The enduring saga of Mormonism is its great trek across the plains, and understanding that trek was the life work of Stanley B. Kimball, master of Mormon trails. This final work, a collaboration he began and which was completed after his death in 2003 by his photographer-writer wife, Violet, explores that movement westward as a social history, with the Mormons moving as “villages on wheels.”
Set in the broader context of transcontinental migration to Oregon and California, the Mormon trek spanned twenty-two years, moved approximately 54,700 individuals, many of them in family groups, and left about 7,000 graves at the trailside.
Like a true social history, this fascinating account in fourteen chapters explores both the routines of the trail—cooking, cleaning, laundry, dealing with bodily functions—and the dramatic moments: encountering Indians and stampeding buffalo, giving birth, losing loved ones to death, dealing with rage and injustice, but also offering succor, kindliness, and faith. Religious observances were simultaneously an important part of creating and maintaining group cohesiveness, but working them into the fabric of the grueling day-to-day routine resulted in adaptation, including a “sliding Sabbath.” The role played by children and teens receives careful scrutiny; not only did children grow up quickly on the trail, but the gender boundaries guarding their “separate spheres” blurred under the erosion of concentrating on tasks that had to be done regardless of the age or sex of those available to do them. Unexpected attention is given to African Americans who were part of this westering experience, and Violet also gives due credit to the “four-legged heroes” who hauled the wagons westward.
About the Authors:
Violet T. Kimball and Stanley B. Kimball spent about fifteen years writing this book. Violet shared Stan’s decades-long interest in the Mormon Trail that produced numerous articles and books before his death in 2003. Violet, herself an award-winning writer and photographer, spent four summers walking and photographing the Mormon/Overland Trail along the Platte River and beyond to California and Oregon.
Violet won the 2001 Western Writer’s Spur Award and two other awards for her Stories of Young Pioneers: In Their Own Words (Missoula, Mont.: Mountain Press, 2000). Stanley won the MHA Best Book Award in 1982 for hisHeber C. Kimball, Mormon Patriarch and Pioneer (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1981). Violet lives in Macon, Georgia, near her children and grandchildren.