Handcart (2002)



Director:     Kels Goodman. 

Starring:     Jaelan Petrie (Samual Hunter), Stephanie Albach (Abigail), Christopher E. Kendrick (Moose), Shannon Skinner (Patricia), Gretchen Condie (Sarah), Joel Bishop (Edward Martin), Scott Christopher (Robert Quincy).

man marries a Mormon woman and becomes part of the ill-fated journey of Martin Handcart Company in 1856 heading to Salt Lake valley, in which 150 people died of cold and starvation


Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film.

Salt Lake City.  1906.   A Mormon Sunday school teacher tells his fellow Mormons about a Mormon tragedy that happened back in 1856.  The Edward Martin Handcart Company crossed the plains from Iowa City to Utah arriving November 30, 1856.  In the event, 150 out of the 500 or so in the company died of starvation and exposure to the cold 50 years ago.  A young man says that he thinks it was a mistake sending them out in the first place.  Brigham Young sent them out too late in the season.  Another young man says that the whole handcart company idea was a mistake.  The teacher agrees with them, but a 75-year old man named Samual Hunter in the back objects.  He tells everyone that he was in that ill-fated handcart company and so was his wife.

Flashback.    A grave marker carries the names Shipe, Newel A. and Vera M., May 2, 1856.  The Shipes were the parents of Abigail and Sarah Shipe.  They were from England.  Abigail and Sarah join the Mormons as they move west to Iowa City 1856.  At the time Sam was 25 years old and his family hated Mormons.  This was especially true his Uncle Tom who ran a general store in Iowa City.  A big fellow named Moose pays 50 cents for a bunch of rifle ammunition. 

Edward Martin, leader of the Martin Handcart Company, steps up to the counter to buy several items.  Sam rings up the items and asks for $2.75.  Just as Martin is about to pay, Uncle Tom intervenes and tells the man to leave his store.  Martin says he will not leave.  But behind him Moose points his rifle at the back of Martin's head.  Martin leaves.  Sam sees a pretty girl, his future wife Abigail.  He talks to her as she buys items worth less than a dollar.  She wants to know where she can find Edward Martin.  Sam gives her the directions and she leaves.  Then Sam realizes that she forgot her change and he chases after her.  Talking with Abigail he meets her young sister Sarah.  When Sam returns to the general store, Uncle Tom questions him.  He says:  "I bet she's one of those damned Mormons."

Ed Martin was moving a mass exodus of the Mormons.  Sam walks over to the Martin place to see if he could find Abigail.  He does and she asks him if he would like to take a walk with her.  He says yes and they walk.  She explains that Ed Martin baptized her family in England.  Sam asks her if she is going with them.  That's the idea.  On another walk, this time with Abigail and Sarah, Abigail tells him that her parents got sick with pneumonia on the ship and then died in the United States.  She wants to go to Utah because this was her father's dream.  They are leaving in two to three weeks.  Martin is still gathering supplies for the trip.  She gives Sam "The Book of Mormon" just before they part.  Sam turns to leave, but is grabbed by Moose, who takes the book from Sam.  There is nothing Sam can do to stop the big fellow.  So Sam returns to the shop.  Uncle Tom is telling Martin that he refuses to sell him any lumber for his handcarts and, furthermore, "Get out of here!".  Sam whispers to his Uncle that they could sell Martin the green wood that is not suitable for construction.  Uncle Tom agrees to this.  Sam explains to Martin that he either takes the green wood or no wood at all because his uncle will not sell him the good wood.  Martin will think about it. 

Outside the store Martin fights a bully picking on a Mormon.  Moose pulls everyone apart and makes them and the audience go about their business.  Martin returns to the Mormon encampment.  A bunch of men sit around a fire complaining that they are getting impatient.  They want the journey to Utah to start.  Martin hears some of the complaining.  He speaks with them and others about praying and being patient.  Martin will have the men build 100 new handcarts for the journey.  When Martin sees Abigail he praises Sam to her for his help with Uncle Tom.  Martin will use the wood to make the handcarts for the journey. 

Uncle Tom tells Sam that he got $350 dollars from Martin for the green wood.  He is very happy with himself for cheating Martin. Sam is upset about it.  When he next sees Abigail he blurts out:  "I want to be a Mormon!"  Abigail is very happy to hear this.  Martin baptizes Sam.  As Sam gets out of the water, he runs into Moose who is also going to be baptized.  "Grandfather" Crocker had been reading "The Book of Mormon" to Moose. 

Sam asks Abigail not to go to Utah.  She only says that she will think about it.  Uncle Tom does not like Sam hanging around the Mormon Abigail.  Sam tells him that she only wants to fulfill her dead father's dream of the family going to Utah.   Uncle Tom says that Sam will no longer be working at his store.  Sam leaves.  Abigail comes to see him.  He starts to tell Abigail about what happened, but she says:  "You can tell me all about it on our journey west."

Sam doesn't like the idea of having to pull a handcart to Utah, but Brigham Young believes that pulling a handcart will make the people stronger and hardier by the time that they arrive.  A Mormon leader named Quincy examines Sam's cart and says:  "You've got a light load."  So he assigns Moose, "grandfather" Crocker and a pregnant woman named Patricia to Sam's handcart. Sam is upset about having so much baggage to carry, but Moose tells him that he will pull the handcart by himself as long as "grandfather" Crocker can sit in the cart.  Sam quickly agrees. 

The trip to Florence will take two to three weeks.  Martin prays with the entire group.  He then shouts:  "Onward to Zion!"  As they pass the Iowa City Hotel patrons shout insults and throw things at them.  Before night sets in they set up an encampment of tents.  Sam tells Abigail that he does not trust Moose.  The whole town knew that he killed his girlfriend, but there was not enough evidence to convict him. 

The next morning they find Crocker dead in the tent.  They bury Crocker's body and pray over his grave.  Sam is upset because now he has to help pull the handcart.  Patricia brings Moose some food for lunch.  She asks Moose to read something from the holy book but Moose confesses that he can't read.  Crocker always read to him.  Patricia reads a passage to him. 

On the trail a child gets left behind as he sleeps underneath a tree.  Sam's handcart starts to break down and he complains about that lousy green wood.  The mother of the lost child finally realizes that her son is not with the group.  She comes crying about her child.  Moose volunteers to go back for the child.  The mother is very grateful.  Three days later Moose and the boy return to the handcart train.  The boy is o.k.

The group reaches the place for winter quarters near Nebraska.  Sam reads a flyer about high paying jobs in Florence.  In the local bar he hears a trapper saying that the Mormons will be leaving too late in the season.  The Shoshone tribe has already packed to head south because of the oncoming winter.  Brother Richards from Liverpool, England arrives in town and almost runs over Sam who is not watching where he is going because he wants to hurry to tell the news to Martin.  Sam tells Brother Martin what the trapper told him.  So Brother Richards talks to the group and takes a vote.  The journey is a thousand miles from Florence.  Everyone, except for Sam, votes to go on.  Sam tells Abigail to stay the winter with him in Florence, but she wants to continue on.  When the handcart train leaves, Sam stays in Florence. 

Brother Richards talks with Sam in the local tavern.  He tells him that sometimes a person just has to have faith that everything will come out right and dare to take a challenge.  Sam makes a reference to "blind" faith, but wavers about catching up with the group.  Brother Richards offers him a ride on his horse drawn carriage to catch up with the group.  Sam accepts.  The next morning Abigail wakes to see a string leading from the inner pole of the tent to the outside.  She follows the string to the handcart where there are two roses waiting for her.  Sam appears to surprise her. 

At lunch the group takes a break for lunch and many of the crowd take a swim in the river.  Sarah's friend tells Abigail that they cannot find Sarah.  Sam immediately starts diving in the area where Sarah was last seen.  He finds her under the water and brings her up.  She is saved.  Later Abigail thanks Sam for saving Sarah's life. 

Brother Richards makes it to Utah.  There he informs Brigham Young that Brothers Willie and Martin are still out on the plain.  This worries Brigham a great deal.  He says:  "We assumed they had made winter quarters."  Tanner Hunter comes in to see Brigham and Richards recognizes the surname Hunter.  He asks him if he has a brother named Sam.  Yes.  Well he is stranded out on the plain with the Martin company.  Brigham asks Tanner why he never told him he had a brother.  Tanner replies:  "My entire family said I was pretty much dead to them." 

October 5, 1856.  On the plains with the handcart company with 700 miles to go to Utah.  Brigham says that they must send assistance to them and bring them to Salt Lake before winter sets in.  Out on the plain Abigail asks Sam:  "How did it get so cold so sudden?"  A little boy dies from the cold.  Later it starts to snow and still later the snow gets too deep at times to continue and they have to make an early camp.

A rescue team has set out to rescue the two handcart companies.  The leader sends out an express party of men on horseback to see if they can find one or both of the companies. 

Sarah complains that she can't feel her feet.  Moose is in the back making sure that the pregnant Patricia has company.  Moose tells Patricia that his real name is Reginald.  He also tells her that he had a big fight with his girlfriend and told her that he never wanted to see her again.  She went out into the woods and was killed.  Everyone in town then believed that he had killed his girlfriend.  Crocker was the only one who befriended Moose.  Crocker gave him a place to stay. 

The rations have to be cut as the daily progress gets less and less.  Now the food available is barely enough for a single meal.  Then they have to cut the rations again.  Abigail is quite distressed over this.  Crossing a stream on the ice, the ice breaks underneath Abigail and she falls into the shallow stream.   Sam is there to pull her out.  Abigail tells Sam that they should have stayed in Florence.   Later Abigail thanks Sam for always being there to cheer her up.  Sam suggest that they get married when they get to Salt Lake City.  Abigail responds:  "Why wait?"  The two have Brother Martin marry them.  

The express part of the rescue team comes back to the main camp.  They found the Willie company in shambles.  The leader sends the men out again to find the Martin company. 

The Martin company are now burying the dead each and every morning.  Since they had nothing with which to penetrate the frozen ground, they buried the dead underneath piled up snow.  There are up to 42 dead already.  The following morning Sam gets up to find that Brother Larsen has frozen to death in his sleep.  They bury the man. 

The group passes Independence Rock.  This was a landmark used to tell the travelers how many miles were left in the trip.  Usually people passed this rock in the summer, but now it was the middle of October and the group has 400 miles to go.  Patricia has her baby.  Sam takes a walk with Abigail.  In the distance he thinks he sees some men on horseback.  He retrieves a rifle from camp and fires it into the air alerting the horsemen.  The horsemen arrive in camp and everyone is overjoyed to see them.  They will go back and send assistance to them now that they know where they are. 

Abigail, Sarah's young friend and Moose all freeze to death in the night.  Sam is so upset that at the funeral service that he openly questions religion and God.  He asks what is the purpose in a woman marching 4,000 miles to Utah only to freeze to death.  When the group starts to move out, Sam says he is staying behind at the gravesite.  He asks Patricia to take good care of Sarah. 

The rescue party has already saved the Willie company.  And now they reach the Martin company.  Tanner asks where is his brother.  Sarah tells him that he stayed behind.  Tanner goes back to get his brother.  He is able to find him and bring him back. 

Back to the present.  The old man Sam says that on November 30, 1856 they finally reached Salt Lake.  "We suffered a hardship you can't imagine.  Was it a mistake for me to pull a handcart?   . . . Not at all."     

The film is "Dedicated to the Pioneers."


Good movie.  We follow the love story of Sam Hunter and Abigail Shipe as they travel by foot with handcarts from Iowa City to Salt Lake.  Along the way we see the great strength of anti-Mormon prejudice and discrimination.  No wonder the Mormons went all the way into the then wilderness to get away from the non-Mormons.  These pioneers did not take horses and big covered wagons, but rather pulled handcarts across mountains to get to Salt Lake.  They had to be pretty committed to their religion in order to accomplish such a task. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D. 


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