Tragedy at Devil’s Gate – The Mormon Trek through the U.S.A.


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„Leave the world and go to Zion!“, the Mormon missionaries had been preaching, since their church was founded in 1830. Where is Zion located? It’s in America! One of the greatest migrations moved in direction of Utah, the new Mormon settlement. Dragging behind them their handcarts, the families had to walk 2,000 kilometers from Iowa City to their Promised Land. For these Mormons, the way to paradise turned out to be a trip through hell.


ZDF, arte, 1998
Length: 43/53 minutes
Written and directed by: Jens-Peter Behrend, Eike Schmitz
Camera: Lars Barthel
Editor: Ellen Bader
Narrator: Christian Brückner
Commissioning editor: Wolfgang Ebert
In the series: Höllenfahrten
German or English version

After a march, full of privation, through morass, prairie, deserts and rapids, hundreds of men, women and children were suddenly caught in a premature heavy onset of winter in Wyoming. Many people die of hypothermia, hunger or sickness. A rescue team from Salt Lake City, the Mormon’s headquarters, saved the survivors near a deep rock gorge, at the foot of the Rocky Mountains, named “Devil’s Gate”.

The privations and strains are recounted by means of survivors’ reports. We follow, in particular, the destiny of a family from London through the eyes of a seven year old girl taken from the autobiographical report she wrote in old age.

The experiences of the Mormon pioneers, exposed to terrible strains on the 2,000-kilometer long migration to Salt Lake City, are looked upon as part of the Mormon holy history. This is why hardly any chapter of American history is documented so extensively as the great exodus of the Mormons. Descendants of the former settler pioneers cross the great plain even today, equipped with only the means, which their grandparents used in those days. Through this ‘initiation’, they re-enact their ancestor’s journey to the Promised Land.