Tag Archives: heroes

Helping the Martin Handcart Company across the Sweetwater River by Clark Kelley Price

On 28 July 1856 a handcart company under the leadership of Edward Martin left Iowa City, Iowa, and started across the plains to the Salt Lake Valley.

By October, cold weather and snow caught them in the mountains in central Wyoming. Short on food and other supplies, members of the company experienced exposure to cold, hunger, and exhaustion, and some began to die. They would suffer more losses than any other pioneer handcart company.

Earlier in October, when Brigham Young learned that there were still many Saints out on the trail, he sent a rescue party with supplies to help bring the people to Salt Lake. The Martin Company met up with rescue party members in late October and early November and received welcome but limited amounts of food and supplies. With the rescuers’ help, they struggled on toward Salt Lake.

On 4 November they came to the Sweetwater River, near Devil’s Gate. The river was about 100 feet wide and almost waist deep in places. To make it worse, big chunks of ice were floating in the water. For the weakened members of the Martin Company, the crossing appeared almost impossible.

One of the handcart pioneers later remembered that some of the pioneers were able to ford the river, but others could not. At that point, several members of the rescue party—one account names C. Allen Huntington, Stephen W. Taylor, and teenagers David P. Kimball and George W. Grant—stepped forward to help. These courageous men “waded the river, helping the handcarts through and carrying the women and children and some of the weaker of the men over” (John Jaques, “Some Reminiscences,” Salt Lake Daily Herald, 15 Dec. 1878, 1; see also 19 Jan. 1879, 1).

One of the women who was carried over the river later recalled: “Those poor brethren [were] in the water nearly all day. We wanted to thank them, but they would not listen to [us]. My dear mother 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.’ [They said], ‘Oh, … I don’t want any of that. You are welcome. We have come to help you.’ ” This sister also reported that one of the rescuers “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” (Patience Loader Rozsa Archer, reminiscence, in Women’s Voices: An Untold History of the Latter-day Saints, 18301900, ed. Kenneth W. Godfrey, Audrey M. Godfrey, and Jill Mulvay Derr [1982], 236; spelling and punctuation standardized).

These rescuers and what they had done were brought to President Young’s attention. “When President Brigham Young heard of this heroic act,” one writer stated, “he wept like a child, and declared that this act alone would immortalize them” (Solomon F. Kimball, “Our Pioneer Boys,” Improvement Era, July 1908, 679).

The Martin Handcart Company heading west in 1856 was caught in Wyoming by the early arrival of winter weather. Many would die before they reached the Salt Lake Valley. A rescue party sent by Brigham Young met the company and helped get them through. One especially difficult part of the journey was the crossing of the Sweetwater River. Cold and hunger had left the pioneers weak, and the crossing seemed impossible. However, men from the rescue party, some only teenagers, bravely stepped forward and carried many members of the company across the icy water. This heroic act was an inspiring moment amid the tragic experiences of the Martin Handcart Company.

Artist, Clark Kelley Price

© 2002 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc. Used by permission.

Saving the Book of Commandments by Clark Kelley Price

Fifteen-year-old Mary Elizabeth Rollins and her thirteen-year-old sister Caroline lived in Independence, Jackson County, Missouri, in 1833. At this time, revelations Joseph Smith had received were being printed by William W. Phelps, who had opened a print shop and newspaper office on the upper floor of his home. The printed revelations were to be bound into a book called the Book of Commandments.

By July the non-Mormons in the area were angry because of the growing number of Mormons. Earlier in the year some people in Missouri had been trying to get the Mormons to move away from Jackson County. When Brother Phelps wrote a newspaper editorial that was misunderstood by the non-Mormons, it increased their anger. The non-Mormons held a town meeting and ordered the Mormons to leave their new homes or be killed. Mormon leaders called to the meeting were told they had only 15 minutes to move out of the county.

Before the 15 minutes had passed, the mob broke into the home of Brother Phelps. “Sister Phelps was alone with her children when the threatening mob surrounded the house” (p. 36). She quickly took “her sick baby in her arms [and] hurried with the other children … to safety in the woods close by. Concealed in a corner of a nearby fence, Mary Elizabeth and Caroline watched with horror as the angry men rushed into the house [and threw] the family’s [things] into the street. Upstairs the mob found the valuable press and … eagerly they hurled the [printing press and type out the window] to the street below” (pp. 3637). Someone said, ” ‘So much for the Mormon commandments,’ [and then] dumped the huge sheets of printed pages onto the pile of [trash] in the street. Mary Elizabeth decided to try to save the revelations. ‘They will kill us!’ warned Caroline” (p. 37), but she agreed to help.

When the mob had their backs turned, the girls ran into the street and filled their arms with the pages. They “were just turning away when some of the mob spotted them. … Squeezing through a gap in the fence, [the girls] found themselves in a cornfield, hidden … by thick rows of [cornstalks]” (p. 37). The men searched through the corn but could not find the girls, who had placed the “precious printed sheets on the ground [and] covered them with their bodies” (p. 37).

When the sound of footsteps faded, the girls made their way to an old log stable. “They approached cautiously … [and] found Sister Phelps and her older children, carrying branches to pile up to make beds for the night” (p. 37). Knowing Brother Phelps would know what to do with the papers, the girls gave them to Sister Phelps.

Mary Elizabeth and Caroline were sad that they had not had time to read the revelations they had risked their lives to save. However, before long “Oliver Cowdery made up copies of the book, incomplete as it was, and gave one [book] to [Mary Elizabeth]. Two years later the revelations in the little Book of Commandments were [reprinted], together with [other revelations]” (p. 37). Today we have these important revelations printed in the Doctrine and Covenants.

Adapted from Maureen Ursenbach Beecher, “Discover Your Heritage: ‘They Will Kill Us!’ ” New Era, Sept. 1974, 3637.

In July 1833, people in Independence, Jackson County, Missouri, were angry with the Mormons and wanted them to leave. A mob broke into William W. Phelps’s print shop and threw his printing press and printed pages out the window. The pages contained revelations given to the Prophet Joseph Smith that were to be bound into a book called the Book of Commandments. Two girls, Mary Elizabeth Rollins and her sister Caroline, were hiding nearby and decided to save as many pages as possible. They ran out, filled their arms with papers, and hid in a cornfield. The mob tried to find the girls but failed. The pages the girls saved and others were later used to make up copies of the Book of Commandments. Today the contents of this book are part of the Doctrine and Covenants.

Artist, Clark Kelley Price

© 2002 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc. Used by permission.

Mary Fielding and Joseph F Smith Crossing the Plains by Glen S Hopkinson

Mary Fielding Smith was left a widow when her husband, Hyrum, was killed with his brother the Prophet Joseph. She had to care for not only her own large family but also several other helpless or ill people. Hyrum and Mary’s son, Joseph F. Smith, who would later become the sixth President of the Church, was only five years old at the time.

Mary and her family left Nauvoo in 1846. Joseph, then seven, drove “one of the ox teams from Montrose [across the river from Nauvoo] to Winter Quarters,” which was about 200 miles (see Joseph Fielding Smith, comp., Life of Joseph F. Smith [1969], 131).

In the spring of 1848 most of the Saints were leaving Winter Quarters to travel to the Salt Lake Valley. Mary determined to go with them. She had no money, no oxen, and no provisions, but she relied on the Lord and managed to reach the starting point with seven “almost ready” wagons in her care. When the captain of the group to which Mary was assigned saw Mary’s situation, he told her she was foolish to attempt the journey. He said she would be a burden to the company the whole way. Mary calmly replied that not only would she not ask for his help but “that she would beat him to the Valley”! (Don Cecil Corbett, Mary Fielding Smith: Daughter of Britain [1966], 228).

And so the long journey began. Nine-year-old Joseph and his 15-year-old half brother John cared for the cattle and helped guide the huge oxen along the trail.

Despite hardships, it seemed Mary’s group would make it to the valley. Then one hot day, one of Mary’s best oxen collapsed. The wagons behind Mary’s were forced to stop. It looked as though the ox would die. The captain came and declared that the ox was dead. He said he would have to find a way to take that wagonload the rest of the way and that he had known all along Mary would be a burden.

But Mary’s faith never faltered; she “went to her wagon and returned with a bottle of consecrated oil. She asked her brother Joseph and James Lawson to administer to her fallen ox” (Corbett, Mary Fielding Smith, 237). So Joseph Fielding “knelt, laid his hands on the head of the ox … , and prayed over it.” When the prayer was finished, a moment passed; then, to the astonishment of the onlookers, the stiffened ox stirred, gathered his legs beneath him, stood, and “started off [pulling again] as if nothing had happened” (Corbett, Mary Fielding Smith, 237).

Not far from the end of the journey, some of Mary’s cows were lost. While her stepson John went to find the cattle, the captain ordered the rest of the company to move on. Mary waited for John and prayed he would be able to find their cows. Then a sudden rainstorm came, and the company that had moved ahead was thrown into confusion. The cattle scattered, and it took all day to round them up. Meanwhile, John had returned with the lost cows. The Smith party moved forward, past the rest of the company, and on into the valley.

Mary had kept her word. Her courage and faith had led her family across the plains and finally into the Salt Lake Valley, 20 hours in advance of the captain who had tried to discourage her.

Mary Fielding Smith was left with a large family when her husband, Hyrum, was killed with his brother the Prophet Joseph Smith. She was determined to travel to the Salt Lake Valley with the Saints and managed to gather wagons, oxen, and supplies for the journey. Mary was told she would be a burden to others, but she pressed forward. Her young son Joseph helped care for the oxen and cattle along the way. Mary relied on the Lord when her oxen became sick and when the cows became lost. With courage and faith Mary led her family into the Salt Lake Valley.

Artist, Glen S. Hopkinson

© 2002 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc. Used by permission.