and places in between. But, as Stegner points out, the Mormons were the only group that improved the trail so that people coming behind them would have an easier time. They also subsidized travel costs for a great many people who would not have been able to make the journey. Most of the people in the handcart companies were poor Europeans who were victims of the Industrial Revolution. If they had stayed in England, Sweden, Switzerland their lives probably would have been short and disease-ridden. It is true that some of them, particularly those in the Martin handcart company, died prematurely but for those that survived and made it to Utah their lives and that of their descendants was immeasurably better.

I'm glad I read this book. Stegner does not pull any punches when he feels the church elders made mistakes but at the same time he shows how world-changing their efforts were.

Highly recommended. ( )
  gypsysmom | Dec 2, 2012 |
Stegner was not a Mormon; however, he spent many years in Salt Lake City and had respect for many of the values ( as distinguished from the religious beliefs) of the church. This book is the epic story of the Mormon Trail and a must read for any student of the American West. The religious prejudices faced by the Mormons find echoes in the modern resurgence of the intolerant Christian fundamentalists. On the other hand the religious insularity of smaller Utah communities (see, e.g., Mormon Country also by Stegner) which may well be a hangover from a history of persecution, leads many Gentiles to feel frozen out. If crossing the Great Plains in a covered wagon was difficult, imagine the challenge of pushing a handcart for the distance. ( )
  nemoman | Mar 9, 2008 |
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Checkpoints on the Road to New Jerusalem
December 23   Joseph Smith born in Sharon, Vermont.
Introduction: The Way to the Kingdom
Close to the heart of Mormondom, as close as the beehive symbol of labor and cohesiveness that decorates the great seal of Utah, is the stylized memory of the trail.
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Pulitzer Prize-winning author Wallace Stegner tells about a thousand-mile migration marked by hardship and sudden death--but unique in American history for its purpose, discipline, and solidarity. Other Bison Books by Wallace Stegner include Mormon Country, Recapitulation, Second Growth, and Women on the Wall.

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