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.
Tell My Story Too by Jolene Allphin p. 159-160
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Artwork by Julie Rogers

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