04A The Rescue of Willey Handcart Co by Glen Hopkinson

This Thanksgiving may I share a story of real gratitude?
Tuesday, October 21, 1856. The members of the Willie Handcart Company were camped, in the deep snow, at the Sixth Crossing of the Sweetwater in Wyoming, where they had been for two days—without food. They had journeyed all the way from Iowa City, Iowa—nearly a thousand miles– pulling their handcarts. The last weeks of that journey had been against a deepening cold, ever reducing rations, and inadequate clothing. Now, literally, they were at their very end. They could go no further and were still 300 miles from civilization. One of them, William Woodward would later record, “It was a sorry sight, over 400 people with handcarts, short of bedding, and to sleep on the cold ground. One thought is enough for a lifetime.” John Chislett would describe the awful suffering thus, “It was enough to make the heavens weep. The recollection of it unmans me even now….Such craving hunger I never saw before, and may God in his mercy spare me the sight again.” Nine people had died in the camp the day before, and four more over the next two days.
Then, just at sunset, the sound of wagons reached the camp. It was the rescuers from the Valley, sent by President Brigham Young. As they rode into camp, those who were able struggled out of their beds to meet them. One of those rescuers, Harvey Cluff said, “Arriving within the confines of this emigrant camp, a most thrilling and touching scene was enacted, melting to tears the stoutest hearts. Young maidens and feeble old ladies threw off all restraint and freely embraced their deliverers, expressing in a flow of kisses, the gratitude which their tongues failed to utter.”
News spread throughout the camp like wildfire and more turned out to greet them. “Shouts of joy rent the air,” said John Chislett, and “strong men wept till tears ran freely down their furrowed and sunburnt cheeks.”
Seven year-old Mary Hurren recalled, “As soon as the people could control their feelings, they all knelt down in the snow and gave thanks to God for his kindness and goodness unto them….They came just in time to save our lives.”
The gratitude felt and expressed for those rescuers who made every effort going forward to minister to the relief of the sufferers was profound. “May God ever bless them for their generous, unselfish kindness and manly fortitude,” said John Chislett. The afflicted, said President Gordon B. Hinckley, “danced on frozen limbs with gladness for those who had come to rescue them.”
This rescue represents one of the greatest moments in Mormon history—it was one of our finest hours as a people, and there was so much more than what I’ve shared. Thank the Almighty that it happened and that is has been preserved as a part of our heritage. Now just a thought–imagine–if those handcart pioneers were that grateful for those who for the moment relieved their suffering and extended their mortality—imagine how deep and profound will be the gratitude we feel, when our eyes are opened, for a Savior who has given us life and joy here and hereafter. Surely there will be no limit to the tears we will shed and the gratitude we will know

17 Responses

  1. Having visited the Sixth Crossing of the Sweetwated for the first time, just last fall, my wife and I were deeply moved by the faith, courage, and sacrifice of those that give all for us! It is truly a major part of our history in which ALL should be keenly aware of and supportive of the missionaries serving at these sites. They perform as great service as they teach and instruct our youth about these incredible events. Thank you for sharing and bringing tears to my eyes as I remember the sacrifice of so many!!

  2. My great grandparents were part of the saints traveling to Utah by wagon and handcart. Our love graditude for their courage as they joined the church in England and came to America then to Utah. Such courage and faith.

  3. Such a heart warming story full of love for the savior and the faith the saints had in the lord and the promises and blessing he gives us in return for our love for him !

  4. A beautiful story of gratitude. My great grandfather Mortensen and his wife and family were also in the Willie handcart company. I’m so grateful for the strength, courage and faith of my ancestors.

  5. My great great great grandmother was apart of the Martin Handcart. Her name is Nellie Pucell Unthank. She had both her feet amputated. She never let that bother her. She was very dedicated to her family and to her beliefs. I am very proud to be her Great great great granddaughter.

  6. My great-great-grandfather Thomas Moulton and his family were among those who were rescued on that day. He and his wife along with their 8 children, one being an infant were saved that day. I am so thankful that the rescue came when it did. I know that our Heavenly Father was with them and the rescuers on that wonderful day.
    Your retelling of this story brought tears to my eyes. Thank you.

  7. Showing our gratitude to Heavenly Father with a truly sincere heart is all he wants us to do. I enjoyed reading this story.

  8. For me, this account exposes the feelings of intense gratitude for our Creator that are latent in each of us.
    Our Father, His Son and the Holy Ghost have done all that could be done for us- all of that which we could not do for ourselves in order to bring about about our individual eternal salvation and exultation.
    We should be on our knees in a pool of our own tears of gratitude in an effort to show our appreciation to them!
    I pray that we not take for granted the great, divine plan of which we are all an integral part, but realize our worth, our privilege, and our great duty to live up to His expectations of us, and to speedily repent and seek divine forgiveness when we fail to do so.
    To do otherwise is unconscionable, a waste of the greatest gift ever given- our own eternal lives.

    Thank you Glenn for your touching portrayal of this historical moment of gratitude. So appropriate on this Thanksgiving weekend!
    It poignantly touched me.

  9. My husband’s great Grandmother, Christina Mc Neil was in the Willie handcart company and never talked about it as she said it was too sad. Her testimony never failed, and the legacy she left of faith and courage sustains her now large
    Family today!

  10. It should be pointed out that these were all immigrants –saved and saviors alike. Thanks should be given to all who came before to give us what we have today. Let’s welcome today’s immigrants with open arms as long as they are willing to do their share to make this a better country.

  11. My great great grandfather Issac John Wardle was a part of that experience, his faith and perseverance has extended into his posterity, we long for the day to be acquainted again and give thanks for his courage and faith.

  12. My great great great grandmother Elizabeth Bradshaw was part of the Martin Handcart Company. I didn’t realize how great the sacrifice had been until watching the movie Ephraim’s Rescue which I purchased at Deseret Book Store. I decided to check ancestor information my parents gave to me when I was much younger. She was born in 1808. I discovered her maiden name was Simpson whose family were clock makers in England. They invented the grandfather clock. Her first husband William Haigh died in 1840 and after that the missionaries converted her and she was baptized into the church. She was married a second time to Richard (Paul) Bradshaw who was also a member. They were preparing to leave England for America when the news of the Martyrdom of Joseph and Hyrum Smith reached them. They were advised to wait the journey until the affairs in America quieted down. Three months before giving birth to her fifth child her husband Richard Bradshaw died leaving her to travel as a widow with her five children. Her brothers pleaded for her not to leave to join those “God-forsaken Mormons” in America and Utah. They promised she should never want for anything for her and her children if she stayed. She said “I am going to Zion. The Gospel is true and Joseph Smith is a true Prophet of God”. In her patriarchal blessing she was promised that none of her posterity should never want for bread. Through all that she endured she was never heard to complain.
    All church members should see the movies called 17 miracles and Ephraim’s Rescue. Their experiences are so humbling and testify to us why we are so blessed living where they called Zion.

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