End of the Handcart Era

So the conclusion must be—and Mormon practise indicates that it was the conclusion of the hierarchy too—that handcarts were a perfectly feasible means of bringing the harvest to the valleys of Ephraim, if: if they started on time, if their carts were well-made, if they did not try to hurry, if they had relief supplies somewhere west of Fort Laramie, if they had enough wagons to carry food and to relieve the sick or feeble, and if the priesthood didn’t get overzealous about testing their charges. But just about the time when these conditions began to be acknowledged and met, the pattern of the emigration was abruptly changed. After 1860 there were no more handcarts, and very few of the old-fashioned kind of wagontrains.

Everything on the trail was changing. The tenth handcart company, during its eighty days in transit, several times met or was passed by the overland stage carrying mail and passengers behind four good and frequently changed horses, and periodically the Pony Express riders scoured by their carts at a furious gallop. Both Pony Express and Overland Stage looked lovely and fast and comfortable from down in the roadside dust, but as the swift changes of the 186o’s developed, neither was to last much longer than the handcarts. The Pony Express, that most brilliant and romantic of mail services, came and went like the clatter of advancing and then receding hoofs: it was dead the moment Edward Creighton carried his Overland Telegraph through to the West Coast from Omaha. The Overland Stage would die of an overdose of railroad in 1 869. But until then, it would share the trail with the final form of Mormon transport, the so-called Church Trains.