Friday, September 21, 2012

Isaac Wardle History: Chapter 10f

There is no way of describing everything that happened on the Martin handcart Trip.  However by seeing the pieces, we have a greater appreciation of the struggle: 
The whole story of the travels and sufferings of the Martin and Tyler Handcart companies that arrived in Salt Lake City on the Sunday of Nov. 30, 1856, can never be written or told. Sketches and episodes may be related in brief, but the weather towards the last of the journey was so intensely cold and the hurrying to get through the mountains to the valley so great as to preclude any attempt to write up any data of the journey. (Jones, Sam, CH)
Brother Orson Twelves, who had three family members starve to death on the trek, explained the disaster in this manner:
There was a shortage of food because the handcarts couldn’t carry much food. The company counted on supplementing their supply at Fort Bridger, and other points along the way and were disappointed…  The unusually early winter was blamed… About one third of the company died… When they were weakened by starvation they couldn’t stand the cold and froze to death.  (Twelves, CH)
Another brother summarized the hardship in this manner:
They had to wade through ice and snow and slush… No one was to blame, it was a situation beyond control, a miscalculation and a series of disasters. The oxen died and their loads had to be carried by the people. The more that died [people] the longer was the delay, for they all had to be given a decent burial. The cold was terrific. (Teeples, CH)
Daniel Tyler, who was the company chaplain, described the suffering of the saints:
Elder Edward Martin was appointed Captain and I his Counseler and Chaplain. My health was poor, but when I saw the Suffering of my brethren and Sisters in consequence of the cold[,] Storms and Scarcity of provisions I plead might[i]ly with the Lord and I was heal[e]d and became healthier than I had been for Several years[.] Elder Martin requested me to See every one out of Camp in the morning and in Camp at night, which I did, he going a head and looking out Camping places &c. I also had to See to burying the dead which in our Company amounted to Some thing over ninety during our over three month travel, out of our Six hundred, Souls! The heavy Snows Set in at the upper Crossing of the Plat[te] about the first of Oct. and continued during the rest of the Journey at intervals the rest of the way… We done our best, and many to day congratulate us on Saving their lives while others whom by the utmost exertion we Succeeded in Saving can Scarcely think of any thing too wicked and false to Say about us.  (Tyler CH)
A pioneer, who met the family of his brother after arriving gave this description.  “they arrived in Salt Lake about the last of November in peril[ou]s condition suffering great hardship in their travels across the plains[.] they were mere skelleton when they arrived in Salt Lake City[.]”  (Barnes, CH)  The New York Tribune provided this graphic description of the pioneers and their condition:
Another of the Hand-Cart trains arrived here last Sunday in a condition which beggars all description. Winter caught them in the mountains destitute of clothing and provisions, and had not the relief which was sent from here reached them, every one of them would have perished. As it is, out of the 500 which started, one fourth have died, and more than 100 of the remainder have lost their hands or feet from the effects of the cold. When they reached here there were not 50 in the train who could help themselves; the rest were stowed in the bottoms of the wagons which had been sent for them, ragged and filthy beyond conception; helpless and despairing they could or would not get out of the wagons to attend to the calls of nature, and if the weather had not been intensely cold it would have bred a pestilence.  (Deseret News, CH)
The late start and frequent delays of the company were the cause for the tragedy.  P.A.M. Taylor summarized handcart immigration in this manner:
The fate of the last two companies of 1856 is one of the most celebrated chapters of Mormon history.  They were caught by snow as the crossed the Rockies and, despite resolute attempts from Utah to relieve them, more than two hundred died.  Faulty timing and the enthusiasm of the leaders combined to produce disaster.  Yet the plan was not a technical failure.  Three companies even in 1856 got through safely, with more than half of the year’s twenty-two hundred handcart emigrants.  Companies in 1857, 1859 and 1860, to say nothing of groups of east bound missionaries, used the method with nothing worse than a degree of hardship which was perhaps an acceptable price for a cheap gathering to Zion. (Taylor, P.A.M. p 136)
David Roberts summarized the death toll:
…The true death toll among the Martin Company can never be reckoned…  Hafen and Hafen cite 135 to 150.  LDS archivist and historian Mel Bashore, who has carefully studied the question, sets the toll at 150 to 170. 
   If we take the range of the death toll in the Willie Company as between 66 and 77, and the range in the Martin Company as between 135 and 170, then the total mortality count in the last two handcart companies amounts to between 200 and 240…  The conclusion is inescapable: the Mormon catastrophe of 1856 remains far and away the most deadly in the history of westward migration in the United States. (Roberts p 255)
The Martin Company therefore saw about 150 deaths of the 600 pioneers, a death total in the range of 25 percent.  Violet Kimball puts the death rate at ten percent for all Westward migration between 1841 and 1868. (Kimball p 148)
Of course death was not the only consequence.  In addition to the deaths, over 100 had serious health consequences from amputations of limbs due to frost bite.  “There were several young men who had their feet amputated to save their lives.” (Fullmer, Church History 1)
Gustive Larson sites several individuals in his footnotes with regards to the cause of the disaster:
Bancroft (H.H. Bancroft History of Utah) summarized the causes of the Hand Cart disaster as follows:  Error in starting late, insufficient number of able-bodied men in proportion to the numbers in the company, and the winter setting in earlier and more severe than had been known in the previous experience of the Utah Colonizer.  This author concludes after his survey of the situation:  “Even the worst enemies of Brigham Young admit that he was in no way to blame for the disaster and that he spared no efforts to relieve.”  Linn (Linn, W.A. The Story of the Mormons) writing in 1902 and apparently drawing his conclusions from Stenhouse’s “Tell it All,” emphasizes the lack of preparation for emigrants when they arrived in Iowa City, the weak features of the cart construction, and the failure to have supplies in readiness at Fort Laramie as the primary causes of the disaster.   (Larson p 215)
An article published in The Mormon untitled “Arrival of the Hand-carts at Great Salt Lake City” gives a favorable description and also provides some insight into the tragedy:
   We are informed from other sources that there has been a good deal of suffering, owing principally to their late start and the unusual severity of the weather…
   When we reflect upon the position of those emigrants, their exposed condition, and the extreme severity of the weather, we have cause of gratitude to our heavenly Father for His protecting care over them and their safe arrival at the place of their destination…
… The trouble has been among those who started late. We were not apprised, until some time after, that companies had started so very late in the fall, and we must confess, when we heard of it, that we trembled for the result. We believe that the brethren engaged in the direction of the emigration used every exertion, and we anxious to take all through that they possibly could; but we then believed, as well as now, that much suffering o the emigrants would have been spared, and also a great deal of unnecessary trouble and expense to our friends in the valley, if the last companies had staid in Florence, or somewhere on the frontier.
…We knew it to be President Young's views that the emigration should start early and we wished to carry out those views. Again, it was our own fixed, decided opinion that the hand-cart trains should start early. Our reasons were that the project was new; that a great many feeble persons, as well as women and children, would be along, and that in case of casualty they would be much safer with an early start. Besides, we have always believed that more trouble, sickness, and expense was caused by detention in camp than by anything else.  (Mormon, CH)
This idea was reflected by Heber C. Kimball of the first Presidency.  “If the immigration could have been carried on as dictated by br. Brigham, there would have been no trouble.”  (Kimball, CH)  Brigham Young put the cause of the tragedy at the feet of those who let them leave late from the Missouri:
   There is not a person, who knows anything about the counsel of the First Presidency concerning the immigration, but what knows that we have recommended it to start in season.—True, we have not expressly, and with a penalty, forbidden the immigration to start late, but hereafter I am going to lay an injunction and place a penalty, to be suffered by any Elder or Elders who will start the immigration across the plains after a given time…
   But if, while at the Missouri river, they had received a hint from any person on this earth, or if even a bird had chirped it in the ears of brs. Richards and Spencer, they would have known better than to rush men, women and children on to the prairie in the autumn months, on the 3d of September, to travel over a thousand miles. I repeat that if a bird had chirped the inconsistency of such a course in their ears, they would have thought and considered for one moment, and would have stopped those men, women and children there until another year…
   Are those people in the frost and snow by my doings? No, my skirts are clear of their blood, God knows. If a bird had chirped in br. Franklin's ears in Florence, and the brethren there had held a council, he would have stopped the rear companies there…  (Young, Brigham CH 2)
Many of the handcart pioneers felt strengthened, and closer to God as a result of their handcart experience.  The story is told of Francis Webster, from a Sunday School meeting in Cedar City:
        I heard a testimony once that made me tingle to the roots of my hair. It was in an adult Sunday School class of over fifty men and women.
        Nathan T. Porter, then Principal of the Branch Normal School, was the teacher and the subject under discussion was the ill fated hand cart company that suffered so terribly in the snow in 1856. sharp criticism of the church and its leaders was being indulged in for permitting any company of converts to venture across the Plains with no more supplies or protection than a hand cart caravan afforded. old man in the corner sat silent and listened as long as he could stand it then he arose and said things that no person who heard him will ever forget. His face was white with emotion yet he spoke calmly, deliberately, but with great earnestness and sincerity. said in substance, "I ask you to stop this criticism. You are discussing a matter you know nothing about. Cold historic facts mean nothing here for they give no proper interpretation of the questions involved. Mistake to send the Hand Cart Company out so late in the season? Yes. But I was in that Company and my wife was in it and Sister Nellie Unthank whom you have sited was there too. We suffered beyond anything you can imagine and many died of exposure and starvation, but did you ever hear a survivor of that Company utter a word of criticism? Not one of that Company ever apostatized or left the church because every one of us came through with the absolute knowledge that God lives for we became acquainted with him in our extremities."I have pulled my hand cart when I was so weak and weary from illness and lack of food that I could hardly put one foot ahead of the other. I have looked ahead and seen a patch of sand or a hill slope and I have said I can go only that far and there I must give up for I cannot pull the load through it. I have gone on to that sand and when I reached it the cart began pushing me. I have looked back many times to see who  was pushing my cart but my eyes saw no one. I knew then that the Angels of God were there."Was I sorry that I chose to come by hand cart? No. Neither then nor any minute of my life since. The price we paid to become acquainted with God was a privilege to pay and I am thankful that I was privileged to come in the Martin Hand Cart Company." speaker was Francis Webster and when he sat down there was not a dry eye in the room. We were a subdued and chastened lot. Charles H. Mabey who later became Governor of Utah, arose and voiced the sentiment of all when he said, "I would gladly pay the same price for the same assurance of the eternal verities that Brother Webster has." (Palmer)
It should be pointed out that to Brother Webster’s knowledge, none had left the church.  However that was not true of all the handcart company members:
   Although the Martin Company truly exemplified the motto “Faith in Every Footstep,” it’s member were not unlike any other disparate group of Latter-day Saints, such as those who made a similar journey at a different time or those found in a modern ward.  There was a majority of the company, including Francis and Betsy Webster, whose faith seemed to grow with every step they took.  There were also those who trudged along the trail, their faith little changed by what they experienced.  Finally, there were those whose faith seemed to weaken along the way.
…The evidence is clear that not everyone came through the experience with the same certainty that he did.  While it is not known that anyone in the company apostatized directly as a result of the trials they endured in the cold and snow, there were Martin Company members who subsequently left the Church.  (Orton 2)
One of these was Sister Elizabeth Whittear Sermon Camm, whose husband died on the trek.  “Poor fellow, he died in the night and so on, one after another, passed away; fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, families and friends, all because through some misguided scheme and speculations, which will, some day have to be atoned for. Many, many honest souls laid away in Mother Earth—for what! I do not want to judge.”  (Camm, CH 2)
However, there were many more who, like brother Webster, drew closer to God.  One brother concluded his handcart sacrifices with a hymn and a quote:
How well the Saints rejoice to tell
And count their sufferings o'er.
When they upon Mount Zion dwell
And view the landscape o'er. 
   I have heard that a lady well known among the saints, once said, while the surest way of getting to Heaven was under discussion. "When I approach the Golden Gate, Peter will at once grant me admission when I cry, "Handcarts!" 
   …our hearts are lifted up in praise to God for all his blessings we now enjoy—& though the handcart episode is one of the unpleasant expirences of our lives, the schooling that it gave, & the training of our unpleasant episodes in our lives since then—all have tended to make our faith in our religion the stronger—& our appreaceation of Gods own hand dealing to us as a people, more easily discerned. (Jones, Albert, CH 2)
Another brother transposed a famous hymn to express his thoughts about the handcart experience:
What if they died before their trip was o'er?
Happy day. All is well
They will endure. No toil or sorrow more,
With the just in peace they dwell.
And as our lives were spared again
To see the Saints their joys obtain
Come let us make the chorus swell,
All is well, all is well.
As Francis Webster, several of the handcart members saw the Lord’s intervention.  Patience Loader commented:
   it seemed the Lords fitted the back for the burden[.] every day we realised that the hand of God was over us and that he made good his promices unto us day by day[.] as we Know God our Father has promised us these blessings if we will call on him in faith[.] we Know that his promises never fail and this we prooved day by day[.] we Knew that we had not strength of our own to perform such hardships[.] if our heavenly Father had not help[ed] us and we prayed unto God continuely for his help and we allways acknowledged his goodness unto us day by day[.] Sometimes in the Morning I would feel so tiard and feel that I could not pull the cart the day through[.] then the still small voice would w[h]isper in my ear as thy day thy strength shall be[.] this would give me new strength and energy and thus we traveled on day after day[,] week after week[,] and for four Month[s] before we reached the valley;…
   … we allways as[k] God to bless to our use and that it would Strengthen our bodys day by day so that we could performe our dutys[.] and I can testefie that our heavenly Father heard and answerd our prayers and we was blessed with health and Strength day by day to endure the severe trials we had to pass through on that terrable Journey before we got to Salt Lake City[.] we Know that if God had not been with us that our strength would have failed us and our bodys would have been left on the plains as hundreds of our poor brothers and sisters was[.]  (Archer, CH)
Sister Loader Archer also mentioned this experoence, which was likely a heavenly angel:
Some time in the afternoon a strange Man appeard to me as we was resting[.] as we got up the hill he came and looked in my face he sais is you Patience I said yes he said again I thought it was you[.] travel on[,] there is help for you[.] you will come to a good place there is plenty[.] with this he was gone he dissapeared[.] I looked but never saw whare he went[.] this seemed very strange to me. I took this as some one sent to encurage us and give us strength[.]  (ibid)
  Another faith promoting experience is that of the Bleak family.  Brother Bleak had been the Branch President in London and had determined to go by wagon.  However when others were following his example, and shunning the handcarts, he decided to travel by handcart.  When this was announced in his Branch, a sister spoke in tongues, the interpretation of which was that the entire family would arrive in safety:
   Two good sisters, one, an aged widow, the other unmarried, in the kindness of their womanly hearts, had volunteered to assist the mother by taking charge of one of the children, at the close of each day's travel till the following morning. The offer was gratefully accepted and the four and a half year old, blue eyed, fair haired boy [Thomas Nelson Bleak], became the chosen one to share the added protection of their tender care.
   One morning, after a very cold night, when winter had overtaken the company, these sisters were horrified to find their little pet lying between them dead, as they decided, and in this condition they brought him to his parents. His father, who had already made a fire, took the child and began by anointing him with consecrated oil, and praying over him, calling upon the Lord to keep His promise that not one of the family should fall by the way in gathering to Zion. Tests were applied, but not a heart beat or other sign of life was in the child. The father continued to administer, to chafe the limbs and body, and to call upon the Lord to fulfill His promise. After what appeared to the sympathetic fellow travelers and suffers as a very long time, the father thought he saw a slight flutter in the child's throat; this encouraged further rubbing, chafing and administration until, finally, by God's power and blessing, the dear child unclosed his eyes and is now a resident of Salt Lake City, father of nine children and likewise a grandfather.  (Bleak, CH 3)
The experience of Ephraim hanks among the Martin Company of itself was miraculous, from his being called by a voice from heaven, to his bringing members back from death, or near death.  Also his interventions in providing food, as well us surgical operations in which the sufferer felt no pain, were a testimony of divine assistance.
Brother Jones further provided some insight into the sacrifice made by the Saints for the gospel in a discourse for the handcart association in 1906: 
…though you gathered to Zion in the humble manner you did—you are of the best blood the earth affords—what greater claim exists to superiority of birth—that you have not; when the Patriarch with hands upon your heads, has with the vision of the seer declared you of the Ephriamic stock.
   Rejoice ye Saints of God in the grand promises made you—since you laid down the shafts of that rickety old cart you have been blessed—many of you have been laboring unceasingly since then—you have spent years on missions—you have in turn gathered your fellow-religionists home to Zion,—have fought the Indians who sought your lives,—endured persecution for the Gospels sake—have been in peril both by sea & by land. Imprisoned & fined for conscience sake—all this and more have you passed through, scince your entry to these grand vallies to which God in His mercy has led you…
…—& though the handcart episode is one of the unpleasant expirences of our lives, the schooling that it gave, & the training of our unpleasant episodes in our lives since then—all have tended to make our faith in our religion the stronger—& our appreaceation of Gods own hand dealing to us as a people, more easily discerned.   (Jones, Albert, CH 3)

1 comment:

  1. Such excellent work. Thanks for sharing your research with all of us, Billy.