William Ashton immigrated with his four daughters and joined the Martin Handcart Company. His wife was pregnant as the began the journey. On daughter had previously passed away in infancy. Betsy, 11, Sarah Anne, 7, Mary 4, and Elizabeth Ann traveled with them. Tragedy would strike this family before they would leave the Ship Horizon. Elizabeth passed away as the boat lay in harbor, and the passengers were being inspected for admission into the United States. There was measles on board and this is likely the cause of her death. William had only about four hours after her death, until they had to make the next leg of their journey via train towards Iowa City.
The new baby would come close to Winter Quarters, just after they had restarted their journey after outfitting at Florence, Nebraska. However, Williams wife would die in childbirth. The new baby, also a girl, Sarah Ann would only survive a couple of weeks, and then be buried close to the burial site for members of the Babbitt party who had been massacred by Indians a week before.
William Ashton appears to have become very distraught as a result. When offered the opportunity to join the Army at Fort Laramie, he would take this chance. This also gave him the opportunity to provide some provisions for his surviving daughters with his signing bonus. His three girls, Betsy, Sarah Ellen and Mary would be in the care of others.
William served his five years in the infantry, marching to California and up and down that state a couple times. He was discharged at Benicia just before the Civil War. He did not go to Utah to check on his girls. He apparently had heard bad news about the handcart trek and assumed they had passed away. However Mary and Sarah Ellen did survive. It wouldn’t be until he was an old man, and after having returned to England, that he would seek out his daughters. At this time Sarah Ellen was the only surviving child. They would pay for his transport by boat and train to Salt Lake City. He would pass away and be buried in Whitney, Idaho.