Book Review: The Martin Company at the Sweetwater: Another Look. This is an article published in the BYU Studies journal in 2006 (45, no. 3). It was written by Chad M. Orton. This article takes another historical look at the stories we have been told of the crossing at the Sweetwater. The traditional story comes from Solomon F. Kimball who told how three 18-year old boys entered the water and helped the entire company cross the Sweetwater, and have effects from the cold the remainder of their lives, and all eventually dying from the consequences. Brigham Young guaranteed them all Celestial Glory as a result of their sacrifice.
Orton points out that this story, to a great degree, kept the handcart story alive in the minds of the members of the Church. However, factually it does have some lapses. There were more than three boys who entered the water; at least five and maybe more. Others were doing other equally important duties that day. Although those who entered the water were young, their ages varied from twenty-four to sixteen. It is evident the boys did not carry everyone over the river. The invalids were taken in wagons. Some of the men forded the river, often pulling handcarts. The women and children had first claim to being carried over the river, although some men were carried.
It could well be that some of the young men had later health effects as a result—arthritis and such. Many of them had careers which would have been difficult with physical limitations—teamster for instance. They mostly lived long lives, and generally died from other causes.
As to the promise from Brigham Young, it was elsewhere quoted as that they would be immortalized, which they have as thousands go to Martin’s Cover yearly and hear the story of their sacrifice. Some even ford the river with a handcart.
This article lead me to a couple other shorter articles through the bibliography. Belated Emigrants of 1856 by Solomon F Kimball was published in the Improvement Era February 1914. Another is an autobiography of Janneta Ann McBride which is included in “The Story of the McBride Family” by Bruce I. McBride and David B. McBride.
This is an article which provides great insight to this event, and appears to be well researched.