Rescue of the 1856 Handcart Companies Rebecca Cornwall and Leonard J. Arrington Charles Redd Monographs in Western History No. 11 Brigham Young University Press 1981.
This is a very interesting piece of history. For whatever reason, the last two handcart companies of 1856 were late, and without rescue all would have perished. When Franklin Richards arrived in Salt Lake with a group of returning missionaries on October 4 he reported to Brigham Young that four companies were still on the plains, two handcart and two wagon, Brigham went into immediate action. He convened a meeting that night to discuss what was needed, and then introduced the rescue of the handcarts as the theme of conference the next day. Notes indicate Brigham Young was directly involved in the planning, how much provisions to send and how. “One brother [Daniel Jones] was impressed that the president was in earnest; he seemed moved by a spirit that would admit of no delay. Of course the rescuers met the Willie Company first; but not before they hit a significant storm themselves. Brother Willie went forward, putting his own life in peril, and found the rescuers and encouraged them to come forward. This lead to the scene at Rocky Ridge, where the handcart pioneers struggled up the rocky hill, and many of them perishing after giving their all.
The Martin Company was still imperiled. They same storm had stopped them at the Platt, after the last crossing. Joseph Young, Abel Garr and Dan Jones as the lead scouts, found them in poor condition, and unable to move. They asked Captain Martin to distribute food to the hungry Saints and informed them they must press on to Devil’s Gate where ten wagons of provisions were waiting. They made an heroic effort to move on the next day, and after checking on the wagon companies, Dan Jones came back upon them in their struggle, “A condition of distress here met my eyes that I never saw before or since. The train was strung out for three or four miles. There were old men pulling and tugging their cars, sometimes loaded with a sick wife or children—women pulling along sick husbands—little children six to eight years old struggling through the mud and snow. As night came on the mud would freeze on their clothes and feet. There were two of us and hundreds needing help. What could we do? We gathered onto some of the most helpless with our riatas [lariats] tied to the carts, and helped as many as we could into camp on Avenue Hill.”
The provisions for relief were almost exhausted before the Martin Company met the relief wagons, however provisions of clothing and shoes and socks were distributed. This included “102 pairs of boots and shoes, 157 pairs of socks and stockings, 30 quilts and comforters, 100 frock coats and jackets of various kinds, 36 hoods, 80 petticoats and bloomers, 27 handkerchiefs, 14 neckties, and 8 pairs of mittens.” The great benefit to the company was one of the young men. Heber McBride (whose father had passed away a couple weeks earlier) would later say, “…As they were hearty and strong they took upon themselves to [do] all the work about the Camp and the Captens of companies had no more to say…. The men from Salt Lake would clean off the snow and pitch the tents and get wood for all the families that had lost their Father and then they would help the rest what the could.
Nov 2 Brigham Young expressed in early November, “We can return home and sit down and warm our feet before the fire, and can eat our bread and butter, etc., but my mind is yonder in the snow, where those immigrating saints are, and my mind has been with them ever since I had the report of their start from Winter Quarters on the 3rd of September. I cannot talk about anything, I cannot go out or come in but what in every minute or two minutes my mind reverts to them.”
Of note to Isaac’s history is the difficulty it was to pitch tents. The pioneers were met with another northern storm while at Devil’s Gate. The temperature dropped to eleven degrees and there were 18 inches of Snow on the ground. (See p 22) “Many of the immigrant men were so weak that it took them an hour to scrape clear a space on which to pitch their tents. ‘The boys’ had to drive the stakes for them into the frozen ground.” (p 22)
Even though more provisions had not arrived, the weather improved slightly and on Sunday, November 9 they moved out of Martins Cove. “Many handcarts were indeed left behind, but only the very weak were permitted to ride in wagons. (p 24)
November 11, as the immigrants were preparing their camp they were met by Ephraim Hanks. Ephraim Hanks provided spiritual healings as well as physical. The company arrived in Salt Lake November 30. About 20 percent of the company perished, or over 160-170 of 600. The average loss of life of all the immigrant companies was about six percent.