M. Russell Ballard sums up the overall feeling of what a trek experience should be and what we can learn and apply to our lives: (excerpts from “You Have Nothing to Fear From the Journey” May 1997 Ensign)
“We cannot begin to understand the journeys made by those who laid the foundation of this dispensation until we understand their spiritual underpinnings. Once we make that connection, however, we will begin to see how their journeys parallel ours now. There are lessons for us in every footstep they took–lessons of love, courage, commitment, devotion, endurance, and, most of all, faith. Those 19th century pioneers to whom we pay special tribute never set out to be heroes, and yet they accomplished heroic things. That is what makes them Saints. They were a band of believers who tried to do the right things for the right reasons, ordinary men and women who were called on to perform an extraordinary work. At times, they gave in to their discouragement and allowed themselves to murmur and complain. But ultimately their faith in God and the man they sustained as their prophet and leader prevailed, and they righted their vision and attitudes along with their wagons. In the process they found joy amid the hardships and trials of the trek.
No matter how difficult the trail, and regardless of how heavy our load, we can take comfort in knowing that others before us have borne life’s most grievous trials and tragedies by looking to heaven for peace, comfort and hopeful reassurance. We can know, as they knew, that God is our Father, that He cares about us individually and collectively, and that as long as we continue to exercise our faith and trust in Him there is nothing to fear in the journey.
Let us remember that the Savior is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and there can be no greater promise than to know that if we are faithful and true, we will one day be safely encircled in the arms of His love. He is always there to give encouragement, to forgive, and to rescue. Therefore, as we exercise faith and are diligent in keeping the commandments, we have nothing to fear from the journey.”
Elder Neal A. Maxwell
“Latter Day Saints need to remember that those who live now are being called upon to work out our salvation in a special time of intense and immense challenges. (During) the last portion of The Dispensation of the Fullness of Times. . .great tribulation and temptation will occur. The elect will almost be deceived and unrighteous people will be living much as they were in the last days of Noah. Therefore, though we have rightly applauded ancestors for their spiritual achievements and we don’t and must not discount them now, those of us who prevail today will have done no small thing. The special spirits who have been reserved to live in this The Dispensation of the Fullness of Times will one day be praised for their stamina by those who pulled handcarts.” (Notwithstanding my Weaknesses, p. 18)
President Gordon B. Hinckley said this: “It is good to look to the past to gain appreciation for the present and perspective for the future. It is good to look up on the virtues of those who have gone before, to gain strength for whatever lies ahead. It is good to reflect upon the work of those who labored so hard and gained so little in this world but out of whose dreams and early plans so well nurtured has come a great harvest of which we are the beneficiaries. Their tremendous example can become a compelling motivation for each of us. For each of us is a pioneer in his own life, often in his own family and many of us pioneer daily in seeking to do God’s will and lift and serve those around us.”
Quote by President Gordon B. Hinckley about Martin’s Cove
The Mormon Pioneer Trail is “a trail of tragedy, a trail of faith, a trail of devotion, a trail of consecration, even the consecration of life itself…” Terrible was the suffering of those who came here [Martin’s Cove] to find some protection from the heavy storms of that early winter. With their people hungry, cold and dying from sheer exhaustion, they came up into this cove for shelter. And then they died here, some 56 people. They are buried somewhere in this earth. We stand here with bare heads and grateful hearts for their sacrifices, and the sacrifices of all who were with them along this tragic trail…[May this site be visited by] generations yet to come, who, like we, may bow their heads in reverent remembrance of our forebears who paid so costly a price for the faith which they carried in their hearts.
Elder Boyd K. Packer
It was meant to be that life would be a challenge. To suffer some anxiety, some depression, some disappointment, even some failure is normal. Teach our members that if they have a good miserable day once in a while, or several in a row, to stand steady and face them. Things will straighten out. There is great purpose in our struggle in life”
Pulitzer Prize winner Wallace Stegner describes the handcart pioneers, “In all its history, the American West never saw a more unlikely band of pioneers than the four hundred-odd who were camped on the banks of the Iowa river at Iowa City in June 1856. They were not colorful–only improbable. Looking for the brown and resolute and weather-seasoned among them, you would have seen instead starved cheeks, pale skins, bad teeth, thin chests, all the stigmata of unhealthy work and inadequate diet. There were more women than men, more children under fifteen than either…Most of them, until they were herded from their crowded immigrant ship and loaded into the cars and rushed to the end of the Rock Island Line and dumped here at the brink of the West had never pitched a tent, slept on the ground, cooked outdoors, built a campfire. They had not even the rudimentary skills that make frontiersmen. ”
Quotes from the Handcart Pioneers:
“Our Captains showed us a noble example. They waded every stream, I might say, a dozen times between Iowa City and Green River… Their feet were worn and bleeding, they became exhausted and had to be hauled the balance of the way, some of them not being able to stand. Among these heroic leaders were James Willie, our captain.” – George Cunningham.
“Levi Savage used his common sense and his knowledge of the country. He declared positively that to his certain knowledge we could not cross the mountains with mixed company of aged people, women, and little children, so late in the season without much suffering, sickness, and death. He therefore advised going into winter quarters without delay.; but he was rebuked by the other elder for want of faith…Savage was accordingly defeated, as the majority were against him.” He then added; “Brethren and sisters, what I have said I know to be true; but, seeing you are to go forward, I will go with you, will help you all I can, will work with you, will rest with you, will suffer with you, and if necessary I will die with you. May God in his mercy bless and preserve us. Amen”
Brother Savage was true to his word; no man worked harder than he to alleviate the suffering which he had foreseen, when he had to endure it.” – James and Eliza Hurren.
“It was surprising to an unmarried man to witness the devotion of men to their families and to their faith, under these trying circumstances. Many a father pulled his cart, with his little children on it, until the day preceding his death. I have seen some pull their carts in the morning, give out during the day, and die before next morning…These people died with the calm faith and fortitude of martyrs. Their greatest regret seemed to be leaving their families behind them, and their bodies on the plains or mountains instead of being laid in the consecrated ground of Zion.” – John Chislett, Willie Handcart Company
“We suffered beyond anything you can imagine and many died of exposure and starvation, but did you ever hear a survivor of that company utter a word of criticism? Every one of us came through with the absolute knowledge that God lives for we became acquainted with Him in our extremities! I have pulled my handcart when I was so weak and weary from illness and lack of food that I could hardly put one foot ahead of the other. I have looked ahead and seen a patch of sand or a hill slope and I have said, I can go only that far and there I must give up for I cannot pull the load through it. I have gone to that sand and when I reached it, the cart began pushing me! I have looked back many times to see who was pushing my cart, but my eyes saw no one. I knew then that the Angels of God were there. Was I sorry that I chose to come by handcart? No! Neither then nor any minute of my life since. The price we paid to become acquainted with God was a privilege to pay and I am thankful that I was privileged to come in the Martin Handcart Company.”
-Francis Webster, Martin Handcart Company
The Martin Handcart Company was the fifth handcart company to travel to Salt Lake in 1856. It was preceded by the Ellsworth, McArthur, Bunker, and Willie Handcart Companies. The cost of a covered wagon and team was beyond the means of many Saints in Europe, so the First Presidency of the Church proposed the handcart method as a means of getting more Saints to Zion.
The Perpetual Emigration Fund, established in 1849, would continue to help the poor. The response to the Handcart Plan was so great that there were no handcarts ready in Iowa City, Iowa when the emigrants from the ship Horizon arrived. They left Liverpool, England on May 25, 1856, arriving in Boston Harbor on June 28, 1856. They traveled by train to Iowa City, arriving on July 8, 1856. Because they had to help build their own handcarts, they did not leave Iowa City until July 28th. They pulled lightly loaded handcarts and walked to Florence, Nebraska, where they arrived on August 22, 1856. Here they loaded their handcarts with provisions and left on August 25th. They chose to continue the trek that year, despite the lateness of the season. They would not arrive in Salt Lake until November 30, 1856.
* Approximately 70,000 pioneers came to Utah prior to the coming of the railroad.
* Approximately 6,000 Mormon Pioneers died along the way.
* The trail was approximately 1,400 miles long, meaning there was an average of one Mormon grave every ¼ mile.
* Ten handcart companies consisting of 2,962 pioneers crossed the plains from 1856 to 1860. Of these about 250 (8%) died along the way. Of the 250 who died, about 220 belonged to the Willie and Martin Companies.
* The pioneers tried to average 15 to 20 miles each day. The trek lasted about 90 days.
* The pioneers knew that they were facing death, sickness, Indians, drought, stampedes, and wide open spaces, but chose to come anyway
* They arose every morning at 5 AM to pray, eat breakfast, and prepare camp for movement by 7 AM. The company would halt about noon, for an hour for lunch. When the camp halted for the night, wagons were drawn in a circle with horses secured inside. The horn blew at 8:30 PM, when everyone returned to a wagon or handcart to pray and be in bed by 9 PM.
* Handcart companies traveled light. The carts themselves weighed approximately 60 pounds. The box was 3 feet by 4 feet by 8 inches high. Each cart would carry 400 to 500 pounds; including flour, bedding, clothing, cooking utensils, and a tent. Each person was allowed 17 pounds of baggage; which included bedding, clothing, and cooking utensils.
* Many a father pulled his handcart with his little children in it until the day before he died.
* Three-fourths of the Martin Company were women and children.
* The Willie Company was comprised of 500 persons, 120 handcarts, 5 wagons, 24 oxen and 45 cattle/cows.
* 75 members (15%) of the Willie Company died on the way to Salt Lake City.
* The Martin Company was comprised of 576 persons, 146 handcarts, 7 wagons, 30 oxen, and 50 cattle/cows.
* At least 145 members (25%) of the Martin Company died on the way to Salt Lake City.
The Indians were on the war path and very hostile. Our captain, John Hunt, had us make a dark camp. That was to stop and get our supper, then travel a few miles, and not light any fires but camp and go to bed. The men had to travel all day and guard every other night.
My feet were frozen, also my brother Edwin and my sister Caroline had their feet frozen. It was nothing but snow. We could not drive out the cold in our tents. Father would clean a place for our tents and put snow around to keep it down. We were short of flour, but Father was a good shot. They called him the hunter of the camp. So that helped us out. We could not get enough flour for bread as we got only a quarter of a pound per head a day, so we would make it like thin gruel. We called it “skilly.”
We arrived in Salt Lake City at nine o’clock at night the 11th of December 1856. Three out of the four that were living were frozen. My mother was dead in the wagon. Bishop Hardy had us taken to a house in his ward and the brethren and the sisters brought us plenty of food. We had to be careful and not eat too much as it might kill us we were so hungry.
The first ten years of my life were spent in Tranent, Scotland. Because of being a “Mormon,” I was not permitted to attend the schools, and so I was entirely deprived of schooling while in the old country.
My father was a coal miner and had to be to work every morning at four a.m. Therefore, when I was baptized, I had to go very early in the morning. It was a beautiful May morning when I walked to the seashore. We carried a lantern to light our way. As I came up out of the water, day was just beginning to dawn, and the light to creep up over the eastern hills. It was a beautiful sight.
We arrived in Ogden, Utah, on the fourth day of October, after a journey of hardships and hunger, with thankfulness to our Heavenly Father for his protecting care. I walked every step of the way across the plains and drove a cow, and a large part of the way I carried my brother, James, on my back.
In the latter part of the journey, when our cattle began to get tired and footsore, sometimes lying down, it was a difficult matter to get them on their feet again.
For baking, Mother dug a hole in the ground. The food was placed in a heavy iron kettle with a tight lid on, then set in the hole and covered over with buffalo chips, which were set afire. This produced a nice, even heat, baking the food evenly.
Eva Christine Beck 1864 When we arrived at Hamburg we were met by the missionaries who formed us in a line, each holding the other’s hand, one missionary being at the head and another bringing up the rear to guard us, and thus we arrived at the hotel. The same formation was held in marching to the ship when we departed, lest we be stolen away and sold as slaves
Leaving Hamburg we sailed for London, England, where we were delayed for a period of three weeks while the ship Hudson, was being made ready for the journey to America. It was during our stay in London that I narrowly escaped being kidnapped. We were eating at one hotel and sleeping at another. One day while leisurely walking from the hotel where I had eaten to the hotel where we slept, knitting as I went, a crowd of women beckoned to me and coaxed me into a large room where mirrors were so arranged that I could see no one but myself. Just at this time a band passed by the house and attracted a large crowd, among them the women who had lured me into the room. At that instant, being very much afraid, I made my escape by ducking my head and slipping under their arms. I was later informed that had I stepped upon one of the trap doors, I would have dropped into a dungeon or cellar, this being one of the methods of obtaining slaves to ship to Africa.
On another occasion, a hostile war ship hove into sight and all persons, both passengers and crew, large and small, women, men and children were all rushed on deck to show how many souls were aboard.
Mother kept a small sack always in one corner of the wagon box; it was my duty to keep this filled with buffalo chips for fuel, unless we chanced to find wood or timber; later it was sage brush that we used
Whenever we came to a stream of water, there was always one of the men ready to ride his saddle horse into the river, if his horse had to swim he would return as soon as possible, but if man and horse could wade all of the way across, the company was allowed to march on through. If he had to swim we then made camp, sometimes for ten days, making rafts or floats to enable everything to be taken over to the opposite side.
We had two men from Utah who were our pilots. They had crossed the plains often with other outfitsDanes, Swedes, Norwegians, German, and English, and none of them had ever seen an ox team in their lives. It must have been a stupendous undertaking.
Mother had her photograph picture taken and gave one to each of us, and it was a prize to me, for it was five long years before I saw her again
We had to take a cold water wash for the want of a vessel to warm the water in
There were fifty-eight handcarts, with an average of three to a cart. Our rations when we started was a pint of flour a day, and we had some bacon and soap my feet were so swollen I could not wear my shoes. Then when the swelling went out, my feet were so sore from the alkali that I never had on a pair of shoes after that for the entire journey.
Father was sent to the penitentiary for six months and fined $300 by the enemies of the church because he would not denounce the things upheld by it’s leaders.
To prepare against Indian attacks we had to stand guard about every third day or night around the camp and the cattle. It was quite trying when our turn to stand guard after walking all day.
One half of the train would make a circle to the right and the other half would circle to the left which formed a hollow circle. The inside of the wagon circle was used as a corral for the cattle with the wagon tongues on the outside.
When we were a few days out, a large shark followed the vessel. One of the Saints died, and he was buried at sea. We never saw the shark any more.
we started to travel, with our ox teams unbroken and we not knowing a thing about driving oxen.
The first ten years of my life were spent in Tranent, Scotland. Because of being a “Mormon,” I was not permitted to attend the schools, and so I was entirely deprived of schooling while in the old country
On April 27, 1856, we left Liverpool, England, for America. There was a large company leaving. My mother was not well and was taken on board ship before the time of sailing, while the sailors were still disinfecting and renovating the ship. Here my brother Charles was born, with only one woman on board to attend to my mother.When the captain and doctor came on board the ship and found that a baby had been born, they were delighted and thought it would bring good luck to the company.
We were six weeks on the voyage. We landed at Castle Garden, New York. We were planning to go to Utah with the handcart company, but Franklin D. Richards counseled my father not to go in that company, for which we were afterwards thankful because of the great suffering and privations, and cold weather which these people were subject to. There were many of the company who were frozen that year on the plains.
I was only 13 years old. The company had gone ahead, and my mother was anxious to have me go with them; so she strapped my little brother, James, on my back with a shawl. He was only four years old and was still quite sick with the measles. I walked every step of the way across the plains and drove a cow, and a large part of the way I carried my brother, James, on my back.
We camped on the outskirts of town while Father went on into Ogden to find work. Across the field from where we were was a little house, and out in the yard was a big pile of squash. We were all nearly starved to death. My mother sent me over to this place to beg a squash, for we did not have a cent of money, and some of the children were very weak for the want of food. I knocked at the door, and an old lady came and said, “Come in, come in, I knew you were coming and have been told to give you food.” She gave me a large loaf of fresh bread and said to tell my mother that she would come over soon. It was not long until she came and brought us a nice cooked dinner, something we had not had for a long time. The woman was surely inspired of the Lord to help us, and we were indeed grateful for her kindness.
I used to see other children running along barefooted and thought it would be nice to take my shoes off too. But my feet were not accustomed to such rough usage, and I was generally glad to put them on again. One day while trying the experiment, I wandered a little way from the road and, getting among a bed of prickly pears, was obliged to sit down and take care of my feet while some of the children went to the wagon for my shoes. As the wagons kept traveling on, this threw me some distance behind our team, and I was considerably fatigued by the time I caught up. I think this must have cured me of the desire to go barefooted.
There were a great many ant hills along the road raised to a considerable height, where we often found beads which were, no doubt, lost by the Indians and collected by those indefatigable little workers along with the gravel of which their mounds were composed. If we were hardy enough to risk a bite now and then, we found much amusement in searching for the beads to string into necklaces.
Another favorite pastime consisted of walking far enough ahead of the train to get a little time to play, when we would drive the huge crickets-large, unwieldy insects, if they could be called such-that abounded in some sections of the country, and build corrals of sand or rocks to put them in, calling them our cattle.
Halfway through the Mounts’ journey, the young boy hired to drive their wagon returned to Winter Quarters, leaving Mary’s mother, Elizabeth, to drive the team.
Mother drove the team the rest of the way, yoking and unyoking in addition to her other duties. One of her oxen would never learn to hold back, and when going downhill she had to hold his horn with one hand and pound his nose with the other to keep him from running into the wagon ahead of him, a feat which would astonish some of our belles of the present day, and yet she was reared as tenderly and as little accustomed to hardship as any of them. Many times the bushes caught her dress, and she had no choice but to rush on, leaving it in pieces behind her. I wonder if those coming after her knew what those tattered rags meant.
In the latter part of the journey, when our cattle began to get tired and footsore, sometimes lying down, it was a difficult matter to get them on their feet again.
Fuel was very scarce most of the time, and when we wanted a fire, everyone would go out to gather buffalo chips, and some of the daintier sex, instead of picking them up with their hands, used tongs to gather them with. Before we had gone very far, they got very bravely over this, and would almost fight over a dry one.
It was the custom of the emigrants to gather and carry in their arms, or else in the rear of their wagon, dry sticks gathered from the bushes or else “Buffalo Chips” from the plains for the evening camp fires. “Buffalo Chips” were the droppings of cattle and buffaloes that once inhabited the region in certain seasons of the year, and these “dried chips” made an excellent smoldering fire that gave out a great amount of heat.
My dear mother had a little baby to nurse, and only having half enough to eat and to pull on the handcart all day long, day after day, she soon got so weak and worn out that she could not help Father anymore. Nor was she able to keep up with the Company. Sometimes when we camped, she was so far behind the Company we could not see anything of her for quite a while, so that I was afraid she might not be able to get to the camp.
I have never forgotten how when I, a nine-year-old boy, would be so tired that I would wish I could sit down for just a few minutes. How much good it would do to me. But instead of that, my dear, nearly worn-out father would ask me if I could not push a little more on the handcart.
When one of the teamsters, seeing two buffaloes near the oxen, shot one of them, the meat was divided among the whole handcart company. My parents also got a small piece, which my father put in the back end of the handcart. That was in the fore part of the week. Father said we would save it for our dinner next Sunday. I was so very hungry all the time, and the meat smelled so good to me while pushing at the handcart, and having a little pocketknife, I could not resist but had to cut off a piece or two each half day. Although I was afraid of getting a severe whipping after cutting a little the first few times, I could not resist taking a little each half day. I would chew it so long it got tasteless.
When father went to get the meat on Sunday noon, he asked me if I had been cutting off some of it. I said, “Yes, I was so hungry that I could not let it alone.” Then, instead of giving me the severe scolding or whipping, he did not say a word but started to wipe the tears from his eyes.