After going through this ordeal, they were again met with fires built. The rescuers also had meals prepared. All the rescuers had moved forward with the exception of one team and men who spent their time, “hauling from the hills the ceader and the pine wood to the Stockade and clearing the snow off so the emigrants could be comfrtable when they arived. For Several days we made every effort possible to get things in good shape.” (Cluff, Church History) They were rewarded when the handcart pioneers arrived:
But Oh! what a sight to see. Aged men, women, children and young maidens plodding along through the snow several inches deep with icicles dangling to their skirts and pants as they walked along pushing and pulling their handcarts, the wheels of which were burdened with snow. The roaring fires of cedar and pitch pine wood soon cheered the weary souls and the youthful of both sexes were singing the songs of Zion arround the campfires. (ibid)
Harvey Cluff, one of the rescuers gave a very good description of Devil’s Gate, where the handcart pioneers would stay a couple of days:
Devil’s Gate is formed by the Sweetwater river cut through a mountain of granite rock 1000 feet in length 130 feet wide with perpindcular walls of 400 feet in hight. Irregular ranges of low hills or mountains dot the irregular plains. The hills are covered sparcely with ceadere and scruby pitch pine timber. The plains formely were pasture for buffalow, deer and antelope, but those animals except an occasional antelope had gone to other parts. Fort Devils Gate consisted of a small Stocade and a few log houses. located on a plane near where the river enters the deep gorge through the mountains. (Cluff, Church History)
Devils Gate had several crude log structures. One of these was knocked down to provide wood for fires. “Part of the stockade was cut down to burn, and the other part was left to shelter us from the piercing cold.” (Mattinson, CH) Sister Loader Archer told this story in this fashion:
Brother George Grant was there[.] he told us all to Stand back for he was going to Knock down one of those log hutts to make fiars for us for he sais you are not going to freeze to night[.] now he called out again Stand back and said this night I have the strength of a grant [giant.] I never fealt So strong before in my life and at once he raised his axe and with one blow he Knocked in the whole front of the building[,] took each log and Split in four peices[,] gave each family one peice[.] (Archer, CH)
One sister described her husband’s burial at Devil’s Gate, when the ground was frozen. “My husband [William Walsh] died and was buried at or near Devil’s Gate and the ground was frozen so hard that the men had a difficult task in digging the grave deep enouhgh [enough] in which to inter him, and several nine others that morning, and it is more than probable that several were only covered over with snow.” (Strong, CH)
The weather continued cold, between ten and twenty degrees below zero (See Cluff, CH) and snow prevented any further travel. George Grant sent two riders to Salt Lake, Joseph Young and Cecil Gurr to encourage other rescuers to come up and meet them, but also to inform Brigham Young of the current conditions. His letter gave a classic description of the handcart company:
You can imagine between five and six hundred men, women and children, worn down by drawing hand carts through snow and mud; fainting by the way side; falling, chilled by the cold; children crying, their limbs stiffened by cold, their feet bleeding and some of them bare to snow and frost. The sight is almost too much for the stoutest of us; but we go on doing all we can, not doubting nor despairing.
Our company is too small to help much, it is only a drop to a bucket, as it were, in comparison to what is needed. I think that not over one-third of br. Martin's company is able to walk. This you may think is extravagant, but it is nevertheless true. Some of them have good courage and are in good spirits; but a great many are like children and do not help themselves much more, nor realize what is before them.
I never felt so much interest in any mission that I have been sent on, and all the brethren who came out with me feel the same. We have prayed without ceasing, and the blessing of God has been with us.
Br. Charles Decker has now traveled this road the 49th time, and he says he has never before seen so much snow on the Sweet Water at any season of the year.
...We will move every day toward the valley, if we shovel snow to do it, the Lord helping us. (Grant, Church History)
Brother Decker is quoted differently by Dan Jones. “I remember hearing Charles Decker remark that he had crossed the plains over fifty times (carrying the mail) and this was the darkest hour he had ever seen.” (Jones) The Zanesville Gazette quoted the St Louis Evening News:
At the time they were met by the officers of Fort Laramie, they were suffering beyond measure for want of provisions and on account of the cold—They were badly clothed, and in consequence of the hardships many of them were dying; in one camp they buried 15 in one day. The mode of burial, since they cannot dig the frozen ground, is to lay the bodies in heaps and pile over them willows and heaps of stones. Gov. Brigham Young, learning something of their condition, dispatched some men and provisions to their relief, but these were met by the mail party returning to the city again, having been turned back by the violence of the storm they encountered. What the poor creatures will do, and what will become of them, it is hard to tell. (Zanesville Gazette, Church History)
During this period some of the oxen, as well as the cattle also died. They were used for food. “The oxen began to die and then was di[s]tributed among the people[,]rawhide and all[.](McBride, Heber, CH 1) John Watkins described an incident where he and two others, a sister and a brother, when to butcher an ox that had been left behind. They arrived back early in the morning, worn down from their efforts. Because the other brother was so exerted, he was not able to hide his share, and consequently the whole camp had meat that day, albeit of poor quality. (See Watkins, CH.)
After the weather turned cold, the men had begun to slowly wear down. Sister Strong summarized:
The weather after leaving Laramie became very cold at nights, and the hardship on the men having to stand guard six hours every other night was beyond human endurance. Our rations had to be cut down both for adults and children and the clothing of both sexes becoming in-sufficient for the healthful warmth of our bodies. Arriving at Devils-Gate about the first of Nov. on account of the nightly fatalities of the male members of our company, for two or three weeks previously, there were many widows in our company and the women and children had to pitch and put up the tents, shoveling the snow away with tin plates etc, making our beds on the ground and getting up in the morning wet with melted snow and lie on our clothing. This hard service continued with all that were able to endure it till we nearly reached the South Pass… During these times we had only a little thin flour gruel two or three times a day, and, this was meager nourishment for a mother with a nursing baby. (Strong, CH)
At the Sweetwater
After it became obvious that the party would not be able to travel for several days because of the extreme cold a ravine, which would provide some protection from the weather, and close to the mountains where firewood would be available was scouted, and it was determined to move the handcart company there. This was a ravine where the rescuers had camped a few days before and was described as “a lovely cove in the mountain across from the fort where we had plenty of fuel and forage for animals.” (Cluff, CH) This ravine would become known as Martin’s Cove or Ravine.
There were not enough cabins at Devil’s Gate to provide protection for but a few from the wind. “Cold continued very severe. People could not move; stowed away the goods of the trains in the houses. Capt. Martin’s camp moved 3 miles and camped.” (Burton, CH 1) There was also a lack of wood for their fires:
THE winter storms had now set in, in all their severity. The provisions we took amounted to almost nothing among so many people, many of them now on very short rations, some almost starving. Many were dying daily from exposure and want of food. We were at a loss to know why others had not come on to our assistance.
The company was composed of average emigrants; old, middle-aged and young; women and children. The men seemed to be failing and dying faster than the women and children.
The hand-cart company was moved over to a cove in the mountains for shelter and fuel; a distance of two miles from the fort. (Jones, Dan)
To escape the wind, Nov 4 the Martin Company moved to Martin’s Cove or Ravine. And thus came into play one of the most dramatic scenes of the handcart trek. For the handcart company to reach this ravine, they would have to ford the Sweetwater River. This river isn’t very wide, but at this time there were ice chunks in the water, and the pioneers would have to go with the stream for a time because of the steepness of the opposite bank, making the ford longer than going straight across. A pioneer commented, “It was decided that morning that we should cross the Sweet Water. and go into what is known as Martin's ravine, as there was some cedars for fuel. (Jones, Sam, CH)
John Jaques described his experience this way, talking in the third person about himself, the man pulling the cart:
In that rear part of the company two men were pulling one of the handcarts, assisted by two or three women, for the women pulled as well as the men… One of those men, who was much worn down, asked, in a plaintive tone, “Have we got to go across there?” On being answered yes, he was so much affected that he was completely overcome. That was the last straw. His fortitude and manhood gave way. He exclaimed, “O dear? I can’t go through that,” and burst into tears. His wife, who was by his side, had the stouter heart of the two at that juncture and she said soothingly, “Don’t cry Jimmy. I’ll pull the handcart for you.”
He rolled up his pants as high as he could, pulled off his stockings and boots which he had happened to receive at Greasewood Creek, put on a pair of old shoes he carried with him, and all alone went into the river with naked legs and with his cart laden with pots and kettles. I was easy enough to go into the river, but not so easy to pull across it and get out again…. When in the water the narrow felloes of the cart wheels cut into the soft bottom of the river bed and he soon got stalled. Two of the “boys” in the water went to his help… So hard was the tugging at the cart that it required the utmost combined strength of the three to take the vehicle through to dry land. While in the river the sharp cakes of floating ice below the surface of the water struck against the bare shins of the immigrant inflicting wounds which never healed until he arrived in Salt Lake and the dark scars of which he bears to this day. (Bell)
As they crossed the river, they were assisted by the boys from the Valley. “The brave boys from the valley, under George D. Grant carried the women and children over the Sweet Water river, but the men and able bodied had to wade and take the handcarts with them. The water and ice took me up to the waist, and the clothes had to dry on me. That was a terrible night.” (Jones, Samuel, CH)
These descriptions of the crossing have been left for us:
The creek here was at least two rods wide, and from two to three feet deep, with plenty of ice and snow, so as to carve the recollection forever in the minds of all that waded that stream. Our few wagons helped to carry all the children they could, the aged and worn out, and many a child was pulled across in the father's covered cart, but we had one hero on this occasion, whose name deserves to be chiseled on the pedestal of the throne in heaven, and that was Daniel H. Grant, the son of General D. Grant of Farmington, Utah, about 18 or 21 years of age, who jumped into that cold, icy stream, and for nearly two hours carried across on his back, with their arms clasped around his neck, fully 150 children, young ladies and the aged of box [both]sexes. When we were all across, he walked in his suit of ice some two and a half miles to the camp at the Gate, where his father did all possible for him that night, but he told me ten or twelve years afterward in Utah that his services that day in the Sweetwater had made him an invalid for life and a permanent rheumatic, and so far as health and strength, a ruined man. (Rogerson, CH)
The crossing of the Sweet Water near this point proved a terrible ordeal to the weary travelers, standing, shivering with cold, on the river bank. They watched the huge pieces of ice floating down stream. The water at this crossing was about two feet deep and in other places still deeper. In spite of the cheering information that this was the last river they would have to ford, it seemed impossible for the emigrants in their weakened condition to make the attempt. At the prospect before them not only women and children wept but even strong men shed tears freely….David P. Kimball, George W. Grant and C. Allen Huntington of the relief party entered the icy stream determin[e]d to save life. They waded back and forth helping the hand carts through and carr[y]ing the women and children ac[r]oss the river. Hour after hour they worked incessantly until just as darkness closed in upon them all the company had passed over. (Loynd, CH)
…The north wind blowing hard and cold but the men came and took the tent down and fixed our load on our cart and they went ahead and broake the road[.] went about 2 miles and turend and crost s[w]eetwater[.] when we saw that we felt very bad to think we had to ford that stream and I dont think we could have made it in our week[e]ned condition but when we got there we was very much suprised for there were some men there[.] they carried us across[.] (McBride, Heber, CH 1)
I fealt that I could still walk if I did not have the cart to pull[,] but oh what a dissapointment[,] the next morning we faunt [found] it was only those could ride that was to[o] sick and weak to pull there carts and so we girls all pretty well in health[,] we had to start out with our cart again[.] as we started out from camp[,] there was quite a nomber of the breathren from the valley standing in readyness to help us across the stream of water with our cart[.] I was feeling somewhat bad that morning and when I saw this Stream of water we had to go through I fealt weak and I could not Keep my tears back[.] I fealt ashamed to let those breathren see me shed[d]ing tears[.] I pulled my old bonnet over my face as thay should not See my tears[.]
there was three brave Men there in the water packing the women and children over on there backs[.]…those poor breathren was in the water nearly all day[.] we wanted to thank them but thay would not listen to My dear Mother fealt in her heart to bless them for there Kindnes[.] she said God bless you for taking me over this water and in such an awfull rough way[.] oh D –m that[!] I dont want any of that[.] you are welcome we have come to help you[.] Mother turned to me saying what do think of that man[?] he is arough fellow[.] I told her that is Brother William Kimble[.] I am told thay are all good men but I daresay that thay are all rather rought in there Manners[,] but we found that thay all had kind good hearts[.] this poor Br Kimble Staid so long in the water that he had to be taken out and packed to camp and he was along time before he recoverd as he was chil[le]d through and in after life he was allways afflicted with rhumetism. (Archer, CH)
A good percentage of the pioneers were carried across the stream, but not all. “The brave boys from the valley, under George D. Grant carried the women and children over the Sweet Water river, but the men and able bodied had to wade and take the handcarts with them. The water and ice took me up to the waist, and the clothes had to dry on me. That was a terrible night.” (Jones, Samuel, CH) I imagine Isaac was still with his cart pulling, with the assistance of John Bailey. It is very likely Langley was no longer a passenger, but most likely would have been in a sick wagon,
Some of the rescuers were singled out for their efforts this day. However all the rescuers did whatever they could to help the pioneers:
Harvey Cluff, one of the rescuers with the Martin Company, would later modestly write: Every possible assistance from the boys from Utah was freely given. And these young hardy men from the Rockies were a mighty force and power in the salvation of that people. . . . In this instance [carrying pioneers across the river], as in many others, the value of the boys from Zion was a great help to the weary Saints. Camp was made, tents set, supper over and the people retired for the night. (Orton 2)
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