If you thought the Mormon pioneering days were over with the coming of the railroad to Utah, you were wrong. Ten years after the transcontinental railroad was completed, 250 men, women, and children from Cedar City, Parowan, Paragonah and the surrounding area answered a call to forge a route to what is now referred to as the Four Corners area in south-eastern Utah.
For short stretches they traveled on already established roads and trails, but the most difficult portion of their trek called for building a road down steep canyons, across slick rock, over ravines, and through deep sand. They crossed an unexplored wasteland, surmounted impossible obstacles, and continued on because they believed God had called them to the San Juan Mission and because turning back wasn’t an option, but certain death.
After a seven year hiatus from writing fiction, a new novel by Gerald N. Lund is being released this month. It is called The Undaunted and is the story of the Hole-in-the-Rock pioneers. “Hole in-the-Rock Pioneers” is a name that originated from the pioneer group that met the harrowing challenge of a narrow crevice in a rock ravine that sent them down a 45-degree plunge over 2,000 feet to the Colorado River.
This was only the first of a steady series of nightmare challenges this group faced and which will break the readers’ hearts. They were sent to provide a buffer between the Indians, the lawless element who hid out in the area and the various Mormon colonies springing up all over Utah and Arizona. This group of pioneers and their trek are especially dear to Lund’s heart, as he and his family have spent countless hours following their trail by ATV, four-wheel drive vehicles, and sometimes on foot.
The men who built this trail did so with picks, shovels, and black powder. Expert blasters were needed and these were provided by men such as Benjamin Perkins, a Welsh coal miner, who began as almost a slave in the mines as a five-year-old child. In Lund’s story, he adds John Draper a Scottish miner with a childhood similar to that of the real Ben Perkins.
The main character in the fiction portion of this book is David Draper, John’s son, who also went into the mines as a child and slowly worked his way up until his mother’s death when he was thirteen and a terrifying situation sent him and his father fleeing to America where John found work in the Park City mines and young David became an express rider.
David falls in love with one of his employer’s daughters and becomes a close friend to the man’s other daughter and young son. When the family who are city people, receive a call to the San Juan Mission, David and John are hired as teamsters and to help the family reach their destination. Soon their involvement goes far beyond the terms of their employment.
It would be impossible to write about a group of people motivated by faith without making an attempt to understand the development of faith, which Lund does well without becoming preachy.
Lund relied heavily on the journals of some Hole-in-the-Rock pioneers for the details and anecdotes he includes in this epic work as well as other historical books and documents which he credits. This was necessary to provide historical accuracy and to reconcile conflicting journal entries.
Lund has a reputation for writing minutely detailed historical novels of great length. I believe this one sets a new record at 804 pages. There are a few tangential episodes I believe could have been shortened or omitted to make the story sharper, but overall the story is a fascinating look at a time and place many people know little, if anything, about. The author tends to repeat a popular device he used a great deal in his earlier The Work and the Glory series and that is calling family councils or “meetings” as the excuse for information dumps.
The Undaunted is broken into “books” covering set periods of time and each “book” is broken into chapters with footnotes following each chapter. I especially liked the footnotes being close at hand as I’m one who tends to skip the footnotes stuck at the back of a book or forget what they specifically pertain to. The footnotes provide fascinating bits of history and are enjoyable in their own right.
The main characters are well-developed and show realistic growth throughout the book. There are strong secondary characters who are distinct individuals who almost run away with the reader’s loyalty. They are a delight.
Each of the “books” within the novel carries forward its own plot, though they combine to accomplish the overall design of the story. Some of the sections touched me more deeply than others such as the stark conditions, child labor, and slave-like conditions in the mines in Scotland and Wales and the last hurdle the pioneers faced as they forced their exhausted, lame animals over the last slick rock mountain.
The story of cutting a road down the Hole in the Rock cleft has been told many times, and it was an incredible accomplishment, but Lund makes clear that the remarkable trail cut then was only the beginning of the hardships and obstacles the group faced. Jens Nielson, whose feet were crippled during the Willie Handcart Company experience, was among those who were also called to the San Juan Mission. He said, “As extreme as the handcart ordeal was, the trek through the Hole-in-the-Rock was more severe.
I wound up with bruises on my arms from attempting to hold the oversized advanced reading copy of The Undaunted while I read it, but I consider that a small price to pay for the privilege of reading about a group of people who never gave up, who answered a call and rose to the challenge when they knew they were leaving a good life for one of great privation, and who willingly placed their lives on the line to secure the more comfortable lives of others. Other writers have written about this stalwart group and perhaps they wrote as well or even better than Lund, but none have been more thorough or allowed as much faith and testimony to shine between the lines. The Undaunted is a remarkable work.
Gerald N. Lund served as a member of the Second Quorum of the Seventy in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from 2002 to 2008. He holds B.A. and M.S. degrees from Brigham Young University and also did additional graduate work at Pepperdine University and the University of Judaism in California. He worked for the Church Education System for 35 years as a teacher, a curriculum writer, and zone administrator. A prolific author of both doctrinal works and fiction, he is best known for his historical novels: The Work and The Glory series, Fire of the Covenant, and The Kingdom and the Crown series. He and his wife, Lynn, are the parents of seven children and live in Alpine, Utah.
THE UNDAUNTED: The Miracle of the Hole-in-the-Rock Pioneers by Gerald N. Lund, published by Deseret Book, hardcover, $34.95