Joseph B. Elder: Man of Action
Joseph Elder joined the Latter-day Saints in 1855—the only member of his family to do so. The following year he was a student at McKendry College in Lebanon, Illinois when he felt impressed to go to St Louis, Missouri. There he met the missionaries and they advised him to quit school and assist with the immigration of converts traveling to the Salt Lake Valley. Joseph was ordained an elder at that time and recorded this in his diary, “I am determined by the help of God to perform every duty and bear every burden that God through his holy priesthood is willing to lay upon my shoulders.”
Answering the call, Joseph returned, quit school, and bade farewell to his family. “Oh, how my heart did almost break to leave them,” he said, “when they with tears and sobs and entreaties pled to the last for me to stay. But God had use for me in other places and I must go.”
He spent the next four months purchasing and driving unruly cattle to the handcart resupply station in Florence, Nebraska. It was dangerous and difficult work. He was in Florence when the Willie Handcart Company arrived.
It was about ten o’clock one night, and Joseph had gone to bed, when he was summoned to meet with the leaders. He got up and went to see why he was wanted. He was asked to prepare to leave the next day with the handcart company. They wanted him to start the journey with a supply wagon and they would pick him up farther along the trail. He had expected to travel speedily with the missionaries to Zion. Nonetheless, he agreed.
In the days ahead, Joseph took it upon himself, and that with great delight, to hunt buffalo for the camp. When the Company reached Fort Kearney, Nebraska, the express company of returning missionaries and leaders caught up to the Willie Company. Rather than join and journey on in speed and comfort to Utah, Joseph was asked to continue on with the handcart company, plodding his way to Utah. Again, notwithstanding his expectations, Joseph agreed–not one word of complaint in his diary.
And on they went. When snow caught the emigrants on October 19, 1856, Joseph commented “it was severe, for the people [were] weak having been on short rations.” The next morning Joseph said the snow was 6-8 inches deep. “The camp was hungry, naked, and cold. To rush them into the snow would be certain death to a great many of them.” Captain James Willie determined that he would go in search of the rescue wagons that he knew were somewhere ahead of them. Of the hundreds in camp, he chose Joseph Elder to travel with him.
Joseph said, “The snow and an awful cold wind blew in our faces all day.” They rode 27 miles and just at nightfall they found the rescue wagons. Joseph described the awful trek of the Willie Company over Rocky Ridge two days later. “Oh, how my heart did quake and shudder at the awful scenes which surrounded me.” Finally, Joseph and the suffering saints reached the Salt Lake Valley. He described what it was like to look upon the Zion of God that he had so long dreamed of. “We emerged from amongst the mountains and the beautiful Valley with all of its loveliness spread itself out before our view. My heart was so full of joy and gratitude. The journey was over at last.”
Or so he thought. Two weeks later, President Brigham Young asked for volunteers to go out and rescue the Martin Company still out on the Plains. Joseph answered the call and volunteered.
Joseph Benson Elder–a man of action, not talk—a hero–who simply did what he was asked.
Artwork by Joseph Brickey