Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Martin Handcart Company: The Deaths of Elizabeth, Betsy, Baby Sarah and Sarah Ann Barlow Ashton; 1856 Martin Handcart Company

The Book, "Our Pioneer Heritage" published by Daughters of the Utah Pioneers in 1973 and compiled by Kate Carter, reports on the death of Betsey.  It includes a sentence about the death of Elizabeth Ashton.  "While at sea the youngest sister, Elizabeth Ann died and was buried near Cuba."  (volume 16 p.445) This is in conflict with the historical journal made of the voyage, which was kept by John Jaques, and published in 1978 as part of "Life History and Writings of John Jaques" put together by his granddaughter Stella Jaques Bell and published by Ricks College Press.  It reports that the Horizon traveled the northern route, close to Nova Scotia, not Cuba.  It records the death of Elizabeth in this fashion.  "Wed. 2: [July] Up at 4.  Remaining luggage taken to the R.R. depot b 9 a.m.  Left Boston for Albany about 11 1/2.  Child died before we left the ship, Brother Ashton's, about nine years old, about 9 a.m." (Bell, p 105) Again we know that this record is not completely accurate.  Elizabeth was listed as two years old on the ship roster.  However the circumstances of this loss are particularly devastating.  The family lost its youngest member, and did not have time or circumstance to provide a proper burial, or to adequately say goodbye.  On the journey west, often you left loved ones behind with no hope of seeing their grave site again.  The family only had a couple of hours after Elizabeth's death, to be at the train station.
These records both record the deaths of Betsy's mother, and new born baby sister.  "She lost her mother by death in child-birth near Florence, Nebraska.  The infant also died and was buried with his mother."  (DUP p 445)  According to the Bell history, Sarah Barlow Ashton did passed away at Cutler's Park, one day past Florence Nebraska shortly after child-birth.  However the baby lived for two weeks, before also passing away.  John Jaques apparently does not document this passing.  His own wife was also having a baby at this time.  Bell inserts the writings of Patience Rosza, John Jaques' sister-in-law who mentions the passing of Sarah Ashton.  "My sister got through her confinement quite well, but another poor Sister Ashton died there that night as soon as her child was born, leaving the new born babe and three children and her husband." (Bell p 129)  This was August 26.
John Jaques does record in the official history the death of the new born baby Sarah Ann Ashton. "Thurs. [September] 11: Started in the morning and traveled about 9 miles on a dry creek, though so dry as not to be running.  Here were the graves of two men and child, belonging to Col. A.W. Babbitt's wagons, killed on August 25th b the Cheyenne Indians.... Here we buried the infant of the late Sister Ashton who died of childbirth at Cutler's Park the night of August 26th."  (Bell p 135)  The summary of the deaths indicates the baby was "buried by Wilson baby and two teamsters of Colonel Babbitt, 9 miles west of Prairie Creek.
The DUP record says this about William Ashton dropping out of the company.  "In a few days her father became discouraged and left Betsey, her sisters, Sarah and Mary with the company, and returned to New York, later to England." (DUP p 445)
The record of John Jaques does not document William Ashton leaving the company.  However through the research of Donna Olsen, finding the enlistment records of William Ashton, we know he enlisted at Fort Laramie and served five years in the infantry.
The threee girls were left in the care of others of the handcart company.  "The company was good to these three little girls.  Betse with her sisters walked day after day.  They suffered greatly from food shortage and lack of warm clothes as the had planned to reach Utah before the cold and storms came in the fall." (DUP p 445)
The diary of John Jaques does not record anything after the last crossing of the Platte, and therefore does not document Betsey's death.  The DUP record documents it in this manner.  "Betsey was never to see Utah as she became ill from lack of food and while the company was camped by the North Platte River on the plains of Wyoming, she froze to death."  (DUP p 445) The handcart company was camped at Red Buttes, which was the last camp before leaving the North Platte River for over a week.  It was there that the rescuers found them, and got them moving again, towards wagons waiting at Devil's Gate.
Mary Ashton Wardle
Sarah Ashton Beckstead on left
Betsey's sisters Sarah and Mary survived the Journey.  Mary is my great-great grandmother.


  1. Hello,

    Sarah Ellen Ashton is my great great grandmother. She married Thomas Wesley Beckstead. Can you tell me who the two other people are in the picture?

    1. I know they are her daughter and granddaughter who married a Wardle.

    2. I checked to make sure. The note with the picture says Aunt Sarah Beckstead and her daughter and granddaughter.

    3. The picture is of three generations. Sarah, her daughter Estelle Beckstead, and her daughter Mary Hoefler. Estelle is my 2nd great grandmother and Sarah ny 3rd great grandmother. Mary is an aunt.

    4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Thank you! If you ever come up with names let me know. I can make guesses but it may not be accurate.

  3. I love reading these accounts. My 3rd and 4th great-grandmothers were in the Martin Handcart Company. My 4th great-grandmother was Ann Crompton Barlow. I don't know if she is any relation to the Sarah Barlow mentioned in this story. Very interesting accounts. Thank you for publishing them.