Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Isaac's History Chapter Ten: Martin Handcart Company from Red Buttes to Salt Lake: Includes Martin's Cove

Chapter Ten:
The Rescue, Martin’s Cove, and on to Salt Lake City
“At one time I became so weary and overcome with cold that I fell down and was forced to lay there for some time”

Close Your Eyes (Martin’s Cove Remembered)
Close your eyes, see them for real
Close your eyes and be on that hill.
Feel the wind bite at your face.
Your thread bare coat gives you no grace.

Hear the snow crunch under your feet.
With the Saints, the cold try to beat.
The frozen ground under your bed
Gives you no place to rest your head.

Hear the wind blow through the trees
Coyote's yell, song on the breeze.
Snuggle warm, the temperature falls,
Freezing, freezing, nothing thaws.

Close your eyes, see them for real.
Close your eyes, and be on that hill.  (Wardle, Billy)

Visions of Rescue

The conditions at Red Buttes were terrible.  Every member of the handcart company was struggling for survival:
   After the snow caught us, we suffered terrible and many died. Provisions were limited; we were rationed on four ounces of flour per day for adults and two ounces a day for children. Our meat consisted mainly of buffalo.
   One morning when I awoke, my brother John, age 15 years, lay dead by my side. He died of starvation and cold. During that night 19 people died. They dug a trench and laid them in it. We had to leave them there and resume our journey.  (Fullmer, CH 1)

Even though rations reduced, and in such conditions where death was imminent, some despairing, Sam Openshaw indicated that some also kept their hopes up.  “Yet, we did not despair. We look forward for support with gleaming hope upon on our countenances.”  (Openshaw, CH)   During this time the Saints held on, some giving themselves up for dead, and others holding onto their faith. 
Several stories were related of members of the company having visions of rescue during this time.  One is told by Brother John Rodwell, who had a dream on Sunday October 26.  He said on Tuesday or Wednesday of the next week he saw a mule coming into camp.  He then saw three “Californians wearing blue soldier overcoats.”  (See Rogerson, CH)  Langley tells this story in a different manner.  “While at pray meeting a bitter cold night, Bro. John Rodwell spoke in tongues.  Interpretation was the rescuers would be with us within three days, on the third day Joseph. A. Young on a white horse with another man rode into camp. O what a shout went up.”   (Bailey, CH 2)
Sister Jackson, Kingsford had a visitation in a dream from her just deceased husband:

It will be readily perceived that under such adverse circumstances I had become despondent. I was six or seven thousand miles from my native land, in a wild, rocky, mountain country, in a destitute condition, the ground covered with snow, the waters covered with ice, and I with three fatherless children with scarcely anything to protect from the merciless storms. When I retired to bed that night, being the 27th of October, I had a stunning revelation. In my dream, my husband stood by me and said—"Cheer up Elizabeth, deliverance is at hand." The dream was fulfilled. (Kingsford, CH 1)

 Another story is that of Grace Wignall, whose story was included in her husband’s autobiography:

I then went to bed and a Heavenly Messenger came to my bed-side and said, “Cheer up, Sister Wignall, there are mules, horses, and wagon teams coming to meet you with provisions and clothing from the Valley.  Tomorrow morning, when Mary Ann Riley is combing your hair, there will be a man with two pack mules come into camp.”  Sure enough, just as she was combing my hair about 9 A.M. Joseph A. Young and a brother, who now lives in Provo but the name I have forgotten, came into camp just as I had seen them.  (Christensen and Allphin, citing autobiography of William Wignall)

“As of October 26, the Martin Company had been stalled for six days in their squalid camp beneath Red Buttes, a full sixty-five miles east of Devil’s Gate…  At last on October 27, Grant [Captain George D.] decided to send ahead yet another express scouting team, with fast horses and a pack mule, but carrying no flour, to search for the missing parties… the express would make the difference between life and death for hundreds of immigrants.” (Roberts p 228) 
At morning meeting on the 28th Elder Martin made an announcement.  “And while there he made know to the Saints the startling fact that our provisions had nearly exhausted. he informed us that if we were willing to reduce our amount of flour to one half of what it then was there would be enough to last us two days which he proposed we do. we accepted the proposition not knowing where or when we should have another supply.”  (Binder, CH 2) 
Several other Saints described this meeting:  

   Our food was giving out, cold weather chilled the body, the result death. One fourth pound of flour for adults, two ounces for a child, starvation for us. We had to make porridge with our flour as the allotment was too small to bake bread…
   We stayed several days. Not far from here the captain called us together to tell us we must lay our bodies down. Were we willing to do so for the Gospel’s sake? Many poor half-starved men shouted with what remaining strength they had, ‘Aye”. But mothers could not say that and were quiet. We went back to our tents, food would have suited us then. My faith was in my Heavenly Father; I never lost that faith in Him.  (Camm, CH 1)

   The outlook was very discouraging. The Captain called a meeting and told us there was only enough food for one more day and asked us if we would rather have it all or divide it into three days. We all agreed to divide it. And despite our desperate situation we sang the handcart songs. One was, "If we should die before our journey's through, Happy day! All is well!" The camp gave up to die, if need be, and scarcely a dry eye was left to see the dying.
   …At last the Company gave up and decided they could go no further. We all gathered around and held a meeting, praying God to help us, as we knew it was Him alone who could deliver us from death. We were happy and willing to die for a just cause. The Lord knew our desperate condition, and sent us deliverance. A hurrah! burst from the camp as three messengers came riding in  (Clark, CH 1)

   The snow got so deep and so heavy that it was very difficult to travel. We finally decided we could not get any farther and so we concluded we just as well die there as anywhere else so we gave up trust in God to deliver us. That night three teams from the valley arrived and reported that more would be there soon and no one that has never been in such a fix could imagine how we felt or how men and women knelt down and thanked the almighty God for our delivery from certain death. It put new life into the people.  (McBride, E.E., CH)

   So desperate was their situation that when they were almost without food and snowbound at Red Buttes, their captain, Edward Martin, stood before them as they sat huddled about the embers of a dying campfire and asked whether if it should be the will of the Lord that they perish there, they were willing to submit to his will.  Each man and woman raised his or her hand as a signal of submission.  Characteristic of her faith, Eliza Morton remarked: “I held up my hand, but I didn’t believe we were going to die.”  (Christensen and Allphin quoting History of Eliza Morton Anderson, Yardley)


Fortunately, this was the day relief found them.  John Jaques records this.  “The 28th of October was the red letter day to this handcart expedition.  On that memorable day Joseph A. Young, Daniel W. Jones and Abel Garr galloped unexpectedly into camp amid the cheers and tears and smiles and laughter of the emigrants.”  (Jaques, CH)  George D. Grant, Captain of the rescue effort, had sent a forward scout team from Devil’s Gate:
Not having much feed for our horses they were running down very fast, and not hearing anything from the companies, I did not know but what they had taken up quarters for the winter, consequently we sent on another express to the Platte bridge. When that express returned, to my surprise I learned that the companies were all on the Platte river, near the upper crossing, and had been encamped there nine days, waiting for the snow to go away, or, as they said, to recruit their cattle.  (Grant, CH)

John Bond described the rescue, and the reaction of Sister Scott:

   Alas! In the after part of the day, I was playing in front of Sister Scott's wagon with her son Joseph, then seven years old and his mother was looking to the westward. All at once Sister Scott sprang to her feet in the wagon and screamed out at the top of her voice. I see them coming! I see them coming! Surely they are angels from heaven. At such being said, I looked the way she was looking, but could not see or perceive what she was looking at in the distance. When again she called out, I see them plainer! Plainer! Plainer! I still looked the way she was looking, but could not see what she saw, and I was so anxious to see what she was looking at. By this time, more of the Brethren and Sisters came from their tents and wagons, from over the camp anxious to observe what she saw in the distance.
   All kept looking westward for the moving objects, when all commenced to see in the far distance at the curve of the hill what Sister Scott saw, and it was three men on horses driving another slowly in the deep crusted snow, and the wolves were howling in all directions. Still the saints keep waiting for the moving objects, as all were anxious to see the relief party coming to relieve the distress all were in bringing assistance to alleviate the loving saints in all directions. Undaunted faith as the moving objects could be seen distinctly a general cry rent the air. Hurrah! Hurrah! Some of the voices choking with laughter and of tears down care worn cheeks. They were so pleased to know that they were to be saved and delivered from the fears of ignominious death. When Sister Scott waved her shawl, "We are saved!" so loud that all in camp could hear her and still repeating, "It is! It is surely the relief party from Utah." 
   Joseph A. Young, Daniel W. Jones and Abraham Garr came into camp with a small dun colored mule packed with supplies when much rejoicing ensued through camp with Hurrahs! Hurrahs! again and again as the broken hearted mothers ran clasping their emaciated arms around the necks of the relief party, kissing them time and time again and as do rush up in groups to welcome the brethren, fathers, mothers, brothers, and sisters fall on each other’s necks the tears falling from their eyes in profusion being so overjoyed to think that all were to soon have relief and care… (Bond, CH)

The rescuers were Dan Jones, Abe Garr and Joseph Young, “Joseph A. Young, Abe Garr and I were selected. (Some histories give other names, but I was there myself and am not mistaken).  With picked saddle horses and a pack mule we started out.” (Jones)  The rescuers wore blue coats, that had the appearance of being military coats, but weren’t.  Isaac described this day simply, misidentifying the number and the rescuers.  “About this time one day while we were stopped for noon two men rode into our camp, they were Joseph Young and Ephraim Hanks who had come to tell us that men were coming to meet us with teams and wagons from Salt Lake City.”  (Wardle, Isaac 2)  Talking of the rescuers, Isaac’s granddaughter noted, “They found them discouraged and most of them had given up.  Their camp was without food and fuel….They also told them that help was coming from Utah to meet them.”  (Rupp)  The rescuers noted:

   We traveled until the 28th, when we met Capt. Edward Martin's company of hand carts and Capt. Hodgett's wagon company, at a place called Red Buttes, 16 miles below the Platte Bridge. We met Capt. J. A. Hunt's wagon company 26 miles below the bridge.  The brethren and sisters appeared to be in good health and spirits. Capt. Martin informed us that about 56 out of 600 had died upon the plains, up to that date. Those who had died were mostly old people. (Young, Joseph, CH)

…We saw a white man’s shoe track in the road. Bro. Young called out, “Here they are.” We put our animals to their utmost speed and soon came in sight of the camp at Red Bluff. This was Brother Edward Martin’s hand-cart company and Ben Hodgett’s wagon company…
   This company was in almost as bad a condition as the first one. They had nearly given up hope. Their provisions were about exhausted and many of them worn out and sick. When we rode in, there was a general rush to shake hands. I took no part in the ceremony. Many declared we were angels from heaven. I told them I thought we were better than angels for this occasion, as we were good strong men come to help them into the valley, and that our company, and wagons loaded with provisions, were not far away. I thought this the best consolation under the circumstances. Brother Young told the people to gather “up” and move on at once as the only salvation was to travel a little every day. This was right and no doubt saved many lives.  (Jones)

The rescuers arrived on Tuesday while the camp was in prayer meeting.  Members of the company provided these views of the arrival of the three “angels”:

Hand shaking, thanks and praises followed for some time, and if there was a dry cheek in that company it wasn’t in the three of the relief express. Immediately a meeting was called, the news and particulars of the whereabouts of the relief teams from the valley made known; a pound of flour per head ordered to be issued to every adult, and a proportionate amount for the children, and the balance of the day was spent in cooking, baking and getting ready for another start in the morning to reach some eight or ten of the mule and horse relief teams, forty-five miles west of us, near the first crossing of the Sweetwater and a few miles east of Devil’s Gate.  (Rogerson, CH 1)

   On the next morning I was sitting front of the ambulance and looking up the road that we would have to travel I saw two or three men with packed horses or burros coming toward us. I called Captain Martin to bring his glasses to see who they were. They seemed to me to be white men. They proved to be a party looking for us. They had left their wagon and had started to find us. They had principally clothing for us but there was wagons loaded with provisions and everything needed for to help the poor emigrants. When the Captain told the People that help was coming to relieve us and to help us through the Mountains and we would travel on as soon as possible and meet the parties and would reach our journey's end, it was a sight to behold to see the old and young go right to those men and almost try to pull them off their horses and caress them for their goodness in trying to help them to the land of promise.  (Goodaker, CH)

   It was at this place that Joseph A. Young arrived as the leader of the relief party sent from the valleys by President Brigham Young—he rode a white mule down a snow covered hill or dug way. The white mule was lost sight of on the white background of snow, and Joseph A. with his big blue soldiers' overcoat, its large cape and capacious skirts rising and falling with the motion of the mule, gave the appearance of a big blue winged angel flying to our rescue.
  The scene that presented itself on his arrival I shall never forget; women and men surrounded him, weeping, and crying aloud; on their knees, holding to the skirts of his coat, as though afraid he would escape from their grasp and fly away. Joseph stood in their midst drawn up to his full height and gazed upon their upturned faces, his eyes full of tears. I, boy as I was, prayed "God bless him." (Jones, Albert, CH)

   That night three teams came and reported more on the road and no one but one person having gone through that experience can imagine what a happy moment it was for this belated handcart company. Men, women, and children knelt down and thanked the Almighty God for our delivery from certain death. It put new life into all the people. (McBride, Peter, BYU)

Speaking of Joseph Young, some of the pioneers said:

He call for the bugler to call everybody out of their tents.  He then told the captain Edward Martin if he had flour enough to give us all one pound of flour each and said if there was any cattle to kill and give us one pound of beef each saying there was plenty provisions and clothing coming for us on the road, but tomorrow morning we must make a move from there.  (Archer, CH)

   About noon a horseman was seen coming into our camp, and he looked like an angel to us poor starving emigrants who had eaten nothing but flour for three days. With words of encouragement he entreated us to make another start. But, many, while their will was good, their strength failed them and they dropped and froze to death by the way.  (Housley, CH)

The rescuers described the handcart pioneers, after their grueling stay at Red Buttes:

We found the Martin Company in a deplorable condition, they having lost fifty-six of their numbers since crossing the North Platte, nine days before.  Their provisions were nearly gone, and their clothing almost worn out.  Most of their bedding had been left behind, as they were unable to haul it, on account of their weakened condition.  We advised them to move on, every day just as far as they could, as that was the only possible show they had to escape death.  (Hafen and Hafen, pp 117-18, citing Improvement Era XVII p 204)

Edward Martin reported 56 members of the company had passed away since leaving Florence, Nebraska.  (Bleak, CH 2)  Certainly, without this timely rescue, even more would have passed away. 
Recalling this time at Red Buttes, John Bond who was with the Hodgett Company later penned:

Snow Bound Camp of Death In Memory
In Red Butes camp we met,
Around the camp fire sat,
Watching the needy day by day;
When the scanty meals ate
Their tearful eyes do not forget,
With angels spirits have flown away.
Sewed up in sheets there
When kind brothers then bear,
Where the snow covered willows wave;
Lowering them down with care
Then offer o'er them a short prayer,
And lower them into their grave.
Day after day loved hymns sing
While lifeless remainders do bring
When all is done for the best,
On each other’s necks did cling
When pale hands did then wring
Weeping when loved ones are lowered to rest.
Alas! such untimely death gains
Bringing lifeless body remains,
Such did seem a great pity;
See scattered o’er the Platte plains
Those bleaching bone remains,
O'er the Rocky's to Salt Lake City.
In conclusion do now say
To all friends while I may,
Hope to meet the loved by and by;
With respects to them pay
And forever with them stay
In the mansions of glory upon high.
Joseph A. Young, D.W. Jones, and Abraham Garr. (Bond, CH)

John Jaques later reported there was new energy and activity in camp.  “All was now animation and bustle in the handcart camp, and everybody was busy at once in making preparations for a renewed start in the morning. The revived spirits of the company were still further exhilarated by an increased ration of flour that day, three quarters of a pound I believe.”  (Jaques, CH)  They were provided additional ration out of what was left, with the knowledge more provisions were close at hand.  “…It seemed to give the people strength and were allowed a little more flour out of the two remaining sacks.”  (Mattinson, CH) John Jaques’ mother-in-law, Sister Loader talked of their timely rescue:

   We got our flour and beef before night came on and we was all busy cooking and we felt to thank God and our kind brothers that had come to help us in our great distress and misery for we was suffering greatly with cold and hunger. When night came we went to bed.  We slept pretty comfortable; more so than we had done for some time…
   We was all glad to make move from this place.  It Seemed that if God our Father had not sent help to us that we must all have perished and died in a short time for at that time we had only very little provisions left and at the request of Br Martin we had come on four ounces of flour a day for each one to make the flour last us as long he could.  (Archer, CH)

 However, after being found, the company was still far from rescued:

When at last the company arrived from Salt Lake with supplies it did not increase our rations any. The only difference it made, our rations continued as they had been and if the relief had not come, in a few days we would have had no food at all. The company, when they started to our relief, had plenty of provisions but had met two or three companies on the road who were out of provisions and they had divided up with them so when they reached us, comparatively speaking, there was only a little left.  (CH, Watkins)

Moving On: Mud March

The next day the handcart company moved on, leaving at least 56 persons, buried in the earth and snow after having been snowbound for over six days.  (See Riverton, Red Buttes.) 
It took a great effort to get moving again.  “In the morning, we summoned all our efforts and strength, impulsed with the prospect of deliverance, we again started on our journey.” (Openshaw, CH) “Elders order the trains to start west so as to get their relief as soon as possible. All finally start on again to get relief as there were many deaths occurring for want of medicine to check the dysentery which was so prevalent for the want of salt in eating poor meat.”  (Bond, CH)   They had a goal of making fifty miles, to get where there were wagons waiting for them.  The forward rescuers had gone on to check on the wagon company farther back.  When they returned they passed the handcarts, who were having one of their most difficult times pulling.   The sun actually was melting the snow, and turning the Wyoming trail to mud.  Josiah Rogerson, referring to Oct. 29 and 30, “The roads yesterday and today were very muddy and slushy, and the carts pulled hard.” 
This may have been the day Isaac collapsed.  “I myself fell to the ground and lay for some time.”  (Wardle, Isaac)  Isaac’s granddaughter adds this insight.  “One day Grandfather fell to the ground from weakness due to lack of food and lay there for some time when someone noticed him and gave him aid and so he was able to go on.”  (Rupp)  Again speaking of Isaac a history states, “He said he fell to the ground one time and wouldn’t have gotten up if someone hadn’t helped him.”  (Riverton Stake)  Speaking of this day John Bond would later comment, “It was a pitiable sight to see the saints lay on the ground to rest, while their friends would plead with them to try and make camp that their burdens would be over as the valley boy’s teams and wagons were near at hand to drive them to the valley. They still try and go on a short distance when they lay down by the roadside powerless to proceed.”  (Bond, CH)  Dan Jones commented on their plight on his return trip, as they were returning to the relief wagons to ask them to move forward:

We continued on, overtaking the handcart company, ascending a long muddy hill. A condition of distress here met my eyes that I never saw before or since. The train was strung out for three or four miles. There were old men pulling and tugging their carts, sometimes loaded with a sick wife or children, women pulling along sick husbands, little children six to eight years old struggling through the mud and snow. As night came on the mud would freeze on their clothes and feet. There were two of us and hundreds needing help. We gathered on to some of the most helpless with our riatas and lariats tied to carts and helped as many as we could into camp on Avenue Hill. (Jones, Dan, CH 1)

It may have been that the rescuers were the ones who noticed Isaac, and helped him get back on his feet again; but more likely it was a fellow handcart pioneer.  The night turned cold, without much fuel.  Dan Jones continued, “This was a bitter, cold night and we had no fuel except very small sage brush. Several died that night….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.”  (Jones) Sister Kingsford was likely describing this night when she said:

…The male members of the company had been reduced in number by death; and those who remained were so weak and emaciated by sickness, that on reaching the camping place at night, there were not sufficient men with strength enough to raise the poles and pitch the tents. The result was that we camped out with nothing but the vault of Heaven for a roof, and the stars for companions.  The snow lay several inches deep upon the ground. The nights were bitterly cold. I sat down on a rock with one child in my lap and one on each side of me. In that condition I remained until morning.  (Kingsford, CH)

Heber McBride explained that they marched for three days until they finally made it to the wagons.  “We tryed along through snow and mud till at last we saw 10 wagons and it was a welcome sight.”  (McBride, Heber, CH 2) 
The wagons had moved forward, and met the pioneers at Greasewood Creek on Oct. 31.  (Rogerson, CH)  John Jaques wrote:

About dark the company arrived at Greasewood creek, between thirty and forty miles from the last crossing of the Platte. At Greasewood creek were found George D. Grant, R. T. Burton, Charles Decker, C. G. Webb and others, with six wagons laden with flour and other things, from Salt Lake, who had come to the assistance of the belated emigrants. This was another time of rejoicing. Some of the relief party had met the emigrants a mile or two away from camp and had helped to pull some of the carts along. Here some stockings boots and other clothing were distributed among the emigrants, also a few onions, which were highly prized, and a pound of flour ration was served out…  (Jaques, CH)

Of this event it was written about Isaac, “Two days after Mr. Young and Hanks [Jones and Garr] left them they met men with ten teams, food and clothing.”  (Rupp)  A rescuer, who came forward with his wagon from Devil’s gate, provided this insight.  “Started this morning to meet the company of hand cars; met them on Greasewood Creek; camped with them tonight, dealt out to them flour, clothing etc.”  (Burton, CH)  The wagons contained “vegetables, meat, flour, clothing for both sexes, bedding and footwear.”  (See Cluff, CH.)   At the same time, the wagons were not completely full, as the trip had taken the rescuers longer than they had expected.  (McBride, Heber, CH 2)
 John Bond noticed the poor condition of the handcart pioneers, and their shoes:

The saints begin to show weariness of the journey by the sunken eyes and emaciated forms from constant travel leaving the dear ones on the plains in an exhausted condition on arriving in camp miss the loved ones, though fatigued themselves they return back on the plains to find them on the road powerless to go on farther, put them on their carts, pull and tug with them until they arrive in camp near midnight their shoes were worn out, their toes protruding from the shoes in a bleeding condition. In the same way some were compelled to stay on the way and pull sand burrs from their feet shedding many tears.  (Bond, CH)

A sister wrote of this push, talking of her mother, “…she went on her way rejoicing while walking the blood-stained path of snow.”  (Clark, CH 1)   John Jaques explains the problem with shoes.  “By this time the shoes of many of the emigrants had "given out" and that was no journey for shoeless men, women and children to make at such a season of the year, and trudge it on foot.”  (Jaques, Ch) 
Isaac was without shoes for part of the journey and left blood stains in the snow.  One account written by a granddaughter of Isaac, Ollie Palmer Parkinson, states: “I remember grandfather telling us how he left bloody tracks in the snow as they came across the plains, and how he prayed for a pair of shoes and he came on to a pair by the side of the road.  They were small for him and hurt his feet, but how good they felt to him, and he knelt and thanked his Heavenly father for them.”  (Beckstead, Iva)  This story doesn’t tell us what part of the trek he was barefoot, whether or not his shoes had worn out, or if he started the trek barefoot or how early in the trip he found this pair of shoes.  However this story does let us know of Isaac’s faith and humility.  It is possible he got a pair this day as the cargo included shoes that had been donated by the Saints in Salt Lake.  “When the wagons met the pioneers, there were shoes included in the contribution.”  (Burton, CH 4)  I don’t know if Isaac got one of these pair, or a pair discarded by someone.  At any rate, his feet were shod the rest of the journey.   “When we reached Devil's Gate, we met wagons from Salt Lake City with provisions and clothing waiting for us. From this time on, the journey was better and much easier.”  (Zundle, CH)  
Another pioneer found a pair of boots in the wagons.  “…We traveled one day and found eleven wagons loaded with flour and clothing and I fitted me out with a large pair of shoes lined with stockingleg, that came up above my knees and they kept my feet from freezing.”  (Platt, CH)  Sister Loader Archer commented on meeting the first wagons.  “We began to get more to eat and some shoes and warm under clothing which we all needed very much, some worse than others.  I was thankful to get a nice warm quilted hood which was very warm and comfortable.  I also got a pair of slippers as I was nearly bare foot.  (Archer, CH)
The rescuers met the handcart pioneers with big fires burning.  Isaac described the scene in this manner, although he misnamed the location.  “We met the first team at Pacific Springs, Wyoming [Greasewood Creek] who had provisions for us with them. By this time our company was much smaller than when we left Council Bluffs, as so many had died some had stopped at different places along the way.  (Wardle, CH)
The Saints traveled from Greasewood Creek towards Devil’s Gate the next day in a snow storm.  They camped a few miles short of Devil’s Gate.  Sister Jackson Kingsford related:

…On the 1st. of November we arrived at the Sweetwater Bridge, some five miles from Devil's Gate. We arrived there about dusk in the evening. We camped in about a foot and a half of snow. It was a busy evening before bed time in clearing away the snow. For this purpose many used cooking utensils, plates and other things. The ground was hard and almost impenetrable; and it was with the greatest difficulty that the tents could be erected. (Kingsford, CH)

John Jaques also described the difficulties with the tents this day, after everyone had given all their energy during the day:

On the evening of November 1st, the handcart company camped at the Sweetwater Bridge, on this side of the river, about five miles on the other side of Devil's Gate, arriving there about dark. There was a foot or eighteen inches of snow on the ground which, as there were but one or two spades in camp, the emigrants had to shovel with their frying pans, or tin plates, or anything they could use for that purpose, before they could pitch their tents, and then the ground was frozen so hard that it was almost impossible to drive the tent pegs into it. Some of the men were so weak that it took them an hour or two to clear the places for their tents and set them up. They would shovel and scrape away at the hard snow a few minutes and then rest, then shovel and scrape and rest again, and so on.   (Jaques, CH)

As previously mentioned, Isaac was very conscientious with regards to their tent, and made sure it was up, and staked well. “You did stake our tent well my dear brother.” (Bailey)
The last day’s trip, before reaching Devil’s Gate the pioneers traveled through a snow storm:

   I well remember the afternoon march before we reached the place above mentioned Devil’s Gate. We had rested for noon along the roadside, and partaken of our scanty meal, when soon after we started on again, the wind blew up from the east, and the clouds came scurrying along the sides of the mountains. I remember those clouds; they looked like they meant mischief, and they got their work in all right; pretty soon it began to snow a little, light at first, but it was not long before it got down to business, and it snowed in earnest. The line of carts was generally a little broken and scattering, but on this occasion they all closed up, following right behind each other. It seemed to strike each heart that we had met the enemy and he had got us. Not a word was spoken. I never shall forget that silence as we trudged along, each footstep deadened by the fallen snow, which was getting a little deeper at every step.
   There was no sound, save the faint creak of the little hand carts as they were tugged along. Where were we going! What should we do! God only knew; we didn't. It commenced to get dusk but on we pulled, it seemed as though this terror gave us fresh energy for the snow was by this time from eight to ten inches deep. At last when we were pretty nearly exhausted a log house and the stockade hove in view. We had not seen such a thing for many a day. It was so unexpected that it revived our spirits. We all gathered around the log house. It was soon filled with women and children; one long room and several hundred of us; our hope of shelter was soon dissipated; several of the women folks had fainted from the steam from their wet clothing, and the heat, and had to be carried out.
   We soon saw we had to clear off the snow and take to our cold tents. At it we went, with tin pans and plates; there were no shovels or spades in our equipment. The ground here was frozen hard; we could not drive the tent pins, so we raised the tents on the poles, stretched out the flaps, and banked them down with the snow and huddled in under the best shelter we could get. I do not call to mind any music or singing that night, but no doubt there were many a silent prayer. (Jones, Samuel, CH)

I think the journey these few days would be comparable to the Willie Company, and Rocky Ridge.  There was no hill to climb, but first there was travel in the mud, and then travel in the cold and snow.  As the weather let loose with all her fury they traveled in the snow from Greasewood Creek to Devil’s Gate.  Fortunately, the Valley Boys had fires prepared for them upon arrival.  They even took wood from one of the stockades to make more fires. 

Devil’s Gate

            After going through this ordeal they were 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 cedar and the pine wood to the stockade and clearing the snow off so the emigrants could be comfortable when they arrived.  For Several days we made every effort possible to get things in good shape.”  (Cluff, CH)  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 around the campfires.  (ibid)

Harvey Cluff also 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 perpendicular walls of 400 feet in height.  Irregular ranges of low hills or mountains dot the irregular plains. The hills are covered sparsely with cedar and scrubby pitch pine timber.  The plains formerly were pasture for buffalo, deer and antelope, but those animals except an occasional antelope had gone to other parts.  Fort Devils Gate consisted of a small stockade and a few log houses located on a plane near where the river enters the deep gorge through the mountains. (ibid)

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 the 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 huts to make fires for us for he says 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 giant.  I never felt 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 pieces, gave each family one piece.  (Archer, CH)

The weather continued cold, between ten and twenty degrees below zero (See Cluff, CH) and snow prevented any further travel.  The cold weather made for a difficult time with the tents.  “It was nothing but snow.  We could not drive the pegs in our tents.”  (Riverton, Hinckley Fireside)  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 Sweetwater 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, CH)
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 giving a description of the handcart company:

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, 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 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)
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 distributed 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)

Nov 4 the Martin Company moved to Martin’s Cove.  As they left Devil’s Gate there was a small stream, flowing into the Sweetwater River, they had to cross.  This was a precursor for the crossing to come:

As we started out from camp, there was quite a number of the brethren from the valley standing in readiness 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 felt weak and I could not keep my tears back. I felt ashamed to let those brethren see me shedding tears.  I pulled my old bonnet over my face as they should not see my tears.  One brother took the cart and another helped us girls over the water and aid we should not be made [to wade] the cold water anymore and tried to encourage us by saying soon we would all be able to ride in wagons.  (Archer, CH)

 Patience Archer then said they continued on another couple of miles before they reached the Sweetwater. (ibid)  And here came into play one of the most dramatic scenes of the handcart trek.  For the handcart company to reach the 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 Sweetwater and go into what is known as Martin's Ravine, as there was some cedars for fuel.”  (Jones, Sam, CH)  The weather earlier in the day was unsuitable for traveling, and consequently the move took place in the afternoon and evening.  (Orton) 
John Jaques described the experience this way.  He speaks of himself in the third person as he was pulling the cart involved:
   The passage of the Sweetwater at this point was a severe operation to many of the company. Like Napoleon's passage of the Berezina, it was the worst river crossing of the expedition. It was the last ford that the emigrants waded over. The water was not less than two feet deep, perhaps a little more in the deepest parts, but it was intensely cold. The ice was three or four inches thick, and the bottom of the river muddy or sandy. I forget exactly how wide the stream was there, but I think thirty or forty yards. It seemed a good deal wider than that to those who pulled their handcarts through it. Before the crossing was completed, the shades of evening were closing around, and as everybody knows, that is the coldest hour of the twenty-four, or at least it seems to be so, in a frosty time, and it seemed so then, for cold enough it was. The teams and wagons and handcarts and some of the men forded the river. A son of Heber C. Kimball and a son of George D. Grant, and I believe several others of the relief party, waded the river, helping the handcarts through and carrying the women and children and some of the weaker of the men over. If I were certain of the names of all those brave waders I would insert them here.
   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.”  A noble and generous offer, which, however was not carried out. Jimmy besought one of the "boys" from "the valley," who was in the water, to carry him over. The "boy" urged that the women and children had the first claim, but finally consented to carry him across. Jimmy got on the back of the "boy" to ride over, and the "boy" started with him. This little episode, however, ended badly for Jimmy, for, before he was carried entirely across, the "boy" slipped and fell with Jimmy into the water, very wet water it was too, and very cold, freezingly cold, enough to congeal anything. The women with the handcart were carried over safe, and the cart remained with the one man to pull it through.  He rolled up his pants as high as he could, pulled off his stockings and boots which he had happened to receive at Greasewood reek, 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. It was easy enough to go into the river, but not so easy to pull across it and get out again. The way of the ford was to go into the river a few yards, then turn to the right downstream a distance, perhaps forty or fifty yards, and then turn to the left and make for the opposite bank. 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, and one soon exclaimed "D-u it, you don't pull an ounce!" So hard was the tugging at the cart that it required the utmost combined strength of the three to take the vehicle through safe 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 emigrant inflicting wounds which never healed until he arrived at Salt Lake and the dark scars of which he bears to this day….Going through the river and taking his cart single-handed to camp after he had effected the crossing of the river, on that piercing cold evening was the hardest piece of tugging he had encountered on the entire journey…  (Jaques, CH) 

As they crossed the river, they were assisted by the boys from the Valley.  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 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 determined to save life. They waded back and forth helping the hand carts through and carrying the women and children across 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 broke the road.  Went about 2 miles and turned and crossed Sweetwater.  When we saw that we felt very bad to think we had to ford that stream and I don’t think we could have made it in our weakened condition but when we got there we was very much surprised for there were some men there.  They carried us across.  (McBride, Heber, CH 1)

   There was three brave men there in the water packing the women and children over on their backs.  Those poor brethren was in the water nearly all day.  We wanted to thank them but they would not listen to my dear mother [who] felt in her heart to bless them for their kindness.  She said God bless you for taking me over this water and in such an awful rough way.  Oh D –m that!  I don’t want any of that. You are welcome we have come to help you.  This poor Br Kimble stayed so long in the water that he had to be taken out and packed to camp and he was a long time before he recovered as he was chilled through and in after life he was always afflicted with rheumatism.  (Archer, CH)  [The rescuer actually wasn’t William Kimble, who was not there that day, but another unknown rescuer.  (see Orton.)]

The traditional account says three of the Valley Boys entered the water, pulling handcarts or carrying people across the river.  These were George W. Grant, David P. Kimball and C. Allen Huntington.  (Kimball, Solomon)  However two more rescuers have been for sure documented as entering the water, adding Stephen W. Taylor and Ira Nebeker.  There may have been others.   As many as eighteen rescuers were in the area and assisting the company with the move this day.  (See Orton.) 
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 Sweetwater 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) 
Isaac talks of pulling his cart to Pacific Springs.  After Devil’s Gate most of the handcarts were left behind, but the sturdier carts, about a quarter, made in St. Louis and with canvas covers, were still used to supplement the wagons.  (See Orton.)  Isaac would have still been pulling his cart with the assistance of John Bailey.  Most likely Langley was no longer a passenger, but would have been in a sick wagon.  Isaac, too would have had a terrible night.
There was a hierarchy as to who had claim on the wagons, to ride to the Cove, and also to the services of the rescuers in the river.  As many of the infirm, elderly, children and widows would have been in the wagons as they could carry.  However many children and the women would have been expected to walk, and ford the stream.  “As with deciding who would ride in the wagons, the rescuers implemented a priority system at the Sweetwater.  While those who had difficulty walking had first claim on the wagons, those who had first claim on being carried by the rescuers at the river were women and children.”  (Orton)  Some of the older men were also carried across.  “Finally a lull in the raging wind from the north enabled the handcart companies to cross the river and go up to the cove where we had camped as previously mentioned. Men of old age and women were carried across the river on the backs of these sturdy mountain boys.” (Cluff, CH) 
Some of the rescuers were singled out for their efforts this day.  However all the rescuers did whatever they could to help the pioneers:

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. (Cluff, CH)

Martin’s Cove

The Valley Boys not only provided service at the Sweetwater, but also at the cove this day:

Once the handcart pioneers reached the cove where they were to camp for the night, a great amount of work still needed to be done. Wood had to be gathered, fires built, meals provided, and tents pitched. The rescuers took as much of the burden of these vital needs as possible, with much of this responsibility falling upon those who had taken the weaker members of the company in wagons. Heber McBride recalled that at the cove “the men from Salt Lake would clean off the snow and pitch the tents and get wood for all the families that had lost their Father and then they would help the rest what they could.”  Concerning the reunion with his mother who had preceded him to the cove, McBride wrote, “We went into a cove in the mountain and got out of the wind and when we got there the tent was up and Mother and Mrs. [Mary Ann] Barton [were] sitting by a good fire.”  McBride further noted that the rescuers “put the tents up and got wood and took care of Mother [who was very ill] and the 3 little ones.”  (Orton 2)

Isaac, who had drawn his handcart to the ravine, had still more work to do after they arrived at camp.  He was compelled to gather firewood.  Hanks [not Hanks who still hadn’t arrived but another valley boy] forced them to go hunt for wood which they found just over a little hill.  (Rupp)  By this means, many years later, people were able to positively identify the location of Martin’s Cove.  “It was through descriptions of him [Isaac] that the Riverton Stake found the stumps in Martin’s Cover where he and others had cut down trees for wood.  (Riverton Stake)  This incident is told in more detail by a docent at the cove:

Visitor: Can you share about the guy that cut down the tree?
Docent: Well that was Isaac Wardle.  Isaac Wardle was a young man; in his early 20s.  And uh, he had pulled and pushed, him and another kid about the same age, had pulled and pushed other handcart people, and did everything, and by the time he got up in here in the cove he was just spent and he sat down; and one of the valley boys came over and he said "we need you to go and cut some firewood."  And he says "no, I'm not going to.  I'm going to just sit here and die."  And the valley guy says to him, "no you're not.  You're going to get up, and  you're going to go down and you're going to go out and you're going to cut down three trees and bring them back for firewood. Here's the ax, and you go do it now."  And he says, "no, I'm not going to."  And uh, the valley boy insisted the next time, almost physically insisted.  And he got him up; and he kept coming here and he cut down three trees somewhere.  We think we have identified the stump according to President Hinckley.  And there are stumps.  And he cut down those three trees.  And later in life in his journal he said it was that act that preserved his life.  Otherwise he would have; and he thanked, in his journal, that valley boy, that insisted he get up and make that happen.  And that saved his life.  (aProductofUSA)

This story is also told in the blog of someone who participated in a modern-day trek:

Isaac Wardle, was freezing and starving in Martin's Cove in November of 1856.  He thought he was at his end.  One of the rescuers asked him to go chop down a tree for firewood before he sat down.  Isaac didn't want to and eventually had to be physically forced to go do it.  Once done, he was sent back twice to chop down more trees. The process ended up invigorating him and saved his life.  These are believed to be two of the three tree stumps that still remain.  (Courtney)  (see the picture in the introducation)

The handcarts were used to fetch firewood.  Some of the valley boys also gathered firewood.  (See Broomhead, CH)   Isaac was not the only pioneer who had to gather wood, despite the efforts of the valley boys.  Again John Jaques tells his own story in the third person:

When he arrived at the camp, he had to climb the mountain to cut some cedar for firewood. The "boys" of the relief party had cut some wood for the camp, but that was all appropriated before he arrived in camp. So he went on the mountain, and the mountains there are little else than rocks, and he took his little hatchet, for axes were few in camp. Green cedar was of little use. Nothing but dry cedar was really serviceable for fuel, and the dry cedar was almost as hard as iron, while his hatchet had not been ground since he left the Missouri, if it had since he left Iowa city. So I will leave you to imagine how long he was that night before he succeeded in getting fuel for those depending on him. (Jaques, CH)

Isaac would have had the task of setting up their tent that night as well.  The wind played a nasty trick with the tents in camp that first night. 

Camp was made, tents set, supper over and the people retired for the night when a Snow Storm accompanied by a raging wind from the north came over the mountain and with a terrific whirl arround the cove leveled every tent to the ground. Here again the Utah boys found that their services verry much needed. To rescue the people from beneath their tents and re-set the tents in the dark hours of the night was a very trying ordeal for the boys and also the people but marvilous as it may seem, not a single person was Seriously injured.  (Cluff, CH)

However it is likely Isaac’s tent did not fall down with all the others. Langley Bailey, in his letter written to Isaac, wrote, “You and me are in much better conditions than we were at this time 60 years ago, I can remember one morning. every tent was blowed down but ours.  You did stake our tent down strong and firm my dear brother.” (Bailey, Langley)
Another brother noted, “We stayed in the ravine five or six days on reduced rations. One night a windstorm blew down almost every tent. Many perished of cold and hunger at this place. I am not going into detail about the occurrences at Martin's ravine.”  (Jones, Samuel, CH)
Pitching tents in the snow was quite a task, and with the Wyoming winds it was even more important to do it well to avoid catastrophe during the night.  A young sister commented about the stay in the Cove, “Then, when we camped, they had to scrape a place to camp in and there was not much to make fires with. The rations of food became scarce. There were 4 ounces daily for an adult and 2 for a child and sometimes a little piece of meat. O I’ll never forget it, never!”  (Fullmer, CH 2)  Another sister said, “The tent was frozen and the ground so hard we could not set it up. I think it was two weeks we were without tents.”  (Camm, CH 1)  Young Peter McBride described a night their tent fell down from the wind:

The wind blew the tent down. They all crawled out but me. The snow fell on it. I went to sleep and slept warm all night. In the morning I heard someone say, "How many are dead in this tent?" My sister said, "Well, my little brother must be frozen to death in that tent." So they jerked the tent loose, sent it scurrying over the snow. My hair was frozen to the tent. I picked myself up and came out quite alive, to their surprise.  (McBride, Peter, CH)

A young sister had a similar experience to Peter:

After pitching our tents we lay down on the ground to get some sleep and rest. In the night the tents all blew over. It was all ice and snow where I was lying, and when the tents blew off I didn’t wake up I was so tired. One man came and looked at me. He called some more men over saying, “I wonder if she is dead?” He patted me on the head and just then I opened my eyes. He jumped back. I tried to raise my head but found that my hair was frozen to the ground. They chopped the ice all around my hair, and I got up and went over to the fire and melted the large pieces of ice that were clinging to my hair. The men laughed to think that I could lie there all night with my hair frozen in the ice, but were very glad that I wasn’t dead. (Allen, CH)

Although the cove provided some protection from the elements, conditions were still extreme.  “On our way, we camped at a gulch called "Martin's Ravine". Here we suffered terribly with the cold. It was only with the Power of God that we survived.”  (Zundle, CH)  The cold was unbearable.  The ferocity of the wind, and efforts to combat it were recorded by the rescuers.  “The camp moved half a mile nearer the mountain to get out of the wind and to get wood handier.  Spent that day in cooking and geting wood and fixing ways to break the wind.”  (Broomhead, CH)
Having the hill in front and the mountains behind did afford some protection from the wind, which protection likely saved lives:
     This cove or ravine, was indeed our Valley Forge or graveyard, and though some have censured Captain Martin for taking us there, yet if we had stayed at the Devil's Gate fort it would have been more fatal, on account of the full sweep the bitter cold winds had on us there, and one day or night with the thermometer 11 degrees below zero. Here we had plenty of good cedar wood and shelter on three sides. (Rogerson, CH)

The other goal, of being closer to a ready supply of fuel, was also achieved.  “We reached the cove or ravine in time to get our tents pitched before dark, and found plenty of good, dry cedar and pine, close by on the rocks and ledges.”  (Rogerson, CH)
 However the weather remained cold.  “The night was as cold as nearly any we had at the Devil's Gate, and the snow so frozen to the ground that many were not able to clear it out of the tents, so they threw down their buffalo robes and blankets and lay down exhausted. We remained here the evening of Tuesday, Nov. 4 and Nov. 5, 6, 7 and 8—five nights and four days.”  (ibid)  The temperature was eleven degrees below zero during this time.  (Burton, CH 1)  It was so cold that they did not need to salt beef when it was butchered.  One of the rescuers reported, “When an animal was killed to take to the immigrants, there was no need to salt the beef—it froze during quartering and stayed frozen.”  (Cluff, Riverton Stake)
Heber McBride later wrote of the Cove, “We came up this side of Devil’s gate about 6 miles and camped in a little cove in the mountains where the wind could not have such a clean sweep at us…  Then was the time to hear children crying for something to eat.  Nearly all the children would cry themselves to sleep every night.”  (McBride, Heber, CH 2)
 Isaac’s service as a grave digger would have continued.  Over fifty Saints were buried in Martin’s Ravine, just over the hillfrom where the pioneers camped.  This is about the same number as Red Buttes. 
The pioneers remembered Martin’s Ravine or Cove with dread.  “At this season and at this part of the plains it commenced getting cold, and were again placed on shorter rations of 4 ounces of flour to each person per day. We traveled to the Sweet Waters River where we camped, being so weak and exhausted that it was almost impossible to move.  Many of our people while there died of starvation while others froze to death by the wayside.”  (Housley, CH)  “After this crossing we camped for several days in a deep gulch called ‘Martin's Ravine’.  It was a fearful time and place.  It was so cold that some of the company came near freezing to death. The sufferings of the people were fearful, and nothing but the power of a merciful God kept them from perishing.  The storms continued unabated for some days.  (Kingsford CH)  “The Company passed off the main road to what was named Martin's Ravine, to escape the terrible blizzards and storms for we had little clothing and had given up all hope; death had taken a heavy toll, the ravine was like an overcrowded tomb, no mortal pen could describe the suffering; such was the condition when word was received that help was on the way.”  (Kirkman, CH)  Patience Archer added this memory:

We had avery nice camping place.  Here we remained for nine days as we had to wait until more provisions came to us.  What supplis had already been sent to us had to be left for the brethren that had to stay all winter at Devil’s Gate, as the cattle had nearly all gave out, both in the wagon company and our company and a great deal of freight had to be left there at Devil’s Gate untill spring.  And we was on four oz. of flour a day nearly all the time we was in camp on the Sweet water.  (Archer, CH)

The stay was actually five days.  Rations were reduced, as additional relief was longer in arriving than expected due to the storms.  The rations went back to four ounces of flour for adults and two for children:

We then went into a canyon where we camped for about three weeks. In a few days after we arrived here our rations were reduced to four ounces of flour per day. This happened on account of a number of the brethern having to stay at Devil’s Gate until spring to guard the effects that the company had left. Having to leave all the flour that it was thought we could do without until we should meet a fresh supply from the valley… (Openshaw, CH)

The oxen and animals continued to die, or were killed and supplied what nourishment they could, but they were very lean.  This would not have been very good for Langley’s health issues.  “Here nearly all the balance of our oxen died, and several were found each morning dead between the tents, and some with their heads close to the ashes of our campfires. Others were knocked in the head before they did die, cut up and eaten, together with many a pound of rawhide, after roasting off the hair.”  (Rogerson, CH)  “They began killing the poor oxen that had not died and distributing the hyde and bones among the people to try and keep them from starving.”  (McBride, Heber, CH 2)  “The next day we had nothing to eat but some bark from trees.”  (McBride, Peter, CH)

On to Salt Lake

The Saints were in the cove until Sunday, Nov. 9 when they made another start.  The wagon companies had cached most of their goods, freeing the wagons for transporting frozen pioneers.  “The freight was left behind because the teams were unable to haul it further.  The great object now was to save as many of the people as possible, to which everything else must give way, and the lives of the people depended in a great degree on the lives of the teams and on their strength, so that is was essential to spare the animals all unnecessary labor.”  (Jaques, CH)
The handcart pioneers had cached much of their goods, and left most of the handcarts behind.  “Nearly all of the handcarts have been left behind.”  (Bleak, CH 2)  Since Devil’s Gate, they only had one handcart per tent:

   A council was held in which it was decided that we should leave all our clothing and cooking utensils (except what was absolutely necessary, such as a blanket to wrap ourselves in and the clothing we stood in) to be left at Devils Gate and that a number of the brethern who had come out to meet us should stay to take care of them until spring should open (when they would be sent for from the valley) and that we leave all our hand carts, except one to each tent in order to carry our cooking utensils only.
   …However we made another start, some with bundles on their backs, a number of others would join together and put them on a handcart. Some would be crying, others singing, and thus went trudging along as best we could.  (Openshaw, CH)

They now only used the covered carts, for cooking utensils and sleep covers.   Langley would have been moved to a wagon, but Isaac indicated he was one still with a handcart.  Others of the Saints did not have handcarts, but were still walking.  “I pulled for 1130 miles to Pacific Springs, Wyoming.”  (Wardle, CH)  Pacific Springs is just past South Pass.
A rescuer reported slow progress.  “Our travel was very slow at first. Five or ten miles a day was all we could make.”  (Cluff, CH)  A few days after leaving the cove, by Nov. 11, Ephraim Hanks met the handcart company.  He was instrumental in saving many of the Saints.  “Very few men—or members of the rescuing party, if any, surpassed Ephraim Hanks in the services and assistance that he rendered our company, day and night, until the last one of us reached Salt Lake, and from that day till this we have been crowning him with thanks and blessings.”  (Rogerson, CH) 
Ephraim found them just before they stopped for the day.  He brought with him buffalo meat draped over his mule, which he distributed to the pioneers.  Ephraim also talked about his anointments and healings, which commenced with that first night.  He and Daniel Tyler visited the tent of a man on his death bed at the request of his wife.  Brother Tyler said, ‘I cannot administer to a dead man.”    Brother Tyler went back to bed, leaving Ephraim Hanks to lay out the body.  Instead Ephraim recruited several men to help him warm the body with heated water.  He then anointed him with oil.  They then laid their hands on his head and “commanded him in the name of Jesus Christ to breathe and live.”  This man began to breath, stood up and sang a hymn.  His wife went about camp saying, “My husband was dead, but is now alive. Praised be the name of God. The man who brought the buffalo meat has healed him.” (Hanks p 50)
            You can imagine the general excitement caused by this healing.  Ephraim was then in demand throughout the camp to bless this person or that.  “’Come to me,’ or ‘my dying child’ were some of the requests that were made of me.” (Ibid)  He spent days going from tent to tent administering to the sick.  “The result of this our labor of love certainly redounded to the honor and glory of a kind and merciful God.  In score of instances when we administered to the sick, and rebuked the diseases in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, the sufferers would rally at once; they were healed almost instantly.  I believe I administered to several hundred in a single day…”Another incredible story is that of Thomas Dobson, whose feet were badly frozen and swollen, so swollen that shoes would not fit:

His feet became frozen.  Ephraim Hanks promised him the next pair of shoes, but his feet were so badly swollen nothing would fit.  It was feared he would lose his toes.  Ephraim Hanks administered to him, saying there is nothing I can do, and wrapped his feet a piece of cotton.  He promised him, “I tell you what you do.  Stand up and sing the handcart song and I promise you in the name of Israel’s God your feet shall be made whole.”   That night Tom heard fiddling (as the result of a wedding).  He hobbled to the fire, and one of the brethren, as a joke challenged him to dance a jig.  He had learned the clog dance since a youth, and as a result obliged them with a dance.  He says that was the last of his lame feet.
Ephraim Hanks tells the same story in this manner.  One evening after having gone as far as Ft. Bridger, I was requested by a sister to come and administer to her son…  He was very sick and his friends expected he would die that night. . . . I felt the power of God resting upon me and addressing the young man said, “Will you believe all the words I tell you?”  His response was, “Yes.”  I then administered to him and he was immediately healed.  He got up, dressed himself and danced the hornpipe on the inboard of a wagon, which I procured for that purpose.  (Wardle, Billy, History Blog)

            Isaac made no mention of having been blessed personally by Ephraim Hanks, but there is no doubt he would have been witness to not only the suffering of the Saints, but also the miracles performed in their behalf.  However not even Ephraim could heal everyone, or cure all the infirmities.  Many cases he also served as surgeon:

But notwithstanding these manifestations of the Lord's goodness, many of the immigrants whose extremities were frozen, lost their limbs, either whole or in part.  Many such I washed with water and castile soap, until the frozen parts would fall off, after which I would sever the shreds of flesh from the remaining portions of the limbs with my scissors. Some of the emigrants lost toes, others fingers, and again others whole hands and feet…  But so far as I remember there were no fresh cases of frozen limbs after my arrival in camp.   (Ibid p 48)

              As the train moved toward Salt Lake City, Ephraim stayed with them and would hunt buffalo.  He supplied the pioneers with a good amount of meat. 
It wasn’t until Nov 14 that it was recorded “No death in camp tonight.”  (Burton, CH 1)  Now those who dug graves had a different strategy:
Several other discoveries were made on the journey. The way to have a warm sleeping place was this-sweep away the ashes of the camp fire and lay your bed on the spot where the fire was built. You would be sure to sleep warm there, if anywhere. In the morning the same spot was found to be the most available for a graver use-it was the easiest place in which to dig a grave to bury the night's dead. No pun is here intended. The subject is too serious….Thus, in this severe winter traveling and camping economy, the hearths served three separate, distinct, and important purposes.   (Jaques, CH)
As more and more relief wagons were met, the baggage was transferred into the wagons, the handcarts were abandoned one after another (See Lloynd, CH):

Not many days after the departure of the companies from Devils Gate they were met by a train of wagons with supplies from Zion. Following this train came another and then another and from that time on the road was kept pretty well opened. As the trains came the number of handcarts diminished as the aged were taken into wagons and made quite comfortable. By the time we reached Ft Bridger the entire handcart people were being carried with their goods, in wagons.  (Cluff, CH)

As they approached the valley, more and more rescuers met them.  Isaac may have been relieved of his duty of hunting for firewood, as often the fires would already have been started by the “valley boys” before they reached camp.  “As we neared the vallies—younger men—boys in their red shirts, their trousers thrust well down into their boot tops made their appearance felling the dry timber for our fires—& even trying to make merriment to cheer up our gloomy & sorely tried people.”  (Jones, Albert, CH 2)  “The Brethren from Salt Lake continued meeting us and sometimes, we had a good cheering fire built for us when we got into camp.”  (Camm, CH 2)
            On Nov 17 the ox wagons were left behind so they had mule pulled wagons only, which could travel more quickly; “expect to travel 20 to 25 miles a day.”  (Bleak, Ch 2)  As they met more rescuers the handcarts were left behind.  It wasn’t until Nov. 19 that Brother Burton records that all the Saints were then in wagons.  This was shortly after leaving the Sweetwater, so would have been close to South Pass and Pacific Springs.  (Burton, CH 1)  Isaac said he pulled his cart to Pacific Springs.  (Wardle, Isaac 1)  “In traveling up the Sweetwater we began to meet teams sent to our aid, which relieved the situation to such an extent that when we reached the head of the Sweet Water we were able, on the 19th of November, to get most if not all of the emigrants in the wagons and from this time on we made good time.”  (Burton, CH 2)  Thomas Steed, one of the rescuers, mentions that after having pulled back to fort Bridger, he and a group with their wagons met the handcart company at Pacific Springs.  (Steed, CH)
            Being in a wagon did not make the journey one of comfort.  President Hinckley later explained:

…Left their cars there and were crowded in to those rough wagons.  We may think that was a joy to ride in a wagon after pulling a handcart.  It was not a luxury.  Believe me.  I grew up when we had a team and a wagon around the little farm that we ran.  When you are riding on a dead axle you feel every bump in the road.  (Riverton, Hinckley, stake fireside)

            A rescuer who met the handcart company at Fort Bridger recorded, “This was the saddest sight I have seen.  The biggest part of them were given out and nearly frozen to death; some with their feet frozen, some with their hands frozen.  It was a sight that would make one's heart ache just to look at them.”  (Wadsworth, CH)
            Eventually the pioneers were allowed to sleep in the wagons at night.  However this was not always a blessing:

…The good brother that owned the wagon told us that we could sleep in his wagon and he would make a hole in the snow and make his bed there.  He thought we would be warmer in the wagon.  We made our bed there but we only had one old quilt to lie on and in the night I woke up and called to Mother I am freezing.  The side I had laid on was so benumbed with cold Mother got up and helped me out of the wagon.  There was some big fires burning in several places in the camp and lots of the sisters sitting and sleeping near the fire to keep warm so I went to the fire and stayed there the remainder of the night.  (Archer, CH)

            Afterwards Patience learned that if you but some coals from the fire in a bucket, and brought them to the wagon, you could sleep comfortable enough.  (ibid)  Brother Allred, one of the rescuers recorded after all the Saints were in wagons:

Nov 18th. The teams having all arrived we were organized into companies of (10's) Tens by wagons—each ten taking up a company of one hundred as they were organized in the Handcarts—my ten wagons hauling Capt. Mayo's company.  All could ride, altho. much crowded. We then set out for the City with this half-starved, half frozen and almost entirely exhausted company of about 500 saints. But from that time on they did not suffer with hunger or fatigue, but all suffered more or less with cold.  As well as I was provided I even lost my toe nails from frost.  (Allred, CH)

They passed Echo Canyon November 26.  The Rescuer Company Journal records, “Cold, but clear.  Camped tonight in the head of Echo Canyon; met Brother Little and others from the City.  (Hafen and Hafen appendix D)
Although they made good time there was still peril going down the mountain to Salt Lake.  “Arriving at the Big Mountain on the evening of the 30th of November, where the snow had piled up on each side of the road nearly to the tops of our wagons, which had been kept open by the efforts of our dear President Brigham Young by the use of ox teams passing up and down the road.”  (Burton, CH 3)  Brother Jones also mentions going through snow eight feet deep past Little Mountain.  (Jones, Albert, CH 3)  Harvey Cluff remembered a snow bank.  “…Near the summit a cut with shovels had to be made through a snow drift twenty feet deep.”  (Cluff, CH)  During some of this pass, the pioneers who were able had to get out and walk.  “We had to travel over two mountains before reaching Salt Lake City. One called the Large Mountain and one the Little Mountain. All that could was ordered to walk as it was hard pulling for the animals. They built fires here and there to warm by.” (Goodaker, CH) “We had a hard time for the Canyon was full of snow and it was all we could do to get through. The authorities had sent out wagons and men from Salt Lake to put up tents, clear the snow from the ground, and to set the fires so they could start them as soon as we came in sight. They did and it was a welcome sight to see them.”  (Wadsworth, CH)
They approached Emigration Canyon November 29.  “Passed over the Big Mountain, snowing fast.  Stopped snowing after noon.  Passed over Little Mountain; camped in the head of Emigration Canyon; met supplies.”  (Hafen and Hafen, appendix D)
Shortly before entering the valley, a bushel of onions arrived to them with the statement, “Eat all you want.”  It had been some time since they had heard anyone say this.  Burton documents the donation of onions. (Burton, CH 4)  Isaac later talked of this day.  “In Parley’s Canyon they were camped at a place called, ‘The Dell.’  A group from Salt Lake City met them with more food which consisted of cold biscuits and onion with word from Brigham Young to, ‘Eat all you want.’ What a wonderful message to a group of people who had not had all they wanted to eat for weeks.”  (Rupp)  The Dell, or Little Dell is about 9 miles up Emigration Canyon, and just over the top of the canyon into the Parley’s canyon area.  
At the mouth of Emigration Canyon they were met by a group of Saints.  “On a bright Sunday morning we were met in Emigration Canyon by hundreds of people in buggies and wagons and horseback to see us.”  (Camm, CH 1) The Handcart Saints arrived on a Sunday afternoon:

We were received by the saints, some with tears in their eyes and some with joy. We were a pitiful sight to see, and for weeks this company was not allowed to eat much nor to see themselves in a mirror. President Young met us, and when he saw us he was so melted down with grief at sight of our condition he had to go home sick, but he blessed us first.  (Clark, CH 1)

Brother Allred gives a good description of the last few days of the trip, and entering the valley:

After getting well started Capt. Grant with a number of others started ahead to the City leaving Robert T. Burton in Command with me to assist him, and after hard marches & much suffering, which was however, lessened by assistance from Salt Lake City in the shape of cooked provisions & men to clear the snow on the mountain passes—making it possible for our much exhausted teams to get along with their heavy loads, we arrived in the City in triumph. Capt. Burton leading one & I the other as we moved up the Street in two lines to the Tithing yard where we were greeted with much praise & a hearty welcome to the City of the saints where we as well as the new comers could rest from our labours and our work could follow us.   (Allred, CH)

            Entering the Valley, the handcart members may have felt much like Johan Ahmanson, who had preceded them with the Willie Company by a few weeks: 

Many forgot the tribulations they had endured upon glimpsing the sudden vista…. From that distance the city with its light gray adobe houses looked like a large encampment, and the Salt Lake Valley, which had a breadth of about thirty miles from east to west, resembled a basin or dried up lake, with its huge mountain masses ranging upward on all sides.  Although the vegetation was now dead, and the eye of the observer met only a desolate treeless valley, surrounded by bare, reddish mountains, yet the impression made by the whole scene was still very pleasing.  (Johan Ahmanson as quoted in Olsen p 176)

Langley Bailey described the arrival in Salt Lake.  He had ridden in a wagon since martin’s Cove:

   Our emerging from Immigration [Emigration] canyon Sun, Nov. 30 will never be forgotten. I was lifted up in the wagon, more dead than alive, and saw in the distance houses. Christopher Columbus and his men were no more pleased [illegible] to rejoice [illegible] habitations once more. When arriving in the city the people were coming out of meeting. Hundreds came and viewed us with much amazement. (Bailey, CH 1)
   We arrived in Salt Lake City Sunday noon coming out of Emmigration canyon. I was lifted up in the wagon could see houses in the distance. It <was;> like the Isrealites of old in beholding the promised land. date Nov 30, 1856.  (Bailey, CH 2)

A sister noted that they were taken to the Assembly Hall, where, “The floor was covered with straw and there was a nice warm fire for us.”  (Archer) Isaac provided this description of their arrival, “We arrived there Nov. 30, 1856 having taken us Six (6) months and five (5) days to come from Liverpool England to Salt Lake City U.S.A.  President Brigham Young along with many of the other Brethren and Women came to welcome us and took us into their homes, fed and warmed us and gave us warm clean beds to rest our weary bodies.”  (Wardle, CH)   Isaac’s Granddaughter said, “By night everyone had a warm comfortable place to lay their heads and rest their weary souls after one of the worst and most heart-breaking journeys ever made by man and recorded in history.”  (Rupp)

Causes and Consequences

            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 [people] died 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 Counselor 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 mightily with the Lord and I was healed and became healthier than I had been for several years. Elder Martin requested me to see everyone out of camp in the morning and in camp at night, which I did, he going ahead and looking out camping places &c. I also had to see to burying the dead which in our Company amounted to something 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 Platte 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 today congratulate us on saving their lives while others whom by the utmost exertion we succeeded in saving can scarcely think of anything 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 perilous condition suffering great hardship in their travels across the plains.  They were mere skeleton[s] 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 they 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)

That Brigham Young and the leaders were caught off guard with regards to the late immigration, until the arrival of President Richards and his company, is verified in this letter written to Parley P. Pratt dated October 30 and published in the Millennial Star in February:

   Our immigration is late; the last two companies, consisting of over 900 souls have not yet arrived.  There is snow on the mountains, and on the Plains.
   We have sent out large supplies of teams, flour, other provisions, and clothing, so that we think they will all come in safely, without much suffering. 
   We had no idea there were any more companies upon the Plains, until our brethren arrived, presuming that they would consider their late arrival in America, and not start them across the Plains until another year, but so it is, and now too late to remedy.  (MS, XIX, Feb 14, 1857)

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 sometime 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 were anxious to take all through that they possibly could; but we then believed, as well as now, that much suffering of 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 stayed 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)

Brigham Young made sure that his desires with regards to the immigration were known for subsequent years.  Parley P. Pratt had taken over the presidency of the European mission, and Brigham Young sent him a letter dated October 30, 1856:

The immigration is too late; this in an evil that must be remedied in future.  We now give you positive instructions, that, so far as you control the immigration to come across the Plains, you are not to permit any company to leave the Missouri river later than the first of August, and it is far more preferable that they leave early in June or May.  If they could start that soon, they would arrive here in time to aid in the harvest, and have an opportunity to lay up some provisions for winter; get wood etc.; whereas now a great portion have to be sustained by charity almost a year, before they can do much for themselves.  (MS XIX Feb. 14, 1857)

Spiritual Strength Gained

Many of the handcart pioneers felt strengthened, and closer to God as a result of their handcart experience.  Francis Webster told of his experience in a Sunday school class in Cedar City, which was later retold on a radio program:

        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.
       Some 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.
      One 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.
      He 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."
      The 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 members 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, someday 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 experiences 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 appreciation 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. (Jones, Samuel CH)

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 realized that the hand of God was over us and that he made good His promises 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 proved day by day.  We knew that we had not strength of our own to perform such hardships.  If our Heavenly Father had not helped us and we prayed unto God continually for his help and we always acknowledged his goodness unto us day by day.  Sometimes in the morning I would feel so tired and feel that I could not pull the cart the day through.  Then the still small voice would whisper 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 months before we reached the valley…
   We always ask God to bless to our use and that it would strengthen our bodies day by day so that we could perform our duties.  And I can testify that our Heavenly Father heard and answered 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 terrible 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 bodies would have been left on the plains as hundreds of our poor brothers and sisters was.  (Archer, CH)

Sister Loader Archer also mentioned an experience, which was likely the intervention of a heavenly angel:

Sometime in the afternoon a strange man appeared to me as we was resting.  As we got up the hill he came and looked in my face he says, 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 disappeared.  I looked but never saw where he went.  This seemed very strange to me.  I took this as someone sent to encourage 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.
A sister, who had given up on the trail as her family left her behind, was benefitted by an unseen angel:

My mother, being still weak, finally gave up and said she could go no further. The company could not wait for her, so she bade my father goodbye and kissed each one of the children Godspeed. Then my mother sat down on a boulder and wept. I told my sister, Elizabeth, to take good care of the twins and the rest of the family, and that I would stay with Mother. I went a few yards away and prayed with faith that God would help us, that He would protect us from devouring wolves, and asked that He would let us reach camp. As I was going back to where my mother was sitting I found a pie in the road. I picked it up and gave it to my mother to eat, and after resting awhile we started on our journey, thanking God for the blessings.  (Clark ,CH 1)

Brother Albert Jones provided 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 Ephraimic 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, since your entry to these grand vallies to which God in His mercy has led you…
…—& though the handcart episode is one of the unpleasant experiences 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 appreciation of Gods own hand dealing to us as a people, more easily discerned.   (Jones, Albert, CH 3)