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Friday, October 29, 2010

Handcart songs

We have all heard "The Handcart Song," and Langley Bailey documented that this song was sung by the Martin handcart pioneers as they left Iowa City to start their trek.  This was a popular song inthe mornings as the company got going every day:

For some must push and some must pull
As we go marching up the hill,
As merrily on the way we go 
Until we reach the valley, oh!

But there were other songs documented by the Hafens [Handcarts to Zion] and others as part of the handcart trek.  "Farewell to thee England" was penned aboard the Horizon.  It is credited to I.E.R.:


Farewell to thee England—bright home of my sires,
Thou pride of the freeman and boast of the brave,
I have loved thee—and never till being expires
Can I learn to forget thee, thou star of the wave.

Farewell to thee England, a long, long farewell,
To every dear scene of my infancy’s hours
Ne’er more shall I roam through each moss-covered dell,
Nor pluck the sweet gems of thy blossomy bow’rs.

Farewell to the England, and farewell to all
Whose love hath yet hallow’d my pathway below,
Though sadly I leave thee, I would not recall
One hour of the past for the present to know.

Though sorrow may cast its deep shade o’er my soul,
When mem’ry recalls one dear form to my mind,
And anguish of spirit which passeth control,
May crush the lone heart where that form is enshrined.

I wish not to linger thy beauties among,
I dare not be false to the God I adore,
Henceforward my lyre to His praises is strung,
And to Him I relinquish those memories of yore.

Yes England, I leave thee, all dear though thou art,
A country more precious lies over the wave,
With hope for thee, Albion, I turn to depart,
God guard thee my country—protect thee and save.

The rose of thy beauty may fade from thy brow,
The day of thy glory in darkness decline
But a halo of splendour encircles thee now,
Which in regions immortal more brightly shall shine.

There are hearts on thy bosom shall hallow thee yet,
There are spirits too noble, and feelings too pure,
There are creatures too worthy for God to forget,
Whose love like His goodness will ever endure.

His blessing be on thee—thou land of my sires,
Thou pride of the freeman, and boast of the brave,
I love thee—and never though being expires
Can I learn to forget thee—thou star of the wave. 
IER  (Hafen and Hafen)

But a couple of songs have more poignant stories.  Robert McBride was the company song leader.  He was from Scotland and traveled with his wife and children.  After the Last Crossing of the Platt River, the snow storm hit, and the Saints struggled to make it into camp.  They were all chilled with the fording of the river.  They then continued on in their wet clothes until the found a suitble place to camp.  A large fire was built to warm the pioneers as the struggled into camp.  Edward Martin saw Robert McBride by the fire and asked him to sing a song to raise the spirits of the company.  He sang "O Zion, When I think of Thee" sung to the same music as "A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief"

O Zion, when I think of thee,
I long for pinions like the dove,
And mourn to think that I should be
So distant from the land I love.

A captive exile, far from home,
For Zion's sacred walls I sigh,
With ransomed kindred there to come,
And see Messiah eye to eye.

While here, I walk on hostile ground;
The few that I can call my friends
Are, like myself, in fetters bound,
And weariness our steps attends.

But et we hope to see the day
When Zion's children shall return,
When all our grief shall flee away,
And we again no more shall mourn.

The thought that such a day will come,
Make e'en the exile's portion sweet;
Though now we wander far from home,
In Zion soon we all shall meet. (Kelly)

This song, and this singing of it is more emotional, because Brother McBride passed away that night.  He was worn down and chilled, and over worked.  Heber, his son, couldn't find his father the next day, and started looking for him.  He found his frozen body under a wagon.  His words were "Oh Father, Oh Father."

There is another story similar to this one.  When the handcart company moved to the cove which is now known as Martin's Cove, they had to cross the Sweetwater River.  There was a similar scene.  Many of the Valley Boys had been in the water for some time, and were trying to warm themselves by the fire.  One of the Valley Boys saw some young somen by one of the fires, and asked if they wouldn't sing a song.  They sand "Come, Come Ye Saints."  At first there were few voices, but as they sang they were joined by more and more voices:

Come, Come Ye Saints, no toil nor labor fear,
But with joy, wend our way.
Though hard to you this journey may appear
Grace shall be as your day
'Tis better far for us to strive,
Our useless cares from us to drive;
Do this, and joy your heart will swell--
All is well!  All is well!

This story is similar to Brother Martin's as one of the young women passed away during the singing of this song.  A Valley Boy said, "She passed away while she was singing."

The Pioneer Saints grew strength from song.  When they started the journey, they knew it would be hard, and they would not all make it.  The Martin Company was caught in the snow, and more deaths happened during this trek to natural causes, than any other westward migration.  Song was used to keep them going, but also to mourn.

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