William Ashton


Sarah and Mary by Julie RogersWilliam Ashton: Continue On
When stories are told of the Martin Handcart Company, of their sufferings and sacrifice; of their rescue and struggle, the story of this one family surely needs to be remembered.
William and Sarah Ashton left England in May 1856 on the ship Horizon with their children Betsey, Sarah Ellen, Mary, and Elizabeth Ann. They left all behind, including their youngest, Esther who had passed away just before the journey.
The family arrived in Boston and while they waited to board the train to Iowa City, Elizabeth Ann, just 2, also passed away. The family continued on and eventually found themselves in Iowa waiting for handcarts. The handcarts were late in coming and the emigrants of the Martin Handcart Company did not depart the Iowa City campground until July 28, 1856.
The family pulled their handcart 300 miles across Iowa to Florence, Nebraska. There, Sarah Ann Barlow Ashton gave birth to a baby girl, but Sarah, weakened by all that she had endured, did not survive. August 26, 1856, she passed away at Cutler’s Park. The family continued on, and then September 11, the newborn infant passed away and was buried on the plains of Nebraska, 9 miles west of Prairie Creek.
One can only imagine the burden of grief the family bore as they continued on to Fort Laramie, Wyoming. There on October 9, 1856, William and a few others enlisted in the United States Army. It was not unusual for a cash inducement to be offered to recruits in the wilderness, as well as draws on the commissary in advance of future pay. Perhaps William saw this as a way to provide necessary food and supplies for his 3 girls, whom, it is presumed, he left in the care of the Barlow family.
While Betsey, Sarah, and Mary continued on, William their father, remained behind at Fort Laramie. Ten days later, severe winter storms caught the Martin Company on the banks of the North Platte River. Rumors reached William that none of the Martin Handcart Company survived. William, the Englishman, served five years as a foot soldier in the U.S. army making his way from Wyoming, to Kansas, and finally to California. Upon his discharge he vanished from the records.
The three girls suffered with the handcart saints at Red Buttes Camp near the Platte River. There 11 year-old Betsy succumbed to the cold and passed away. Sarah and Mary continued on to the Valley. In the bitter cold journey, Sarah lost her sight in one eye.
In time, both girls would marry, Sarah to Thomas Beckstead and Mary to Isaac Wardle. Mary and Isaac were expecting a child. At his birth they would name him William Ashton Wardle and while he would live to good age, his mother, Mary passed away at his birth.
Now, of a family of 8, only Sarah continued on. She was a devoted wife, mother, and disciple of the Lord. She and Thomas had 10 children and eventually settled in the small farming community of Whitney, Idaho. Then sometime after December of 1888, a man named Clark brought a copy of the Latter-day Saint’s Millennial Star, published in England, to Sarah’s door. In it was the following ad, “Wanted: Elder William Ashton is very anxious to learn the address of any one or all of his daughters, Betsey, Sarah, and Mary who emigrated from Stockport, England on the 18th of May, 1856. They crossed the plains in one of the “Handcart Companies. Brother Ashton’s address is Charlesworth, near Broadbottom, Derbyshire, England. –Utah Papers please copy.”
After 33 years apart, William was reunited with his family.
If I take one thing from this unusual story it is that no matter what happens to us and our families, continue on in faith, and God willing, all will be made right in the end.
Sources: https://familysearch.org/photos/stories/3632026
Tell My Story Too by Jolene Allphin p. 159-160
For more stories by Glenn Rawson visit, www.glennrawson.com or https://www.facebook.com/pages/Glenn-Rawson-Stories/ or www.historyofthesaints.org
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Artwork by Julie Rogers

Christmas: Alvin Smith




Not long ago it was one of those days around my house where everyone seemed to be grouchy and grumpy and oh, glass egos everywhere. As snipping and snapping like a cage of sharks, we started our day. And I have to admit, I was no better than the rest of them.

Two of my daughters even got into a heated argument over who got to read the new book. The older one grabbed the book from the other, whereupon the younger one grabbed it back and kicked her in the shins – oh, boy!

They managed to work it out, but it troubled me – it really troubled me! As I went to work that day I was thinking, “What is all this arguing and fighting going to do to my family?” I decided I wanted to say something. I wanted to teach them, but what could I say that wouldn’t sound like the drone of a parent’s lecture?

“You should do this; you should do that; yah, yah, yah …”

I already knew that that would be just about as effective as getting a kiss through a screen door. So I sat, and I pondered, and then all of a sudden an idea came to me.

That night I gathered all my family around the kitchen table. I opened up the scriptures and I read the words of the Savior:

“For verily, verily I say unto you, he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another.” (3 Nephi 11:29)

I read the verse, and just as I’d expected, they knew exactly what the verse meant. They knew perfectly well that fighting and arguing were wrong. I also knew that once I was done talking, if I left it right there, they would remember what I had said about like we remember every mile marker post along side the freeway – and that just wasn’t good enough. Some how I had to find a way to turn this message into a colossal billboard. Call it a feeling, but it was important to me. This is what I did:

While they watched, I took a photograph of our family all smiling and happy, and I laid it on the kitchen table right in front of them. Then I took an eyedropper with some bleach in it.

“Guys,” I said, not telling them what was in it. “This,” I said, “is ‘contention,’ and this is what it does to our family.”

And with that, I placed a tiny drop on one of the daughters that had been fighting that morning. Then I dropped another drop on another family member. And then I said, “Let’s just see what fighting and arguing will do to our family.” And with that I dropped drops here, there, everywhere until the whole family was covered.

All of us crowded around and looked down at the picture – just to see what would happen. I didn’t even know; I’d never done this before. All of a sudden right before our eyes, the image of my oldest daughter disappeared from the photograph – then another, and then another, until the entire family was gone.

At that point, I looked up at my children and I said, “Now, what did contention do to our family?”

I can still see in my mind’s eye the stunned awestruck look on my oldest daughter’s face as she looked up at me and she said, “It dissolved it!”

And so it does. A contentious spirit is more deadly to relationships than the last stages of cancer, for it is also infectious and kills more than just its victim.


First Christmas in Utah


First Christmas in Utah

Brigham Young and the first Latter-day Saint pioneers entered the Salt Lake Valley in July 1847. By December of 1847 there were more than 1800 saints who had gathered to the Valley, most having arrived in late September and early October. President Young had returned to Winter Quarters and John Smith, the uncle of the Prophet Joseph was the presiding priesthood officer.

Not certain of their safety the saints constructed a large fort and everyone moved in and shared the cramped space. The conditions were terrible, cold, drafty, and filthy. Mice were an awful problem as more than one pioneer described walking across the room of her cabin and having a mouse drop out of the thatched roof upon her. A cat was as valuable as a cow it has been said. Notwithstanding the risk, some saints abandoned the fort the following spring in search of better living.

Food was scarce to non-existent. The saints scrounged for whatever was edible and lived on the verge of starvation. Fortunately it was an open winter; meaning that temperatures were moderate compared to future years, and most snow that fell soon melted.

And then came Christmas 1847. There are accounts of singing, dancing, and much celebration. One young girl, Elizabeth Huffaker left this account.

“I remember our first Christmas in the valley. We all worked as usual. The men gathered sagebrush and some even plowed for though it had snowed, the ground was still soft, and the plows were used nearly the entire day. Christmas came on Saturday. We celebrated the day on the Sabbath, when we all gathered around the flag pole in the center of the fort, and there held meeting. And it was a great meeting. We sang praise to God, we all joined in the opening prayer, and the speaking that day has always been remembered. There were words of thanksgiving and cheer. Not an unkind word was uttered. The people were hopeful, and buoyant because of their faith in the great work that they were undertaking. After the meeting, we all shook hands with each other. Some wept with joy, the children played in the enclosure, and around the sagebrush fire that night, we gathered and sang:

‘Come, come, ye Saints,

No toil nor labor fear,

But with joy, wend your way.’

….In the sense of perfect peace and good will, I never had a happier Christmas in all my life.”

These people, driven, hunted, and hated, had nothing, but, in their eyes, when they had Christ and each other, they had everything.

Sources: http://www.ldschurchnewsarchive.com/articles/28796/Pioneer-Moments-First-Christmas.html



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January 21, 1836, A Night of Visions

1204HopkinsonA, 4/26/05, 10:05 AM, 8C, 5042x6232 (579+798), 75%, Image Craft re, 1/8 s, R102.0, G78.8, B96.7

1204HopkinsonA, 4/26/05, 10:05 AM, 8C, 5042×6232 (579+798), 75%, Image Craft re, 1/8 s, R102.0, G78.8, B96.7

January 21, 1836—A Night of Visions

The Lord will reveal himself to us when, where, and how he pleases. It is not by the will of man that revelation comes, but by the will of God.

Thursday January 21, 1836, Kirtland, Ohio. 16 men entered the Kirtland House of the Lord and climbed the winding staircase to the third floor west office of Joseph Smith. They had washed and prepared themselves and now were there to attend to the ordinance of sacred anointings as found in the Old Testament.

Joseph Smith Sr. being the oldest man present and the Patriarch, sat in the chair first. The First Presidency gathered around him, consecrated oil, and then anointed and blessed him each in turn. Father Smith then rose and began to anoint those who had just blessed him. Then the members of the Presidency blessed each man following his anointing. Afterwards the other men in the room were similarly anointed and blessed.

That significant night the spirit of the Lord was poured out in rich abundance. “The House was filled with the glory of God,” and many received visions and the ministrations of angels, and so testified. Among them was Joseph Smith Jr. who received one of the greatest and most comforting revelations ever given to man. He said,

The Heavens were opened upon us and I beheld the Celestial Kingdom of God, and the glory thereof….I saw the transcendent beauty of the gate through which the heirs of that kingdom will enter, which was like unto circling flames of fire; also the blazing throne of God, whereon was seated the Father and the Son. I saw the beautiful streets of that Kingdom which had the appearance of being paved with gold.

Then Joseph described seeing several people including his father and mother who were both yet alive. Clearly, this was a vision of future events. But then Joseph saw his brother Alvin, who had died back in 1823 at the age of 25. How could Alvin be in the highest heaven with God since he had never had the opportunity to be baptized?

Joseph was then given the answer to one of the greatest theological questions of the millennia—what about all those who live and die and never have the opportunity to hear the Gospel and receive it ordinances? Are they saved, or damned, and if so, what is the justification for either. The Lord said,

All that shall die henceforth without a knowledge of it, who would have received it with all their hearts shall be heirs of that kingdom. For I the Lord will judge all men according to their works, according to the desire of their hearts.

Joseph then learned that all children who die before they come of age are automatically saved in the highest heaven of God. Can you imagine the joy just for Joseph alone who had lost his beloved brother Alvin and his own children to death? They were saved and he would see them again!

It did not stop there! Joseph also saw into the terrestrial kingdom. He saw the Twelve Apostles and the Savior in their midst in foreign lands. He saw those Apostles escorted into the Celestial Kingdom of God, and many other things did he see, he said, “which the tongue of man cannot describe in full.”

This night would begin a rich Pentecostal season lasting about 15 weeks in which more saints witnessed visions, angels, spiritual gifts, and even the Savior himself, than perhaps any other time in history. And the point is this—it is history—written, recorded, signed and certified by eyewitnesses who were there.

Source: josephsmithpapers.org

Art by Glen S. Hopkinson

For more stories by Glenn Rawson visit, www.glennrawson.com or https://www.facebook.com/pages/Glenn-Rawson-Stories/ or www.historyofthesaints.org

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Mary Jane McCleve

I'LL NEVER LET GO, Elizabeth and Richard Paul Bradshaw

Mary Jane McCleve

August 21, 1851, Mary Jane McCleve was baptized in the Irish Sea not far from County Down in the northeastern part of Ireland. She was baptized at night to escape persecution. As her family studied the Gospel the desire to go to Zion and find faith, freedom, and a piece of ground all their own became their dream. Finally by Christmas 1855 the family prepared to make the journey. For Mary Jane, it would be hard to leave family, friends, and the beautiful land of Ireland. Even more trying was the sweetheart she left behind

Mary Jane and her family bought a handcart at Iowa City, Iowa and joined the Daniel D. McArthur handcart company. They departed June 11, 1856 at 11:00 AM bound for Salt Lake City. The glamour of the journey soon turned to the tedium of the trail. If it was not the hot choking dust, it was the miserable slippery mud. Nevertheless Mary Jane’s father pulled on with the family helping as best they could. As they passed into Wyoming, Mary Jane prayed that she could endure to the journey’s end. O, how she missed Ireland. “Surely the Lord must have a purpose in bringing his Saints through this experience,” she said to herself.

The company crossed over South Pass. Again Mary Jane looked out at the desolate landscape and thought to herself, “It was…a bleak sight to see that dry sagebrush terrain before us. It looked so forlorn. Oh! For just one view of my beloved Ireland. I couldn’t help but wonder,’ She said “what we had given up for the gospel. Surely our destination looked better than what I could see today. “Please Lord, help me not to lose faith.”

Bone weary and worn, the emigrants pushed on. Then, just two days outside of Salt Lake City, Mary Jane’s beloved father, John, died, having courageously pulled his handcart and his family until he could go no further. Mary Jane described her feelings.

We thanked our Lord for not letting him suffer too long, But Oh! How I hated to leave him there in that lonely spot. Amid aching hearts and many tears, we buried him by the side of the road…and erected a little marker by his silent grave. I loved my kind Father and it was almost more than I could stand to go on without him. That incident seemed to be a turning point in my life, for I pulled and pushed on that handcart every foot of the way from there on. Up and over the mountains toward and into the Salt Lake Valley.  Oh! how I worked with tears streaming down my face, praying for understanding. Why? Why?  Was it worth my Father’s life? Oh! Lord, help me!

My friends, this story is for every one of you who has wondered if all their sacrifices for their faith were worth it. I witness to you that it is. Thank God there are still people among us who love their faith more than life itself.

Mary Jane finally reached that point where she could look down into the Salt Lake Valley—the Zion of God, the City of Peace–that she and her family had dreamed of for so many years.

A calm feeling came over me,” she said, “…I wanted to run down the mountain and reach our journey’s end I was so thankful for being one of the chosen few. If only Father could have been there to enjoy that sight with us. Maybe he was, for I surely felt close to him that very moment.

Sources: https://history.lds.org/overlandtravels/sources/59784767095955693330/meeks-mary-jane-mc-cleve-biography-personal-recollections-of-mary-jane-mc-cleve-meeks-of-her-life-1840-1933-9-18

Artwork: Julie Rogers

For more stories by Glenn Rawson visit, www.glennrawson.com or https://www.facebook.com/pages/Glenn-Rawson-Stories/ or www.historyofthesaints.org

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The Will to Go On

pioneer woman and baby

The Will to Go On

The Lord once said, “Whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple.” Evidently, that cross gets very heavy and there is a temptation to put it down. The following are two examples of those determined to carry their cross to the end.

Christopher Hultberg, his wife, Karna and their children Anna Catrina aged 7 and Anders age 3, left Sweden bound for Zion. They sailed from Liverpool on the ship Westmoreland and arrived in Iowa City June 9, 1857. They were organized into the Christian Christiansen handcart company and set out for the West. However, as they crossed Iowa, Karna became ill. When the company reached Florence, Nebraska it was determined that the company would travel on to the Valley, but all those, and there were a number, who were ill and unable to walk were advised to remain behind and wait for another season. The Company left on July 9, 1857. The first night out on the trail an inspection was performed and the Hultbergs were among those recommended to turn back. But Christopher was determined and after coming this far, the disappointment of not reaching Zion was too much bear. With his wife willing, he continued on following the company—pulling the handcart loaded with his wife and two small children. This he did for days and then “when he was too far from base to be sent back, he rejoined the company. Much of the way he had pulled his two children and even his wife on the cart, through his superior strength and unquenchable desire to proceed.”

Source: https://history.lds.org/overlandtravels/pioneers/20776/christopher-hultberg

And again–

Along the Overland Trail there is a portion of that trail in Nebraska that passed through deep and drifting sands. July 19, 1857, was a most memorable day for the Christiansen Handcart Company as they passed through those sand hills at a considerable distance from fresh water, pulling their burdened carts. Seventeen miles they pulled that day. Those who were there left this record. “The struggling efforts of human beings under such conditions are almost impossible to imagine. It was a severe strain upon the physical strength of the men and women who toiled almost to the point of exhaustion. Indeed, some of the emigrants were so overcome by the superhuman efforts required of them that they fell exhausted by the way-side and were unable to reach the camp at night. All day long they had toiled without water.” The Company finally reached the Wood River spent and famished. Among those who endured the terrible suffering of the journey pulling the cart through deep sand was Anna Marie Sorensen.

After reaching the River that night, Anna Marie quietly retired from the company into some nearby willows where she gave birth to a baby girl, Julianne Marie Sorensen. Witnesses then said, “On the morning following she appeared again with her infant in her apron ready to pursue the journey. She had not murmured; her courageous and devoted soul knew no obstacles to the goal of her ambition.”

The Company would not hear of it and preparations were made for the courageous mother to ride for the next few days. When the Almighty said “O ye that embark in the service of God see that serve him with all your heart, might, mind, and strength, that ye may stand blameless before God at the last day” this has to be what he meant.

Source: https://history.lds.org/overlandtravels/sources/4972/jensen-james-reminiscences-in-j-m-tanner-a-biographical-sketch-of-james-jensen-1911-23-40

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Susan Melverton Witbeck

handcart girl, 6/6/06, 11:59 AM,  8C, 6351x11827 (2953+2360), 150%, studio setting,  1/12 s, R28.1, G7.7, B18.0

Susan Melverton Witbeck
Susan Melverton first heard missionaries teach the restored Gospel when she was only 12 in Somerset, England. Eventually she joined the Church without the knowledge or permission of her grandparents, with whom she lived. When her grandfather learned what she had done, he gave her the cruel ultimatum to renounce the Church or look for a new home. Susan says, “I loved and adored my grandparents, but I could not deny my religion. I knew it was true,” The saints took her in and she made many dear friends. Then in 1857, she left her native England, all alone, the only member of her family to make the journey. She knew full well that when she arrived in America she would be pulling a handcart, but, as she said, “It was impossible for me to realize the hardships I had to meet. Misgivings or fear never entered my mind, for it was the only way I could get to Zion, and the journey had to be met with faith and courage.”
When she arrived in Iowa City, Susan had journeyed as far as her funds would take her. She had nothing left. A vote was taken among the emigrants what to do with collected funds remaining among the company. It was voted to use the funds to assist someone in traveling on to Utah. “Again,” Susan wrote, “I found I had many friends, for I was chosen to be that one, as I was young, being only eighteen years of age, and alone, with no one to protect me.”
She recounts one night on the plains taking refuge in Brother Lyman Wood’s wagon from a terrible thunder storm. “I never heard such thunder in my life,” she said, “and the rain came down in torrents. There was a wedding in camp that night, a Brother [Elias] and Sister [Elizabeth Smith] Crane, who were not deterred by the storm.”
Susan records that for days as her company approached Salt Lake City, excited parties would come out seeking their loved ones traveling with the company. Day after day the handcart company became smaller. Then Susan writes, “As each happy load pulled on away from us, it began to slowly dawn on my mind that there would be no one to meet me, and no home to go to, when I reached my destination. The feeling of loneliness kept increasing, until the last night we camped, before reaching Salt Lake, I could control my feelings no longer, I wandered far away from the camp, threw myself upon the ground, and gave way to all my stored up heartache.”
It just so happened that very night that the Captain of the company, Israel Evans, was out in search of stray mules when he heard the sound of sobbing. Following the sound, he found Susan alone in the darkness. Taking her into his arms, he inquired the cause of her uncharacteristic melancholy. She opened her heart to him “with all its loneliness and fears.” Captain Evans comforted her, and told her she would be welcomed by all the saints, and that many homes would be opened to her, and maybe some proposals of marriage would be made too.”
The next day Susan came into the Salt Lake Valley, and discovered that all he had said was true. There was a family there to take her in and it turned out to be none other than the family of William Clayton—the man who wrote “Come, Come, Ye Saints.” Susan would go on to marry John Witbeck and bear 11 children. She died surrounded by friends in Manti, Utah. “We are never without friends,” Susan said, “when we are among the saints of God.” And so it is!
For more stories by Glenn Rawson visit, www.glennrawson.com or https://www.facebook.com/pages/Glenn-Rawson-Stories/ or www.historyofthesaints.org or listen live at http://tunein.com/radio/Sunny-103-1031-s129587/ or http://www.ezrockradio.com/
Artwork by Al Rounds


Greg Seppi Interview

imageOctober 2, 2015, the History of the Saints team interviewed Greg Seppi at BYU. Greg is the curator of Mormon and Western Americana at the L. Tom Perry Special Collections. He spoke of the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants and its physicality. He taught us that the book was printed in Kirtland and bound in Cleveland baths the book had various leather covers but good quality paper, and that the book cost the saints $1.00 each. He said that this first Doctrine and Covenants would not be reprinted until 1844.

Gerrit Dirkmaat Interview

imageFriday October 2, 2015 we interviewed Dr. Gerrit Dirmaat on the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants. He explained that the saints of Joseph Smith’s day prized the revelations greatly–that they were printed because the saints had such an earnest desire to read them.

Michael MacKay Interview

imageOctober 2, 2015 we interviewed Dr. Michael Hubbard MacKay on the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants. He said that this first edition of the Doctrine and Covenants becomes the first and seminal volume of Mormon history. All of early Latter-day Saint history is understood and constructed around this volume. Brother MacKay said with great emphasis that the Saints are not a people of the book but a people of the prophets.