“Did His Faith or Hope Ever Dim?”
Look at this stump and tell me what you see;
It is a simple reminder of what is in you and me.
A young man passed this way a very long time ago,
And chopped down its tree when it was covered with snow.
But before his journey reached this place, he dreamed of a better way to live,
So he worked hard and prepared for the greatest gift he would ever give.
For a place called Zion he left his homeland and family;
The only way was by handcart and step by step to the Valley.
He must have been strong; he faithfully pulled more than his share.
After many miles, more was added to his already burden to bear.
His compassion for a young man whose journey was sure to end,
In the bed a handcart, he was carried by a true friend.
But his valiant spirit and strength would be tested once more,
Broken wheels, falling snow, and death lingering at every door.
I wonder, at those moments, …Did his faith or hope ever dim?
Did he know that we were watching from above and praying for him?
And now, this incredible journey had brought him to this tree,
His great courage to go on should be a guide to you and me.
He used all the strength his ravaged body could give,
So that others could find comfort as they struggled just to live.
Starved of body, and of spirit, and frozen to the core;
He could think only of his Savior and for him what He bore.
He would have been justified to lay his life down in the snow,
But his great legacy of love and sacrifice, we would never know.
Just as we have been blessed, WE must teach our posterity,
And may this stump be OUR symbol as we build our family tree.
Isaac John Wardle lived a hard life, and so it stands to reason that he would have been a hardened man. However I recently saw a picture of him taken in his older years, with his two surviving wives. He appeared laid back, not hard at all.
Isaac’s bishop would write to him while he was on his mission, and contradict the notion that Isaac was hard. “Isaac, I miss you in our Councils, our labors, and as a brother neighbor and a friend. But neither I nor your family would recall you, but we pray for you. God bless you. You will return safe. When I penned your name above, and these five lines above, the tears drop; and I am unable to see clear. I feel for one of the Brethren that has been a great help to me in the Branch and in the Ward.” (Bills)
Isaac had every right to be hard. He was born into poverty, a working class family in England. At age seven he was put to work, and by age nine was working in the coal mines. He continued in this industry through most of his youth. He immigrated as a young man to Utah, with the Martin Handcart Company, which is also known as the “frozen handcart company.” On this trip he was called upon to dig graves for those who had passed away. He pulled in his handcart, Langley Bailey who was sick. This journey, in his life was “…a symbol of faith and dedication.” (The Mormon Pioneer Trail)
He served with the Valley Boys of the Nauvoo Legion, helping to defend Salt Lake Valley against Johnston’s Army. He helped to found the community of South Jordan. He was a sheep farmer. He was a polygamist, and when the federal government decided to pursue polygamist as criminals, he was persecuted and sought by them, and one time arrested. He fulfilled a mission to his native England, and received an honorable release. He returned home early due to health considerations.
But the pictures we have of Isaac, contradict his hardness, and show him as a family man, a church man. He was the father of 15, by three different wives. He was devoted to his family; such that he would leave his community, before leaving his wives.
President Hinckley expressed, “It is good to look to the past to gain appreciation for the present and perspective for the future. It is good to look upon the virtues of those who have gone before, to gain strength for whatever lies ahead.” (Hinckley 2)
Annually, usually in late July, saints in local congregations take up the song honoring their pioneer ancestors:
They, the Builders of the Nation,
1. They, the builders of the nation,
Blazing trails along the way;
Stepping-stones for generations
Were their deeds of ev’ry day.
Building new and firm foundations,
Pushing on the wild frontier,
Forging onward, ever onward,
Blessed, honored Pioneer!
2. Service ever was their watchcry;
Love became their guiding star;
Courage, their unfailing beacon,
Radiating near and far.
Ev’ry day some burden lifted,
Ev’ry day some heart to cheer,
Ev’ry day some hope the brighter,
Blessed, honored Pioneer!
3. As an ensign to the nation,
They unfurled the flag of truth,
Pillar, guide, and inspiration
To the hosts of waiting youth.
Honor, praise, and veneration
To the founders we revere!
List our song of adoration,
Blessed, honored Pioneer! (Hymns #36 Text: Ida R. Alldredge)
To Mormons, the pioneer trek is a symbol of faith. “Close to the heart of Mormondom, as close as the beehive symbol of labor and cohesiveness that decorates the great seal of Utah, is the stylized memory of the trail. For every early Saint, crossing the plains to Zion in the Valleys of the Mountains was not merely a journey but a rite of passage, the final, devoted, enduring act that brought one into the Kingdom. …The shared experience of the trail was a bond that reinforced the bonds of the faith; and to successive generations who did not personally experience it, it has continued to have sanctity as legend and myth. (Stegner 1)
At the dedicatory prayer for the plaque in Martin’s Cove, speaking of the pioneers, President Hinckley prayed:
Father, we are so grateful for their faith, their faith in Thee and in Thy Beloved Son, their faith in the Prophet Joseph Smith and Thy work which was restored through him. They left their native land, England, to find refuge where they could worship according to their conscience with their associates in the Salt Lake Valley. Great was their suffering and terrible their tragedy. (Riverton, Hinckley dedicatory prayer)
This history will try to portray, in some modest way, Isaac’s life, and the circumstances surrounding it. Isaac did not write a lot, but we do have a few of his words. He wrote a couple brief histories, and several letters. Also a few histories were written about him. Some of these histories were written by people who knew him, and heard him tell his story. A few of Isaac’s experiences were noted in newspapers; but for the most part, his was a quiet life, a devoted life. He devoted his life to his church and to his family.
Perhaps his faith can help us today in our struggles. We don’t have to pull a handcart. We don’t have to escape federal marshals. We don’t have to face an army of two thousand men. But we do face trials. Neal A. Maxwell said, “Though we have rightly applauded our ancestors for their spiritual achievements (and do not 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 time of challenges and who overcome will one day be praised for their stamina by those who pulled handcarts.” (Maxwell) My goal in putting together this history is so we can take faith from those who have gone before, and use that faith to help us in our struggles day to day.