Tag Archives: Martin Handcart Company

Martin Handcart Company – Bitter Creek, Wyoming, 1856 by Clark Kelley Price

The Martin Handcart Company was the fifth handcart company to travel west to the Salt Lake Valley. This company of English emigrants left Iowa City, Iowa, on 28 July 1856. There were “576 [people], with 146 carts, 7 wagons, 30 oxen, and 50 cows and beef cattle” (LeRoy R. Hafen and Ann W. Hafen, Handcarts to Zion [1960], 93).

At Florence, Nebraska, they stopped for handcart repairs. It was late in the season, and they wondered if they should continue. A few members dropped out, but most wanted to go on. They left Florence on 25 August.

They reached Fort Laramie, Wyoming, 8 October. After leaving Fort Laramie their food rations had to be cut. Because of their growing weakness, they had to lighten the loads they were pulling, so they discarded blankets and clothing. On 19 October they crossed the North Platte River. As soon as they crossed, it started to snow. Several people died that night.

As the storms and cold continued, the pioneers desperately needed the supplies they had left behind. The men became so weak and sick they couldn’t pitch the tents. Twelve miles beyond the river they were stopped by the deep snow. Fifty-six had died since they had crossed the river.

Early in October President Brigham Young heard there were still pioneers on the trail. He knew they would have problems, so he called for volunteers to go to their aid. Horsemen, wagons, and supplies were sent. On 28 October three men rode into the camp of the Martin Company. The deep snow had halted the rescue wagons, so the men told the emigrants their only hope was to keep moving to reach the rescue wagons. They struggled on, and on 3 November they reached the first of the supply wagons. The rescuers decided the company had to move on to find better shelter from the snow and cold.

The company pushed on until they came to the Sweetwater River. For many, crossing the river seemed more than they could manage, but men from the rescue party bravely carried several of the pioneers across. The company found shelter in a mountain cove where they stayed for several days.

When they moved on, they left most of the handcarts behind. The rescuers loaded the sickest and weakest into wagons, but the rest had to walk. The storms had forced some rescuers back, while others waited to try again. One of these, Ephraim Hanks, left his wagon and went on with two horses. One day he killed a buffalo and loaded his horses with the meat. That evening he reached the Martin Handcart Company. The meat was welcomed by the starving pioneers. On 11 November Ephraim Hanks and members of the handcart company camped on Bitter Creek (present-day Cottonwood Creek).

Gradually other wagons reached the pioneers, and all were able to ride the rest of the way into the valley. They reached Salt Lake on 30 November. Between 135 and 150 people had died on the way.

Due to a late start, the 1856 Martin Handcart Company was caught in early snow in Wyoming. Weak and cold and low on supplies, they were in a desperate situation. Some began to die. Volunteer rescuers with supplies left Salt Lake, but deep snow slowed the rescue wagons. Gradually the Martin Company got help, and they struggled on. More continued to die along the way at places like Bitter Creek. But through the heroic efforts of the rescuers and the courage and faith of the handcart pioneers, the surviving company members eventually arrived in the Salt Lake Valley on 30 November.

Artist, Clark Kelley Price

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

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.