In a novel based on true events, New York Times bestselling author Sandra Dallas delivers the story of four women-seeking the promise of salvation and prosperity in a new land-who come together on a harrowing journey.
In 1856, Mormon converts, encouraged by Brigham Young himself, and outfitted with two-wheeled handcarts, set out on foot from Iowa City to Salt Lake City, the promised land. The Martin Handcart Company, a zealous group of emigrants headed for Zion, is the last to leave on this 1,300-mile journey. Earlier companies arrive successfully in Salt Lake City, but for the Martin Company the trip proves disastrous. True Sisters tells the story of four women whose lives will become inextricably linked as they endure unimaginable hardships, each one testing the boundaries of her faith and learning the true meaning of survival and friendship along the way: Nannie, who is traveling with her sister and brother-in-law after being abandoned on her wedding day; Louisa, who's married to an overbearing church leader who she believes speaks for God; Jessie, who's traveling with her brothers, each one of them dreaming of the farm they will have in Zion; and Anne, who hasn't converted to Mormonism but who has no choice but to follow her husband since he has sold everything to make the trek to Utah.
Sandra Dallas has once again written a moving portrait of women surviving the unimaginable through the ties of female friendship.
|Publisher:||St. Martin''s Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.76(w) x 8.06(h) x 0.94(d)|
About the Author
SANDRA DALLAS is the author of eleven novels, including The Bride's House, Whiter Than Snow, Prayers for Sale, Tallgrass and New Mercies. She is a former Denver bureau chief for Business Week magazine and lives in Denver, Colorado.
Read an Excerpt
July 28, 1856
The two sisters leaned forward, their hands flat against the rear of the handcart, waiting, fidgeting, impatient. It was late in the day, and they had been ready for hours, had stood there behind the spindly cart that was piled with all their worldly goods, listening for the command or maybe the sound of the cornet that would send them on their way. Already, the horn ordered their lives, waking them at five in the morning, calling them to prayers twice a day, sounding again at ten at night for the fires and lights to be extinguished. For three weeks, their lives had been ordered by that clarion call, and the sisters thought it had grown a little tiresome. But now the young women strained their ears for the sound, hoping the notes would begin the procession.
“Will the horn start us off, Andrew? Will it, do ye think?” Ella Buck called to her husband, who stood between the two shafts, ready to pick up the crossbar. At nineteen, Ella was the elder of the two women, and taller—an inch taller and a year older than her sister, although the two looked as much alike as two roses on a bush, both plump, round-faced, with hair the color of straw at dusk, hair that curled into ringlets in the damp Iowa air.
“Och! I told ye I dinna know,” Andrew replied. It was the same answer he’d given his wife a few minutes earlier and once before that, and he sounded put out this time.
“Why do we skitter about? We are three weeks late,” Ella continued, ignoring her husband’s tone. “Why couldna we hae left at dawn?”
“I dinna know, I say. You’ve small patience. There’s a reason we haena started. Ye can count on it.”
“What reason?” Nannie Macintosh, Ella’s sister, asked.
Andrew didn’t answer, perhaps because he didn’t know, or maybe he was afraid that his own impatience would show. After all, he had awakened them before the first sounding of the cornet and insisted they eat a cold breakfast so they would be ready to go at dawn. Now, he picked up the crossbar that was connected to the two shafts of the handcart and began to examine it. There was a knot in it, and Andrew told his wife that he hoped the wood wouldn’t split before they reached Zion.
The cart was made of green wood. They were all constructed of green wood, and put together by the Saints themselves. The handcarts were to have been waiting for them when the converts arrived from Europe, but to Nannie’s disappointment, they weren’t, and the men had gone looking for seasoned lumber, only there wasn’t any. So the carpenters among them fashioned the handcarts themselves from the poor wood that was available, made them to the Prophet Brigham Young’s own instructions, to look like the carts the peddlers and dustmen pushed in the cities at home. While a few of the travelers had carts covered with canvas hoods, Andrew had been assigned an open cart with two wooden wheels, some four feet in diameter, with hoop-iron tires. The vehicle was the width of a wagon track so that it could roll along easily on the ruts of the trails. Between the wheels was a sort of wagon box or platform made of four or five planks, about three feet wide and four feet long, to hold bedding, cooking utensils, clothing, flour, and other provisions that Nannie and Ella stored there. The planks were nailed to two frame pieces that extended forward to form the shafts. Fastened to the two shafts was a crossbar. The space between the shafts accommodated two persons, but Andrew would pull the cart himself, while the women pushed. The cart, empty, weighed sixty-five pounds.
Andrew had said that the handcarts were a brilliant idea, proposed by the prophet himself, that allowed even the poorest among them to make the journey to the Great Salt Lake Valley. Andrew, Ella, and Nannie never could have paid for the trip to the Promised Land if they’d had to lay out three hundred dollars for a team and wagon. But a handcart for the three of them cost less than twenty dollars, and what’s more, the church loaned them the money for the journey, which they would pay back once they were settled in Utah and Andrew found work.
It wasn’t just the cost, however. The three emigrants knew that the carts would make the trip faster than any wagon, because the people would not have to worry about livestock—hitching up the oxen each morning, gathering feed, hunting for the animals if they wandered off. Moreover, the handcarts wouldn’t have to carry all the supplies needed to reach the valley, since resupply stations would be set up along the way. So with the other Saints, they could average fifteen miles a day across the thirteen hundred miles of prairie and mountains from Iowa City to the valley. That meant a trip of less than three months.
“But we canna walk all that way? I’ve never walked more than five miles at a time, and down a country lane outside Edinburgh at that. How can ye ask it?” Ella had inquired when she first heard about the carts.
“The exercise and the fresh air will strengthen you,” the missionary speaking to the gathering in Scotland had replied.
“What if I get taken in sickness or break my leg and hae to hirple?”
“There will be wagons for the lame and infirm as well as the elderly.”
“But I’m…” Embarrassed, she looked down at her stomach, which was still as flat as a flatiron.
“Of no consequence, sister. Other women, much further along, have crossed the prairie, some all the way to California. And as I told you, there will be the wagons for those who can’t walk.”
Ella discovered in Iowa City that there were only seven wagons, filled now with supplies and freight, for the infirm among the 650 emigrants, however. Still, Ella believed the elder who had spoken, since this group—called the Martin Company, for its leader, Edward Martin, a Mormon missionary who had served in England and Scotland—was the last of the five handcart companies to cross the prairie that year. The Willie Company had left two weeks earlier, not long after Andrew, Ella, and Nannie arrived. Ella said the shortage of wagons must mean that the elders were sure in the knowledge that few fell sick on the Overland Trail. The Lord would give them strength, a missionary promised her. As Ella stood behind the cart, waiting for the signal to move, examining a splinter that had worked its way into her hand, she thought again of walking the hundreds of miles and hoped the missionary was right.
The sisters heard shouts then, a creaking as the first carts, some lined up on the road, others spread out across the prairie, moved forward in a jumble, cries as parents called to their children, shouts of praise to the Lord, a few prayers. Ella had thought they would move out with a song, a trill of the cornet, a flash of lightning, or a boom of thunder rolling across the prairie, something to herald the momentous occasion, but there was nothing. With no ceremony at all, the first carts began to move, and then the ones behind them.
“Andrew,” Ella called.
“I can see,” he said, although he had been studying the poor piece of wood in his hand instead of watching the line of carts. Now he looked up at the procession of conveyances in front of him, his face as open and shining as the sun above them, and turned to his wife and her sister. All traces of impatience gone, he grinned and called, “Ready to roll on, are ye? Ready to roll to Zion?”
“Aye,” Ella and Nannie cried, and as Andrew strained to push the crossbar, the two women leaned hard against the back of the cart, and the awkward wheels began to move.
Ella and Nannie smiled broadly at each other, and the older girl touched her sister’s arm. “You will love it in Zion. Wait and see. Ye’ll be with God’s people. No one will jeer at us, call us dirty Mormons. We’ll be with our own.” She added, although she should not have, “Ye’ll meet someone there, a man worthy of ye.” And then she repeated, “Ye’ll love it, Nannie.”
Her sister nodded. “I will love it because ye are there, Ella.”
“Ye’ll wear your red shoon, Nannie. Before a year is out, ye’ll wear them.” Ella stumbled a little as the wheel of the cart bounced over a rock, then checked to make sure that nothing had fallen out. She looked up at the dozens of carts in front of them, the dozens behind, and caught the eye of a woman pushing a handcart with a little girl perched on the top, thinking she would remember the woman, remember the day, July 28, 1856. “We’re off,” Ella shouted above the din.
The woman didn’t smile, but she shouted back, “We’re off to the Salt Lake indeed!”
Ella looked again at her sister. “I shouldna hae said that about the shoon. If your boots wear out, ye’ll need the slippers before we reach Utah.”
Nannie shook her head, her round cheeks already red from the exertion. “They’re for my wedding. I won’t wear them until I’m married, even if I hae to cross the mountains barefoot. That’s why I bought them. And if I never marry, why then, the shoon will never be worn.”
Ella turned away, hoping her sister had not seen her eyes cloud over with pity. The shoes had been bought for Nannie’s wedding. She had been betrothed to Levi Kirkwood, a shopkeeper from London. They had set a date, and Nannie had made her wedding dress, gray silk with a sprinkling of red flowers, then lavished a week’s wages from her job as a chambermaid on the shoes, fragile red silk with kid bottoms that would not survive half a dozen wearings. “I’ll put them on for my wedding, then set them away and wear them again on our fiftieth anniversary. Then I’ll be buried in them,” she had told Ella.
And then on the day of the wedding, Levi sent word that he had changed his mind, that he cared for another. Nannie sold the dress. “What does a chambermaid need with a silk dress?” she asked. But she had saved the shoes, the wedding shoes. And she’d brought them with her to America. “I know I’m a bampot to bring them, what with the little we’re allowed to take. But they don’t weigh much, and they take up such a small space in the cart. Why, I could even carry them in my pocket or hang them around my neck,” Nannie explained to Ella.
She did not know until she gathered with the other Saints in Iowa City that Levi Kirkwood and his bride, Patricia, had taken an earlier ship, had waited in Iowa to join the last emigrant train, and now they were part of the procession of carts that made up the Martin Company. Filled with anger and humiliation, Nannie hid her face in her apron when she first saw him in the camp and asked Ella, “Did ye know? I would not hae come.” Ella shook her head, but Andrew turned away, and Nannie saw him look over at Levi, and she realized that Andrew had known. “How could ye?” she asked him, and Andrew replied that it was Levi’s doing, not his.
“Do ye think he shouldna gather to Zion just because he—ye turned him down?” Andrew asked, repeating the bit of fiction the family had spread to save face for Nannie. “Zion is for the sinners amongst us, too.”
“But I would hae waited until next year rather than cross with him.”
“And done what, pushed a cart by yourself?” Andrew asked, and Nannie knew he was right. Although others had made the journey alone, she did not believe she could do it.
“Besides,” Andrew added with gentleness, “Ella needs ye.” And Nannie knew he was right about that, too.
When Andrew questioned the wisdom of putting the shoes into the cart while so many other things had had to be abandoned, Ella told him to hush. “We’re allowed seventeen pounds each, and if Nannie wants the shoon in her poundage instead of tossed in the midden, who are we to say nay?”
The rigid weight limit was a surprise. The emigrants had known at the outset that there would be little room in the carts for their belongings and had been told to pack only what was necessary. Then when they arrived, they were informed that they could take even less than they had expected, just seventeen pounds for each adult, less for children. And the possessions would be weighed to make sure no one cheated. It was for their own good, the people were told. Once the journey was under way, they would be glad for every pound they didn’t have to push across the prairie.
So the pioneers went through their things, casting aside precious items, selling them to the local people in Iowa City at a fraction of their worth or abandoning them at the campground. The sisters sold their small trunk for fifty cents, a bed quilt for a dime, their extra bonnets for a nickel. One of the missionaries accompanying the group paid Ella a quarter for her mirror, which was framed in gold. Then he put it into the supply wagon for the trip to the valley, and Ella brooded that the weight limit didn’t apply to the church leaders. The mirror had been her prized possession, but she had no need to view herself each day after tramping across the prairie.
The sisters pared down their wardrobes, so that each had just three dresses, two for the journey and the third to wear for the handcart entrance into Great Salt Lake City, where they expected to be met by a brass band.
There was not much demand in Iowa City for the Saints’ belongings, however, so what Ella and Nannie and the others couldn’t sell was abandoned on the ground—clothing, china plates and copper pots, volumes of Pilgrim’s Progress and Robinson Crusoe, an ear trumpet, a china dog, a warming pan, a birdcage whose tiny door was open, as if the bird had been allowed to fly off; embroidered pillow slips and striped ticks that were already ripped open, their feathers blowing in the breeze. They might have burned the discarded treasure that the Gentiles of Iowa City were too parsimonious to purchase, but waste was not the Saints’ way, and so they left their things in great piles to be scavenged.
* * *
Nannie glanced over at her sister, who was straining as they pushed the cart up a hill. Ella’s face was red and wet from the exertion, and the back of her dress was stained with perspiration. The dress stretched across Ella’s stomach, gently rounded now, and Nannie thought her sister’s exhaustion was due more to pregnancy than from pushing the cart. She hoped the baby would not come before they reached Utah. “I’ll push by myself awhile,” Nannie told her sister. “Ye walk alongside.”
“I’ll do my part.”
“Of course ye will. But there’s no reason for both of us to push just now. We’ll take turns. Ye walk for a time. Then we’ll trade places.” She glanced at her brother-in-law, his hands against the crossbar, propelling the cart, and whispered to Ella, “And if Andrew disna notice, we can both stop pushing.” The sisters laughed.
Ella took her hands off the cart, examining a blister that had formed already on one palm. “When we stop tonight, I’ll get out my gloves. My hands will be ruined by the time we reach the valley. And my clothes,” she added, glancing down at the dark cotton of her dress. The sisters had hemmed their skirts to above their boots to keep them from dragging on the ground, but already, the hems were dirty. “I’ll rest for only a minute. I’ll catch up with ye.” Ella sat down on the limb of a fallen tree.
Nannie centered herself in the back of the cart. The vehicle really was not difficult to push, and it rode easily along the rutted road. Other carts passed them, traveling alongside on the prairie grass, but Andrew kept to the trail, where the going was easier. He glanced back at Nannie and said over his shoulder, “That was good of you. The baby moves. Ella disna sleep well.”
“She will tonight.”
He turned back to the trail, and Nannie studied his narrow back and lean arms, his body as lanky as a coatrack. He had once been a strong lad, but years of working in a mill had weakened him, and she worried about his lungs. Still, she knew her sister’s heart fluttered at the sight of him, for Andrew was blond and blue-eyed, a fine catch for any girl. He worked hard, too. She had to give him that, although he was a little too pompous, a little too self-important, too ready to make clear that he was the head of his household and would make the decisions. Well, what newly married husband wasn’t? Ella asked when Nannie mentioned that Andrew seemed full of himself. Ella was right, of course, and after that, Nannie found Andrew’s attitude more amusing than annoying. He was like a boy playacting his role as master of his home. Besides, Andrew loved her sister. He loved her so much that he’d promised Ella before they married that he would never take another wife.
The three of them knew about polygamy, had known about it before they agreed to go to Utah Territory. In 1853, not long after they joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, they learned that Joseph Smith had revealed to his people that the Lord had told Mormon men to take second and third wives. Some might have even more. The Lord Himself commanded it of His people, the prophet had said. After all, the patriarchs of old had been polygamous.
Ella and Nannie had been stunned and then disgusted when the news arrived in Scotland, had even considered leaving the church. “The Lord’s way is never easy,” one of the missionaries said after the young women shared their misgivings. “The Lord does not test us with a life of ease.” So many more women than men had joined the church, and it was unfair to deny them husbands, he continued, and without a husband, Ella and Nannie were told, a woman could not rise to the highest celestial kingdom. Besides, the missionary confided, only a select few of the Saints—mainly church leaders—practiced plural marriage, and most of them did it out of compassion, taking up women who were old and feeble. But Ella was not reassured, and when Andrew asked her to marry him, she hesitated, telling him she feared he might someday enter into celestial marriage.
Andrew was shocked—and then offended. The idea sickened him, too, he said. The two of them had known each other since they were children living in a small town not far from Edinburgh, and he had never imagined taking anyone else for a first wife, let alone a second. He told her, “We can be good Saints without living the principle.” The principle, that was what it was called. “Look at the missionaries. They have only a single wife at home,” he added. Still, Ella was fearful and had insisted they wait. Even on the day of the wedding, she was troubled, and so Andrew wrote in their Bible, “My wife is Ella Macintosh. I will take no other.”
Nannie witnessed the declaration, and she knew that Andrew meant what he wrote, and that whatever his faults, he was a man to honor his promise.
He had been the first among them to join the Saints. Like the other villagers, the Macintoshes and the Bucks had attended the Presbyterian church, with its solemn worship and threats of a dour hereafter for the wicked, which included almost everyone. Then two Latter-day Saints missionaries called on Andrew and told him about the new American religion. The church’s founder, the prophet Joseph Smith, had been singled out by the Lord to restore his gospel. In 1823, the angel Moroni appeared to Joseph Smith, a poor farm boy in New York, telling him about the Book of Mormon, the story of an ancient people in America. Jesus had appeared to these believers nearly two thousand years before, but they had descended into wickedness and been destroyed. Four years after he saw the angel, young Smith was shown where the ancient record was hidden. He translated it and had it published in the spring of 1830.
Andrew learned that the prophet Joseph Smith had been martyred. Persecuted by men who coveted the Mormons’ land and belongings, Smith’s people had journeyed to Missouri and Illinois, pursued by mobocrats, as the Mormons called them, who beat them and burned their houses and farms. Eventually, these vengeful men murdered Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum. The Mormons fled once again, under the leadership of Brigham Young.
Andrew smiled when he heard that part of the story, because he knew that without Young, the Mormons might have dispersed, dooming their new religion. Instead, the Lord Himself directed Young to lead the Saints across the Mississippi River and through Iowa Territory, and across the wide Missouri to a place they called “Winter Quarters.” And then in 1847, Young and a few of his followers journeyed all the way to the Salt Lake Valley, which Young declared would be the new Zion. Now, not quite ten years later, the Saints had a kingdom in Utah Territory and tens of thousands of converts, most of them poor, many from the British Isles and Scandinavia, and, like Andrew, Ella, and Nannie, they were being gathered to Zion to join with the Lord’s chosen.
Andrew had studied the Book of Mormon, had been entranced with the story of the Saints, but even more, he had loved the joy of the new religion, the idea that he was blessed of God, and so he had been baptized. Ella joined the church not long afterward, along with the other members of the Buck and Macintosh families, all excepting Nannie, who worked in a hotel in Edinburgh and knew nothing about the missionaries at work in her town.
In fact, she did not know about the conversions at all until another maid told her that Nannie’s family had joined the Saints. Nannie denied it and wrote her parents to warn them that vicious lies and rumors were being spread about them. “Ye must not come in contact with those vile Mormons for fear people will believe ye are amongst them. I write to warn ye that your reputation is in danger. Beware!”
And then she went home and discovered the truth for herself. “Ye, too, Ella?” she asked her sister, for the two had always been close. “Most of all, I canna stand it that ye are one of them.”
“Ye don’t know the blessedness of it. It’s the pure religion our Lord founded so long ago, before it was fouled by the preachers with all their rules and rituals. Come to a service with us,” Ella replied, and Nannie did so, if only to be better prepared to show her sister the error of her conversion. Ella introduced her to the shopkeeper-missionary Levi Kirkwood, an early British convert, who talked of going to America one day. After Levi told her about the teachings of the church, told her as the two walked the country lanes, Nannie, too, was baptized. The Holy Spirit had entered her, Nannie believed, although she might have been taken in a little by the youth and vibrancy of the missionary, so different from the gray-bearded patriarch of the local kirk.
At first, she was careful not to let anyone in Edinburgh learn of her conversion, but she was filled with such happiness that her friends in service at the hotel immediately knew something about her had changed. They wondered if she had become engaged, and indeed, Nannie had great hopes for a life with the young missionary, who told her he had been taken with her earnestness. She confided her desires to two or three girls, admitting to them that she had become a Mormon. Then a maid at the hotel discovered Nannie’s secret and told on her. Nannie was summoned by the housekeeper, who said she would allow no Saint to work in the hotel, proselytizing and corrupting the other maids. “Renounce the Mormons or ye’ll seek work elsewhere, my girl,” she told Nannie.
Jobs were not easily found, but Nannie would not deny her religion. She saw the demand as the first test of her faith, and all but gloried in being dismissed, telling Levi that she’d starve rather than denounce her religion. He praised her for it, telling her he loved her for her pure and noble nature, and then he asked her to marry him.
Unlike her sister, Nannie did not ask her fiancé to promise in a Bible that he would not take a second wife. She believed he was too honorable to follow the principle. Now that she had found him to be false, Nannie wondered if he might turn out to be one of the polygamous ones after all. Perhaps it was better that he had abandoned her in Scotland instead of taking her to America, where one day, she would have had to share him with other women. Of course, she would not have made the trip with Andrew and Ella if she had known that Levi would be going to the valley with the handcart company. She would have stayed behind and come the following year or the year after that, when the rest of her family hoped to emigrate. But Andrew had wanted her to come, had said that she could help prepare a home in Zion for her parents. Ella, he told her, would need her.
Nannie and Levi had not exchanged a word since she discovered he was in Iowa City. She did not let her eyes linger on him if she spied him in a crowd, and because of that, she did not know if he looked at her. But she thought perhaps he did. At times, she felt someone staring at her, but that was foolishness. And so what if he did? He was married to another, a beautiful girl with golden curls, so very fine and fair, with skin as translucent as a butterfly’s wing, but one who was clingy and childish and who did not appear to be up to the journey. While still in Iowa City, Nannie had heard Patricia whine about the hardships. And the real hardships, everyone knew, hadn’t even begun.
Perhaps Levi was sorry he had married Patricia. And then Nannie had the appalling idea that Levi might be considering her for a second wife. The idea disgusted her, but she also found it amusing. She thought of how curtly she would turn him down if he asked. She would tell him she did not fancy half of a man—and half of a very poor man at that.
“I’ll push now,” Ella said, coming up behind Nannie, and because Nannie could see that the carts in front of the train had stopped and several of the Saints were already putting up tents, she agreed. “Ye were lost in thought. What were ye thinking?” Ella asked, taking Nannie’s place at the back of the cart.
Nannie gave a bark of a laugh. “I was thinking, What if Levi Kirkwood asks me to be his second wife?”
Nannie shrugged. “Well, he might.”
“Och! He might. That one will be amongst the first to live the principle, and, dare I say it, three times or four. Ye were right to leave him at the altar.”
That fantasy about just who had forsaken whom at the altar had been repeated so many times by their family that Nannie wondered if her sister actually believed it. No, she decided, glancing around, her eyes stopping on Levi’s wife’s hair shining in the sun. No one would believe that.
* * *
Anne Sully could barely contain her annoyance when she saw that the carts in the front of the train had stopped and the men were putting up the tents. At the rate they were going, they wouldn’t reach the Great Salt Lake until the back end of the year. She had waited for hours for the procession to begin, and now after such a short time, the people were quitting for the night. She and John and the children might just as well have spent the day in the Iowa City camp and caught up with the train in the morning. Now they would need to unpack the cart and build a fire, and she would have to prepare supper and mend Joe’s pants, which the four-year-old had ripped in the first hour of the walk. And she ought to wash out the baby’s dress, which was sour from where Lucy had spit up. The baby, nearly two years old, was blotchy and cranky from the heat and clung to Anne as she tried to go about her chores.
Anne herself, well along in her pregnancy, was tired and cranky, too. She marveled at the other women in her condition who appeared oblivious to the hardships. So many women of child-bearing age seemed to be pregnant, and those who were not had babes at the breast. She was humiliated at having to push the cart like some beast of burden. With every step, she expected someone to cry out “Gee” or “Haw.” Her ankles were swollen and she was afraid she had the beginning of one of the headaches that had plagued her since she was a child. Walking in the dust and heat the next day with the pounding in her temple and the churning in her stomach would be unbearable. On the trail, she had held her handkerchief across her mouth and then a scarf to keep out the dirt that the handcarts and ox-drawn wagons accompanying the Saints threw up, but they had made breathing more difficult. Lucy wouldn’t be the only one to vomit. There were wagons for the sick, but Anne was too proud to ride among the toothless old people, their minds as brittle as the dry prairie grass, who babbled about how blessed they were to be going to the Promised Land. Besides, who knew what she might pick up and give to her children, sicknesses from the dirty urchins whose families had joined the Mormon Church. She had reason enough to fear their illnesses.
“A good day’s start. We travel first-rate,” John said. The obvious excitement he had felt all day now that the handcart migration was under way seemed to have turned into a sense of satisfaction, and he appeared oblivious to his wife’s ill humor. “It wasn’t so hard, was it now, Annie?” He put his arm around his wife’s waist, and despite her annoyance, Anne leaned against him, feeling glad for his strength. He didn’t understand her feelings. He never would understand them.
Now, looking at her husband, Anne sensed that all he felt just then was the joy of going to Zion, just like those other demented Saints. If she complained about the trek, he would tell her she was better off than most, and she was. Many of the women, some with six or eight children or even more, were widows, with no men to help them push their carts. But if she were a widow, she wouldn’t have come to America at all, would she? She would be at home with her children. She wouldn’t be making this ghastly trip across the snuff-colored plains.
Anne put those thoughts from her mind. She and John had argued until she was worn-out, had argued until the day they boarded the ship, and what good had it done? Besides, she had agreed to come on this journey to America, so she must share the blame, although what choice had she had? Only the choice of joining the emigrants or staying home in London with her children—and maybe without them, because John had threatened to take them along. His mind had been made up. He was going to America despite her pleas. Would he really have taken the children? Anne had asked herself that question a hundred times before they left Liverpool and again on the long trip by ship and by train to Iowa City. She didn’t know the answer. Could she have stopped him from leaving with the little ones? No, she knew she couldn’t have. John might have left her with the girls, but he would have taken Joe. John was as stubborn as the missionaries themselves when he made up his mind about a thing. Just look at the way he had defied her to embrace this strange new religion.
Before he met the missionaries, John had never been much for churchgoing. He had attended the Church of England, but that was to please her and especially to please her father. John had been employed in the fashionable gentlemen’s clothing shop in London that Anne’s father owned. At first, he had stitched on the coats and pants and jackets, but he had a way with the patrons, and in time, he’d begun measuring the dukes and earls and even members of the royal family who summoned him to their homes. The clients liked John’s amiable manner, his suggestions for fashions that made them appear a little thinner, a little taller. He convinced Anne’s father to stock accessories and at a huge markup, as well as form an alliance with a boot maker, who paid for referrals. The shop prospered, and so did John, who married his boss’s daughter.
It might have been a marriage of convenience for both of them. The connection certainly was a step up for John and a way to ensure that someday he would take over the shop. For Anne, whose outspokenness and lack of deference to men brought her few suitors, it was a marriage to a temperate and ambitious man and one far handsomer than a plain woman like her deserved. A big man, John had thick black hair brushed back off his broad forehead, a trim mustache, and steel blue eyes, while Anne had a fulsome figure and a placid face that belied her intelligence. Her hair, too light to be brown, too dark to be blond, was so lank that she could only part it in the middle and pull it back into a knot.
But, in fact, the marriage had been a love match between two people who were as complementary to each other as any young couple could be. When the father died, leaving the shop to John, as was proper, the husband told Anne the establishment belonged equally to her. He appreciated her intellect and business acumen and the way she took over the bookkeeping, sending out bills and gentle reminders, ordering materials, haggling with tradesmen and suppliers. Together, they redecorated the shop with dark paneling and gilt embellishments, added a fireplace and comfortable chairs, and offered whiskey and sherry. They set aside a small room where servants and drivers could sit over a cup of tea, instead of waiting outside in the weather. The patrons appreciated the cozy atmosphere, and their attendants, grateful for the rare courtesy the shop offered, took to flattering their employers in their new clothes. Within two years of inheriting the shop, the two had doubled its business. Even after their children came, Anne continued working with her husband, hiring a nurse to care for the little ones upstairs in the rooms they lived in over the shop.
It had been a wonderful eight years, Annie reflected, as she unloaded the cart. At least it had been until the missionaries came into the shop and took advantage of them. One of the men had ripped his coat and stopped to ask for a bit of thread and the loan of a needle. They were so young, so earnest, and the place was deserted that afternoon. So Anne asked John if he would mend the coat himself while she fixed them a tea. And John, good-hearted as he was, agreed. Oh, if only she had given them needle and thread and sent them on their way! Better that a till frisker had entered the shop and taken their money! Anne wondered later if the Mormon had marked John as a potential convert and torn his coat on purpose, because as John stitched, the men devoured her scones and talked about their religion. When they left, they invited John to attend a service.
“Not likely,” Anne retorted as she collected the plates, on which not so much as a crumb was left.
“Oh, I don’t know. I admit to being intrigued with what they said, and they are such likable fellows. What harm is there in going? If you’re right, we can laugh about it later. Won’t you come?”
“I am as I was made. You know right well I do not go in foolishness,” she replied.
So John had attended the meeting without her, for Anne would have none of it. He had gone back a second time and a third, and Anne discovered the Book of Mormon in a drawer in which John kept trimmings. “Surely you’ll not waste your time reading it when there is work to be done,” she said.
“I wish you would come with me and listen to them,” John replied. “I would value your opinion. Their religion throws off the ecclesiastical trappings of the church and lets the Mormons deal directly with God.”
So because she wanted to quash her husband’s interest in the new religion (and because she was easily flattered when her husband mentioned her intelligence, which she knew was her greatest asset), she went with him to the service.
“What did you think?” he asked as they walked home.
“The people are nice enough,” she replied after a time, and held her tongue so that she did not add, “the deceivers.”
“They are. I thought you might like it that the women participate more than they do in the old church,” he said. “But what about the religion?”
“There is naught to it.”
“You didn’t feel the spirit?”
“‘The spirit’? Surely you aren’t serious. If there is a spirit in those people, it is one of fraud.”
“How can you say that?” John stopped under a gaslight and looked Anne in the face.
She could see his disappointment, but she would not be stopped. “You can’t believe their story about God giving a poor American farmer seer stones to read golden plates! It’s a fairy tale. I’ve never heard anything so preposterous.”
“Is it any more preposterous than God giving Moses stone tablets with the Ten Commandments written on them?”
“Moses is in the Bible. Mormonism is foolishness, and I want no part of it.” And she refused to have anything more to do with the sect.
But not so John. Despite Anne’s disdain, John continued to attend the services, and one evening he returned elated, saying that he had been baptized in the church. “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has complete possession of me,” he announced.
“They have snared your soul? You are a Mormon?” Anne cried. “Against my will?”
“It is God’s will.”
“It is demagoguery.” They argued over his decision, John begging Anne to join and save her soul, and Anne ordering John to quit the church for fear of losing his. But after a time, they wore themselves out with the fighting, and they agreed to say no more about Mormonism. John would continue to attend services but would no longer expect Anne to go with him.
That had been an uneasy truce, but one that Anne could live with. Sooner or later, John would see on his own that the religion was rubbish and give it up. But that had not happened. In fact, John began to neglect his duties in the shop to meet with the Saints and even drove away patrons with his proselytizing. She warned him to keep his religion to himself or lose the business. And then one night after supper, after the children were in bed, John sat down with her and took her hands. “I have made an important decision that affects us all,” he told her.
She could not imagine what he was talking about. They had turned the business into a great success, despite John’s recent lack of interest, and the two of them had talked about enlarging the shop, acquiring a new location or perhaps expanding it into their living quarters and moving the family to a new home. Anne wondered if John had found a house for them, hoping that was the case, for she was house-proud and did not want to live forever over the shop. She smiled and waited, thinking that not every husband was as solicitous of his wife and family. This was like the earlier days of their marriage, when John had burst with ideas for their future, telling them to her as they sat in front of the little grate in their parlor. “Well?” she asked when he didn’t continue.
“We are going to America,” John blurted out. “We are going to the Salt Lake Valley. Brigham Young has called the Mormons to gather in Zion.” He trembled with excitement.
“We are what?” Anne asked, barely able to comprehend what her husband had said.
“The Lord has called us.”
“Not my Lord. He hasn’t called me.” She could not stop herself from asking, “Are you mad, John?”
He was taken aback. “You’ll like it. Wait and see. It will be a good life, where we won’t be attacked for our beliefs.”
“You won’t be attacked. I believe no such thing.”
“You’ll come around after you get to know them. They are holy people.”
“I won’t get to know them. I have no use for Mormons. They’re troublemakers. See how they’ve come between us. This is foolish talk. I’ll have none of it.”
“It’s too late. I’ve agreed to go.”
“Tell them you’ve changed your mind.”
Anne was stunned and stood up and paced, going to and again over the carpet. That carpet, a good ingrain one, had been installed not long before the missionaries entered the shop, and Anne had thought then that she could want for nothing more. She had a beautiful home filled with treasures, a good husband and children, and they would be adding to the family in the fall. Anne put her hand on her stomach, where the tiny bit of life was growing. “When?” she asked.
“This year. We embark before the end of May.”
“May! That’s only a month hence!” Anne put her hands over her face and thought, and after a moment, she realized there was a way out. “Surely we can’t leave when I am in this condition, John. You know how hard it goes for me. We must wait until next year.”
“Other women in your state have made the journey. America is a healthy place. And we will be in the Salt Lake Valley before your time. Think of it, Anne. This child will be born in Zion.”
“You would force me to go when I am like this?” She was incredulous that her husband would not take her fears into consideration, would make such a decision without consulting her, without accounting for her feelings. It galled her, too, that he believed she would embrace the religion once they got to America.
John looked down and studied the coals that glowed in the little grate. “No, Anne. I would not force you to go. You can stay here if you like. But I will go.”
“You would desert me?”
“I’d go on ahead to prepare our home. You could come later.”
“By myself? But why must you leave so soon? Stay here one year, and if you are still of a mind to go, I’ll give in to you.” A year, she thought, would be time enough for her to convince him that the new religion was a humbug.
“I cannot stay.” He took a breath, and without looking at his wife, he added, “I have sold the shop.”
Anne’s face went white, and she sank onto a stool, because her legs were too weak for her to stand. “No, you would not have done that. You are just threatening me.”
“I’ve signed the papers.”
“But you can’t have done so. The shop is half mine.”
“It was mine alone. Your father left it to me.”
“Left it to you so that you could take care of me. You said it yourself, that we owned it equally.”
“It was in my name,” he said stubbornly.
The truth of that stung Anne, and she doubled over, putting her face in her hands, but she did not weep. She never wept. Instead, she rocked back and forth, until John knelt on the floor beside her. “Give it a try, Annie. If you don’t like it after a year, I’ll bring you back here. It won’t be so bad, I promise. There is enough money to buy a good wagon and teams of oxen. You’ll be able to take your things—your silver and china, your dresses, the dresser that was your mother’s, the Persian carpets. We’ll be as comfortable as if we were riding in a railway car, and they say the Salt Lake Valley is as beautiful as the Alps. The children will grow up in sunlight and fresh air instead of in a city filled with smoke and rubbish.”
She looked up at John but didn’t speak, and he continued: “The people are the best I’ve ever known. In time, you’ll see for yourself. You don’t have to join the church. I won’t insist on it. There may be others going who aren’t Mormons.”
For days, they talked of nothing else, sometimes pleading with each other, sometimes threatening. They argued over whether the children would go, how much money John would give Anne if she stayed in London. Anne asked how he would drive a team of oxen when he had never even saddled a horse, how he would earn his living once they reached the valley, for surely there was little need for tailors there. John countered each objection by replying that God would help him.
At last, Anne grew too weary to argue. With the shop gone, there was no way she could support herself and the children. And with a baby on the way, she would not be able to find employment, even if she had the skills to work, which she did not. Few tailoring shops needed a woman to manage them. So she gave in. “Not willingly, John, not willingly,” she told him.
He had been grateful, solicitous, had told her he would do everything to ensure her comfort. She could pack her feather bed, her pillows, her blankets and shawls, the carpets, the trunks. He would buy her a sewing machine to take with them, for surely America did not have them, and he would fit up a bed for her in the wagon so that she could ride whenever she was tired. But nothing could assuage her dread.
* * *
They embarked on May 25 from Liverpool, sailing on the packet ship Horizon with a horde of poor converts from the factories and mines, their belongings tied up in bundles. The passengers crowded onto the ship, waving their ragged handkerchiefs at friends onshore who had come to see them off. During the voyage, Anne kept her three children close to her, but at times, Emma Lee, who was six, and sometimes Joe slipped off to play. When Anne complained to John that the children were liable to catch some disease, he soothed her. “It’s no more dangerous for them than if they were at home. Besides, they have the sea air to breathe.” But Anne was not convinced.
The ship was crowded. The five of them slept in a bunk no larger than a small bed at home. To her surprise, Anne found the expedition was well organized. The elders scheduled times for the women to prepare meals of salt pork and boiled beef, hard sea biscuit, oatmeal, peas, beans, rice, and tea, so there was no jostling or arguing over space in the tiny galley. In fact, there was little arguing at all, and that surprised Anne even more. The people were sharing, joyful. They felt blessed that the Lord was sending them to America, away from the filth and decay, the disease and starvation of their homelands, and they did not complain about the cramped accommodations, the rolling ship that kept many in their beds with seasickness. Each morning and evening, they gathered to praise the Lord and sing. The ship’s captain told them he had never sailed with a finer group, that he would always be happy to transport Mormons. Anne had to admit that the Saints were good people, and kind—the women, especially.
“I had my doubts, too,” Catherine Dunford, a convert from Glasgow, said after discovering that Anne had not accepted the doctrine. Catherine had befriended Anne, offering to loan her a tiny volume of poems she’d brought along, a book that Anne later saw lying in a pile of discarded items in Iowa City. “I thought it was nonsense, all that talk about Jesus preaching to the Indians. But the spirit came over me and told me it was the true religion, the one Jesus Himself started. I pray the spirit will move ye, too.”
Anne murmured something unintelligible, hoping the woman would stop, because she did not care to be preached at, but Catherine would not be stilled. “Myself, I thought it was all the strangest thing ever I heard. I don’t question that ye doubt. For the longest time, I wanted to embrace the faith, for my husband had, and he’s a brilliant man. I thought maybe there was something wrong with me. It was only after I stopped trying to believe that the Lord called to me. He did indeed reach out for me. The faith isnae something you accept with your head, but with your heart.”
“It is idiotic. I despise it,” Anne blurted out.
The words did not shock the woman. “I am not surprised at your remarks, Sister Sully. You and your little ones have been taken from your home and are going to a country filled with savages. Since ye are not a believer, ye must hate your husband for it. I advise ye to rest your mind for a while. Do not grieve over your loss, but look on it as an adventure. And do not worry over your lack of faith. If God intends to make ye a Mormon, He will find a way. I won’t speak of it further.”
“You will be the only one.”
Catherine laughed. “Yes, we do preach, don’t we? It is because we find such happiness in our religion that we want to share it with others.”
“But I don’t understand why you can’t be happy with it in Scotland.”
“Because the millennium is near upon us. It is in us to want to be collected to Zion. Every loyal Saint wants to go to the Salt Lake Valley.”
Later, when John pressed her, as he had repeatedly since they boarded the ship, to consider joining the church, Anne repeated the woman’s words: “If God wants me to become a Mormon, He, not you, will tell me.”
The voyage was not a difficult one, with only a little rough weather, and Anne was entranced with the endless sea rolling around her, with the solitude of it, even though she was surrounded by noisy converts. When her children played or napped, she stood at the railing of the ship, watching the waves break around her, marveling at their power to move the ship. She liked staying on deck even when it rained, feeling the drops of water roll over her. Once during a storm, after she had taken cover and was watching the foam that was tossed about in the waves, she saw the sailors raise a sail and listened as one yelled, “Hoist higher.”
“Higher,” the men called to one another across the noise of the wind, “higher.”
An old woman who was nearly deaf heard the shout and cried out, “Fire! Fire!”
A fire was what passengers feared most on a ship, and the Mormons ran out onto the deck, crying out to one another, looking for water buckets, only to learn there was no fire at all, only an order to hoist higher. Despite the panic, Anne found the situation comical, and she could not help thinking what fools the Mormons were.
One night midway through the voyage, she was awakened by Emma Lee, who slept beside her on the cramped bunk, as the girl tossed about and whimpered in her sleep. Anne reached over to still the child and discovered Emma Lee’s forehead was as hot as a stovetop. She picked up the sleeping child and carried her out onto the deck, thinking the sea air would cool her. But the child began to cough and cry a little. “Wake up, Emma Lee,” Anne said to the six-year-old, thinking the girl might have had a bad dream. But the child would not wake.
Anne found water and, using the hem of her nightdress, rubbed it on the child’s forehead, but that did nothing to cool her. “Precious girl, wake for Mama,” Anne whispered. She shook the child a little, but Emma Lee did not respond. Frightened now, Anne asked a man who was standing on the deck, looking out at the ocean, to stay with her daughter while she fetched her husband, then slipped back into the bowels of the ship to find John. He followed her to the deck and picked up the stricken girl, calling, “Emma Lee! Emma Lee!”
The man on deck disappeared and returned a few moments later with two elders. One of them, a physician, reached out and took the child, looked into her eyes and mouth, examined her chest. “We must bring down the fever. My wife will help.” He nodded at a woman who had joined them. Without being told what to do, the woman fetched a pail of water and some cloths and began to sponge Emma Lee.
“I’ll do it,” Anne said.
“Then I’ll pray,” the woman told her, kneeling on the deck. The men, along with John, got down on their knees beside the woman, and although she felt the prayers of Mormons carried no special weight with God, Anne nonetheless was touched by the earnestness of these strangers. In a few minutes, a dozen of the Saints, some in their nightclothes, were kneeling beside Emma Lee, asking the Lord to spare her.
One told Anne that she had saved an apple, which was stored in her trunk. “It might cool her throat. Would she eat it?” Anne shook her head, replying that the child was not conscious. Another brought a bottle of cologne and poured it onto the girl’s wrists, hoping to soothe her. Someone pushed Anne aside and told her to rest while she sponged the child.
Catherine came on deck and gave Anne a cup of water, and when Anne said she must check on Joe and Lucy, her friend told her that someone was already caring for the two children. “Has she been anointed?” Catherine asked. Anne looked dumbly at the woman, not understanding. “Anointed with oil. ’Tis our way. The elders must administer the ordinances.”
Anne looked up at John, who nodded solemnly. “We must do it.”
“Does that mean she’s going to die?”
“Her life is in the Lord’s hands.”
Anne had never participated in such a ceremony before, and she watched dumbly as an elder took out a vial of oil, dipped his fingers into it, then touched them to Emma Lee’s forehead. On board the ship, Anne had heard elders prophesy, knew they told those who were sick that they would not die but would live to reach the valley, and she prayed that someone would tell her that Emma Lee would be all right, but no one spoke. When the elders were finished, Anne sat down on the deck beside her daughter, taking Emma Lee’s hand, and promised the Lord that if He let the child live, Anne would join the Mormon Church. If God would perform such a miracle, then surely that was the sign she needed to embrace the faith.
But there was no miracle. Emma Lee did not regain consciousness. She lay on a pallet on the deck all day while Anne and John fanned her and others took turns washing the girl with cool water. At dusk, Emma Lee died. She did not take a deep breath and expire. There was no rattling in her throat. She simply breathed her last and was still. At first, Anne was not aware that the girl was gone. The breathing had been so weak that she did not realize Emma Lee no longer took a breath. She did not know until John said softly, “It is over,” and tried to raise Anne to her feet.
But Anne would not get up. Instead, she moaned and fell across the child’s body, calling to Emma Lee to awaken, calling God to bring back her daughter. John tried to raise her, but Anne was deadweight in his arms, so he let her lie beside the girl, standing over her, tears streaming down his face. The other women attempted to comfort her, saying that Emma Lee’s death was God’s will and that the girl had gone to a better place. Anne did not reply, only thought that her daughter’s death was not God’s will at all but John’s and that if they had stayed in London, Emma Lee would indeed be in a better place.
At last, Catherine sat down beside her and took Anne’s hand in her own. “We must prepare the body,” she said. And then as if she understood what Anne was thinking, Catherine added, “Ye must not blame him. He is fast bound in misery like ye. His heart bleeds, too. Let him comfort ye.”
So Anne stood up and let John put his arms around her. She reached up and wiped his tears with her fingers and nodded when he said, “I am sorry.” His grief must be even greater than hers, she realized, because he would blame himself for the decision to go to America. But that thought did not comfort her.
There was a ceremony, with the Saints crowded around them, murmuring words of sorrow, and then the child was wrapped in sacking and placed on a board. The board was propped against the railing, and the little body slid into the dark sea. At first, Anne thought the little girl would float in the water, would bump against the ship and maybe even follow in its wake, but weights had been tied to her feet, and the body slipped under the waves.
The Saints dispersed, but Anne stood by the rail, staring at the spot where her daughter’s body had disappeared, stared at it as the ship moved along, and after a while she could not be sure she was looking at the right place. She stood there a long time, thinking she might see some sign of Emma Lee, a ray of sunshine through the clouds, a dove rising from the ocean, but there was no sun. Nor were there doves in the middle of the sea. At last, John led her back belowdeck, whispering that Joe and Lucy needed her. “Think of your other children,” he said. Anne turned away and could never look at the sea again without seeing her daughter’s body sink into its depths.
* * *
Perhaps it was for the best that they were moving to America, Anne thought afterward. She could never go back to London without Emma Lee. A new country, a new life were what they needed to deal with the death of the child. And so she began to look forward to arriving in Boston, to moving ahead instead of going back. She talked to the children about the journey across the prairie, and although Lucy was too young to understand, Joe was thrilled to think he would ride in a covered wagon. Anne promised that he could name the oxen. “I’ll call one Emma Lee—the prettiest one,” he said, and Anne closed her eyes in grief at the tribute to her daughter.
She knew that the other emigrants would travel with handcarts, but not until after they docked in Boston and had begun the train trip to Iowa City did John take her aside and tell her about his decision. “It is not fair for us to journey to the valley in a wagon when others will push the carts,” he began.
Anne looked at him a long time but did not reply.
“The cost of the wagon and teams will pay for a dozen handcarts.”
“What are you saying?”
“I do not believe we can ride to Zion in a wagon like some potentate while our brothers and sisters walk.”
“What have you done, John? Are you telling me that we ought to push a handcart so that we can loan our money to the others?”
John looked away. “Not quite.”
John took her hands. “I’ve given the money to the elders. They asked for it. We have so much, and the others have nothing.”
“You what?” Anne looked at him incredulously.
“You heard what I said.”
“You gave away our money! It wasn’t yours to give. My father left it to us so that we could have a better life.”
“And we will. Wait until we reach the valley.”
“You had no right,” Anne said.
“I have every right. As I have told you, the shop was left to me. If you would only try to understand—”
“Don’t you think I have tried? Don’t you think I’ve asked God why He sent us here, why He took Emma Lee?” Her throat constricted when she said her daughter’s name.
“He’s trying us.”
“You maybe, but not Emma Lee. What right does He have to try Emma Lee?”
“It’s not our place to question.”
Anne looked around at the Saints in the railway car, those placid, happy people who, like John, accepted everything as the will of the Lord. She clenched her hands and thought she would not cry, would not let anyone see her distress. “And how will we return to London?”
John looked at her quizzically.
“You promised that if I didn’t like Utah after a year, we could go back.” When John did not reply, Anne knew he hadn’t meant the promise. “I see,” she said.
“Mama, look at the cows,” Joe said, distracting her. The boy pointed out the door when the train stopped. “Are those like the cows that will pull our wagon?”
Anne turned to John, telling him to explain to their son that they wouldn’t be going in a wagon. “We’ve decided to pull a handcart,” John told Joe. “You and I will pull, and Mama will push, and Lucy will ride on top.”
“We will be the oxen ourselves,” Anne muttered, but John ignored her. “We will walk across America.”
“Can I ride, too, if I get tired?” Joe asked.
“What about Mama? What if she gets tired?”
John looked at Anne, as if he had not thought about that, and she touched her swollen belly. “There will be wagons for the sick to ride in,” he told her softly.
Anne wanted to reply that she was not sick, only pregnant, but too much bitterness had passed between them. She knew that she had no choice other than to push a handcart to Utah. She was pregnant, the mother of two small children, and their money was gone. She was dependent on John for everything, and she must make the best of it all. She must swallow her anger. “We will manage,” she said.
John took her hand and whispered, “I will make it up to you. I love you, Annie.”
Anne was grateful he did not bring up God’s will again.
* * *
Anne’s decision to keep her anger in check had been sorely tried in the days that followed. When they reached Iowa City, they discovered the carts were not ready and that the men had to make them from green wood, a job that put off their departure for three weeks. Anne was vexed, because the delay meant there was no chance they would arrive in the valley before the baby was born. She would not have even the privacy of a wagon, but would have to deliver the child on the prairie, in the shade of a handcart. She had already seen the prairie, so different from the lushness of England.
Just as disappointing was the order that emigrants would be allowed to take no more than seventeen pounds of possessions with them. So she discarded the rug that had been her mother’s and sold the sewing machine they had brought for their home in Great Salt Lake City, both items that could have fit into a wagon but not a handcart. Then she abandoned a trunk of clothing, curtains, her books, the Delft plates, and a crystal castor. When that was not enough, she put aside Emma Lee’s toys, because she knew there was no room in the cart for sentiment. Her two living children came first, and she must use the small amount of space for their necessities. She had hoped to save Emma Lee’s wooden doll, the girl’s prized possession. She and John had bought it for the Christmas Emma Lee turned five, and Anne had stitched clothes for it—a ball gown, a traveling dress. Emma Lee herself had made the apron and put it on the doll for the ocean voyage.
On the day before they left Iowa City, Anne, her hands shaking, set the last remembrance of her beloved daughter on a pile of clothing, hoping that some little girl would find it and love it as much as Emma Lee had. Catherine came up beside Anne to place her own discards on the pile. “It was Emma Lee’s,” Anne explained, her voice breaking. “I’ve packed and repacked the cart, but there is no place for it.”
“What a pity.”
“It’s only a toy.” But no, she thought. It was so much more than a toy.
Catherine bent and picked up the doll, examining the exquisite stitching in the dress, the crude stitches in the apron. “Such a lovely doll. What is her name?”
“Well, I believe I can find a place for Clara in my cart. Your other daughter shall have her when we get to the valley.” Anne looked at her friend wordlessly, for she was too distraught to speak, and Catherine turned away.
Anne stared at the heap of discarded items for a long time. Then her eyes focused on the tiny book of poems that Catherine had placed there, and Anne picked it up and put it into her own pocket.
The following day, Anne spotted Catherine among the Saints waiting to begin the trek, and her heart filled with gratitude for this new friend. She felt her spirits rise a little as she thought of the kindness of other Saints. They might not be her people, but they were her husband’s, and, like it or not, she had thrown in with them. She let herself feel a tiny thrill of wonder as the carts began to move forward and the people called out their praise. And when a woman she had seen on the ship, a woman who had cared for Emma Lee that last day, called out to her, Anne replied, “We’re off to the Salt Lake indeed!” And then she thought how foolish she sounded. Of course, they were off to Salt Lake—the Mormon Zion. Where else would they be going?
Copyright © 2012 by Sandra Dallas
Reading Group Guide
About this Guide: The following author biography and list of questions about True Sisters are intended as resources to aid individual readers and book groups who would like to learn more about the author and this book. We hope that this guide will provide you a starting place for discussion, and suggest a variety of perspectives from which you might approach True Sisters.
About the Book: In order to encourage Mormon converts to emigrate to the Promised Land (Salt Lake City), a plan was implemented by Brigham Young himself: emigrants were outfitted with two-wheeled handcarts. The settlers were then expected to walk, pushing the handcarts, for the 1,300 mile journey from Iowa City. Several "companies," as they were called, completed this perilous trek and successfully reached Salt Lake City. But for the Martin Company, one of the very last groups to leave from Iowa City that year, the trip proved disastrous. True Sisters tells the story of four women, brought together on the harrowing journey of the Martin Handcart Company, and united by the promises of prosperity and salvation in a new land. Through the ties of female friendships and the strength born from suffering, each one tests the boundaries of her faith and learns the real meaning of survival along the way.
About the Author: New York Times best-selling author SANDRA DALLAS, the author of ten novels as well as ten nonfiction books, was dubbed "a quintessential American voice" by Jane Smiley, in Vogue Magazine. A journalism graduate of the University of Denver, Sandra began her writing career as a reporter with Business Week. Sandra has published ten novels, including The Bride's House. Sandra is the recipient of the Women Writing the West Willa Award for New Mercies, and two-time winner of the Western Writers of America Spur Award, for The Chili Queen and Tallgrass. Prayers for Sale was given the Romantic Times Reviewer's Choice Award for Historical Fiction. The mother of two daughters, Sandra lives in Denver and Georgetown, Colorado, with her husband, Bob.
Praise for Sandra Dallas: "With a perfect blend of masterful storytelling, sympathetic and realistic characters and prose as crisp as a Colorado creek, Dallas again spins a timeless tale of love and tenacity, tenderness and redemption. And The Bride's House is ultimately a story of the confines of legacy and the fulfillment that can come when those chains are broken."Richmond Times Dispatch on The Bride's House
"Forgiveness and redemption are the themes of this gentle novel about hardscrabble lives."Kirkus Reviews on Prayers for Sale
"Dallas's terrific characters, unerring ear for regional dialects and ability to evoke the sights and sounds of the 1940s make this a special treat."Publishers Weekly on Tallgrass
A note from the author: As a high school student in Salt Lake City, I was intrigued with the heroic-size bronze statue of a family pushing a handcart that stood on the temple grounds of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I knew that in the 1850s, early Mormon emigrants from Europe had piled their belongings onto these carts and set off on a 1,300-mile trek across the prairie and mountains. Later, reading LDS history, I learned that the journey had been a difficult one. But not until I read David Roberts' critical book, Devil's Gate, did I realize that the Mormon handcart expedition was the worst Overland Trail disaster in U.S. history. As I poured over the accounts of handcart survivors, I was moved by their humanity. I am not a Mormon, but nonetheless, I felt compelled to tell the converts' storiesstories not just about victims but about people who embarked on a venture of joy and faith, people willing to sacrifice everything, even their lives, for God and their religion.
1. What were the driving reasons for Nannie to give up her career to convert to Mormonism? Would you have given up what she had?
2. Is it truly a renouncement of faith for Louisa's family to stay in New York over the winter? Was Thales' reaction unreasonable? What was he trying to prove?
3. Why did Robert and Maud decide to make the trek against their friends' advice?
4. The Saints excommunicate a woman for adultery without a trail, which upsets some of the sisters. Is this a fair verdict? What does this show about how women are treated in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints?
5. Why does the Old Absalom oppose making the trek in the winter when he knows it is against the wishes of the other leaders? Is this indicative of cracks within the group?
6. Is it right for the other saints to profit from Emeline's father when the cart is overturned? Should their need supersede the Mormon value of respect for the grieving?
7. What effect do you think Emeline had on Ephraim? Would he have survived the journey without her?
8. Does Thales have a revelation after he causes his nephew Jimmy's death, or was the humility he shows always a part of his character?
9. What does Anne represent for the other Mormon women? Do they ultimately accept her?
10. At what point would your faith have been shaken?
11. Polygamy is a constant source of stress for the female characters in True Sisters, coming to a head when they arrive in Zion. Do you agree that it was the right decision for Andrew to offer to take Nannie as a second wife? Should she have accepted?
12. Have you ever heard of the Mormon handcart tragedy?
13. Do you feel that True Sisters gave you a good insight into what made Mormonism compelling to the converts? Did they make the right choice to leave their lives in the United Kingdom and make the pilgrimage to Zion?