The Journey of the James G. Willie Handcart Company

Author Gary D. Long is uniquely equipped to produce this quality map study of the tragic experience of the Willie Handcart Company as it struggled through Wyoming in October and November 1856. During a long career with the Bureau of Land Management in Wyoming, he has made an extensive study of the famed Oregon and Mormon Trails. Additionally, he has exhaustively examined the Willie experience to include walking over the full length of the Company’s route through Wyoming and probing all extant written material (books, articles, journals, church records, and individual reminiscences), with particular emphasis on the day-to-day entries found in the excellent James G. Willie Emigrating Company Journal.

Long’s study suggests two valuable points regarding historical research and writing generally. First, it is always appropriate to carefully weigh the accounts of eyewitnesses against contrary arguments and conclusions made well after the fact. In the particular case of the Willie Handcart story, absent clear proof to the contrary, the eyewitness accounts on the record are the most convincing. And second, where place plays an important part, painstaking personal reconnaissance of the ground can clarify what written evidence is at hand.

It is in all these respects that I believe Gary Long, in this exceptional study, has made an important contribution.

Published in BYU Studies Quarterly 50:3
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