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for people who care about the West

Martin's Cove essay was distorted

  Dear HCN,

I am writing this letter to let you know how disappointed I was to read the article, "This land holds a story the church won't tell" (HCN, 9/30/02: This land holds a story the church won't tell). I might expect such a poorly written article to be found in a scam paper, such as the National Enquirer, but not in your paper, which I have come to value for its well-written, carefully researched and fairly reported articles.

First of all, understand that I am in principle opposed to the selling of national treasures on public lands to private interests. But Martin's Cove, by the writer's own admission, is not a national treasure. He reports that "more then 100,000 tourists reportedly came through here last year, and almost every one was a Mormon." This is clearly an LDS church treasure, not a national treasure, and the church simply wants to be able to fully develop and protect the site so that it may not be sold by congressional approval in future years for other purposes.

The writer is obviously harboring negative feelings about the LDS church and religious faith in general, and has used this venue to vent - although subtly - those feelings by misrepresenting facts. He insinuates that the handcart participants had been driven out of their homes, "during the stormy pilgrimage years, 1847 to 1869." The truth is that the stormy years were in the 1840s, when for many reasons - some their fault, but mostly the intolerance of "uncivilized" people on the borders of civilization - they were driven out of their homes and towns and were struggling for survival.

By the mid-1850s, the people crossing the plains to go to Utah were no longer struggling for survival, no longer running from enemies; instead, they were answering the church's call to gather in Utah. Many left comfortable homes in Europe, against the advice and pleading of family and friends, to answer the call to gather. The Willie and Martin handcart companies were desperate only because they had started late, were indeed poor, and did not want to waste what resources they had staying the winter in a safe place.

The writer's concluding paragraphs, which give a somewhat true, but at the same time somewhat distorted account of the origins of the church, have nothing to do with that church's desire to purchase and protect what they feel is a holy site to them, but have all to do with his disdain for that church.

Fred Ash

Sandy, Utah