"Ever Onward" by
Joseph Brickey. For more information go to www.josephbrickey.com
Two of those buried
at the Rock Creek Hollow were heroic children of tender years:
Bodil Mortensen, age ten, from Denmark, and James Kirkwood, age
eleven, from Scotland. Bodil Mortensen came alone, before her
family to join the saints in Salt Lake City, her older sister
traveled a year before her and was in Salt Lake. Bodil joined the
Willie Handcart Company with a family from her country Denmark.
Winter storms began early that year and slowed the travel of the
company. Rock Ridge was along hard journey for the children. The
distance was about 15 miles, including a two-mile stretch in which
the trail rose more than 700 feet in elevation. It took some of
the children 27 hours to reach the camp. The snow was already more
than a foot deep, a blizzard was raging, and the temperatures were
freezing. A howling October snowstorm blinded ten-year-old Bodil
Mortensen as she climbed with several other younger children,
shivering and hungry, up the snow-covered slope of Rocky Ridge.
Bodil was exhausted and weak, the young girl struggled on her way,
hoping to reach Salt Lake City to be with her sister. Bodil was
apparently assigned to care for some small children as they
crossed Rocky Ridge. When they arrived at camp, in the wee hours
of October 24, she must have been sent to gather firewood. All she
could find was twigs of sagebrush. The next morning she was found
leaning up against the wheel of a handcart, twigs clutched in her
hands, frozen to death.
- Wrote the lyrics to Ye Elders of Israel
October conference of 1856. When conference was opened President
Young arose and said: "There are a number of our people on the
plains who have started to come with handcarts; they will need
help and I want twenty teams to be ready by morning with two men
to each team to go out and meet them." . . .
Brother Young called upon everyone present to lend a hand in
fitting up these teams. As I was going out with the crowd, Brother
Wells spoke to me, saying, "You are a good hand for the trip; get
I had a saddle horse. We were instructed to get everything we
could ready and rendezvous between the Big and Little Mountains, a
short day's drive out from Salt Lake. Next day teams and volunteer
men were ready. A better outfit and one more adapted to the work
before us I do not think could have possibly been selected if a
week had been spent in fitting up. Besides the wagons and teams,
several men went horseback. We had good teams and provisions in
great abundance. But best of all, those going were alive to the
work and were of the best material possible for the occasion. . .
The weather soon became cold and stormy. We traveled hard, never
taking time to stop for dinner. On getting into camp all were
hungry and willing to help. No doubt many of the boys remember the
hearty suppers eaten on this expedition. There was some
expectation of meeting the first train, Brother Willie's, on or
about Green River. We began to feel anxiety about the emigrants,
as the weather was now cold and stormy, and we, strong men with
good outfits, found the nights severe. What must be the condition
of those we were to meet! Many old men and women, little children,
mothers with nursing babes, crossing the plains pulling handcarts.
Our hearts began to ache when we reached Green River and yet no
word of them. Here an express was sent on ahead with a light wagon
to meet and cheer the people up. Cyrus Wheelock and Stephen Taylor
went with this express.
At the South Pass, we encountered a severe snowstorm. After
crossing the divide we turned down into a sheltered place on the
Sweetwater. While in camp and during the snowstorm two men were
seen on horseback going west. They were hailed. On reaching us
they proved to be Brothers Willie and J. B. Elder. They reported
their company in a starving condition at their camp then east of
Rocky Ridge and said our express had gone on to meet the other
companies still in the rear.
We started immediately through the storm to reach Brother Willie's
camp. On arriving we found them in a condition that would stir the
feelings of the hardest heart. They were in a poor place, the
storm having caught them where fuel was scarce. They were out of
provisions and really freezing and starving to death. The morning
after our arrival nine were buried in one grave. We did all we
could to relieve them. The boys struck out on horseback and
dragged up a lot of wood; provisions were distributed and all went
to work to cheer the sufferers. . . .
The handcart company was moved over to a cove in the mountains for
shelter and fuel, a distance of two miles from the fort. The
wagons were banked near the fort. It became impossible to travel
further without reconstruction or help. . . .
Each evening the elders would meet in council. I remember hearing
Charles Decker remark that he had crossed the plains over fifty
times (carrying the mail) and this was the darkest hour he had
ever seen. Cattle and horses were dying every day. What to do was
all that could be talked about. Five or six days had passed and
nothing determined upon.
Steve Taylor, Al Huntington, and I were together when the
question, "Why doesn't Captain Grant leave all the goods here with
someone to watch them, and move on?" was asked. We agreed to make
this proposal to him. It was near the time appointed for the
meeting. As soon as we were together, Captain Grant asked if
anyone had thought of a plan. We presented ours. Captain Grant
replied, "I have thought of this, but there are no provisions to
leave and it would be asking too much of anyone to stay here and
starve for the sake of these goods; besides, where is there a man
who would stay if called upon?" I answered, "Any of us would." . .
There was a move made at once to adopt this suggestion.
Accordingly, next morning storerooms in the fort were cleared and
some two hundred wagons run in and unloaded. No one was allowed to
keep out anything but a change of clothing, some bedding, and
light cooking utensils. Hauling provisions was not a weighty
The unloading occupied three days. The handcart people were
notified to abandon most of their carts. Teams were hitched up and
the sick and feeble loaded in with such light weight as was
allowed. All became common property.
When everything was ready Brother Burton said to me, "Now Brother
Jones, we want you to pick two men from the Valley to stay with
you. We have notified Captains Hunt and Hogett to detail seventeen
men from their companies to stay with you. We will move on in the
morning." . . .
There was not money enough on earth to have hired me to stay. I
had left home for only a few days and was not prepared to remain
so long away; but I remembered my assertion that any of us would
stay if called upon. . . .
We were about out of anything fit to eat. . . .
Game soon became so scarce that we could kill nothing. We ate all
the poor meat; one would get hungry eating it. Finally that was
all gone; nothing now but hides were left. We made a trial of
them. A lot was cooked and eaten without any seasoning, and it
made the whole company sick. Many were so turned against the stuff
that it made them sick to think of it. . . .
Things looked dark, for nothing remained but the poor rawhides
taken from starved cattle. We asked the Lord to direct us what to
do. The brethren did not murmur, but felt to trust in God. We had
cooked the hide, after soaking and scraping the hair off until it
was soft, and then ate it, glue and all. This made it rather
inclined to stay with us longer than we desired.
Finally I was impressed how to fix the stuff and gave the company
advice, telling them how to cook it; for them to scorch and scrape
the hair off; this had a tendency to kill and purify the bad taste
that scalding gave it. After scraping, boil one hour in plenty of
water, throwing the water away which had extracted all the glue,
then wash and scrape the hide thoroughly, washing in cold water,
then boil to a jelly and let it get cold, and then eat with a
little sugar sprinkled on it. This was considerable trouble, but
we had little else to do and it was better than starving.
We asked the Lord to bless our stomachs and adapt them to this
food. We hadn't the faith to ask him to bless the rawhide, for it
was "hard stock." On eating now, all seemed to relish the feast.
We were three days without eating before this second attempt was
made. We enjoyed this sumptuous fare for about six weeks.
James Kirkwood -
Willie Handcart Company
Let me tell you of
James Kirkwood. James was from Glasgow, Scotland. On the trip
west, James was accompanied by his widowed mother and three
brothers, one of whom, Thomas, was 19 and crippled and had to ride
in the handcart. James's primary responsibility on the trek was to
care for his little four-year-old brother, Joseph, while his
mother and oldest brother, Robert, pulled the cart. As they
climbed Rocky Ridge, it was snowing and there was a bitter cold
wind blowing. It took the whole company 27 hours to travel 15
miles. When little Joseph became too weary to walk, James, the
older brother, had no choice but to carry him. Left behind the
main group, James and Joseph made their way slowly to camp. When
the two finally arrived at the fireside, James, “having so
faithfully carried out his task, collapsed and died from exposure
Mary Hereford &
had personal experiences that confirmed in their minds the
importance of the work they were doing with the second rescue in
the Stake of Riverton Wyoming. One such person was Mary Hereford,
a Lamanite member of the Wind River Branch. In the fall of 1991,
Mary was given a paper by her branch president assigning her to
research the name of Ephramine Wickland, a one year old girl who
was a member of the Willie company. Shortly there after, the home
in which Sister Hereford lived burned to the ground. In the terror
of watching the fire, she remembered the paper that had been given
to her with the name of the little pioneer girl. She later
described her feelings as she stood outside watching her home
said a little prayer, "Please Lord, don’t let the paper burn."
When the firemen said we could go in, I looked around and started
to cry. The house had been very badly burned and there was a lot
of smoke damage…the next day we went back to the house to see if
we could save anything… the kitchen was the worst. My microwave
was melted to a crisp. While looking on top of the refrigerator I
found the paper.. Everything on the paper was burnt except that my
name and the person whose work was to be done were white. The
names seemed to be highlighted I was very surprised. Mary insisted
that the only reason the paper did not burn with the rest of her
possessions was that Ephramine, the little pioneer girl, wanted
her temple work completed. Mary found that indeed sealing work
needed to be done for the child.
The Second Rescue was a resounding success. During the fourteen
month period from August 1991 to September 1992, more than 4,200
individual temple ordinances were completed in behalf of the
Willie and Martin handcart pioneers, their 1856 rescuers, and
their families. Overall, 52 percent of the temple ordinances for
the handcart pioneers and their rescuers need to be completed. In
addition to baptisms and confirmations, children were sealed to
their parents, husbands and wives were sealed for eternity, and
the sacred covenants of the endowment were made in behalf of these
handcart pioneers who gave so much for their testimonies of the
Susannah Stone -
"...we murmured not..."
In 1856, Susannah
prepared to emigrate. She wrote, "My parents, relatives and
friends did all in their power to keep me from coming to America,
but I had the spirit of gathering, and the Lord opened up my way,
and I came to Utah in 1856 with the handcart company…We waded
through the cold streams many times, but we murmured not, for our
faith in God and our testimony of His work were supreme. Only once
did my courage fail.
One cold, dreary
afternoon, my feet having been frosted, I felt that I could go no
further and withdrew a little from the company, and sat down to
await the end, being somewhat in a stupor. After a time, I was
aroused by a voice, which seemed as audible as anything could be,
which spoke to my very soul of the promises and blessings I had
received, and which should surely be fulfilled, and that I had a
mission to perform in Zion. I received strength and was filled
with the Spirit of the Lord, and arose and traveled on with a
light heart. As I reached camp, I found a search party ready to go
back to find me, dead or alive." She gathered her courage and
engaged to a young man in this company, but had been advised to
wait until they reached Zion to marry. Her fiancé died. "I had no
relatives, but many dear and devoted friends, and we did all we
could to aid and encourage each other…in the blizzards and falling
snow, we sat under our hand carts and sang, 'Come, Come Ye Saints,
no toil nor labor fear, but with joy, wend your way. Though hard
to you, this journey may appear, grace shall be, as your day.'
" While traveling
thru the United States, the people tried to discourage us by
telling us there was famine in Utah, that the grasshoppers had
eaten up everything and that there had been a grasshopper war,
etc, but we traveled on trusting in God." Years later she remarked
"I am thankful that I was counted worthy to be a pioneer and a
handcart girl. It prepared me to endure hard times in my future
life. I often think of the songs we sang to encourage us o our
toilsome journey, It was hard to endure, but the Lord gave us
strength and courage."
Mrs. Evens - "...a
rider on a horse came back looking for us..."
Welshmen made up the Third handcart company - Stories from a
"The flour was self rising and we took water and baked a little
cake. After the few weeks of traveling this little cake was all we
had to eat and after months of traveling we were put on half
rations and at one time, before help came, we were out of flour
for two days. During this hard journey I was expecting my first
baby and it was very hard to be contented on so little food. My
husband had lost a leg in his early childhood and walked on a
wooden stump, which caused him a great deal of pain and
discomfort. When his knee, became very sore, my husband was not
able to walk any farther and I could not pull him in the little
cart, being so sick myself, so one late afternoon he felt he could
not go on so he stopped to rest beside some tall sagebrush. I
pleaded with him to try to walk farther, that if he stayed there
he would die, and I could not go on without him. The company did
not miss us until they rested for the night and when the names
were checked we were not among the company and a rider on a horse
came back looking for us. When they say the pitiful condition of
my husband's knee he was assigned to the commissary wagon and
helped dispense the food for the rest of the journey. I hated to
see him suffer so but it was with relish that I ate his little
cake when he was too miserable to care for food. We were allowed
to bring 17 pounds of clothing, there was one tent for a dozen
people. There were five mule teams and wagons to haul the tents
and flour. Words by Mrs. Even
Thomas D. Giles -
"Elder Pratt gave him a remarkable blessing..."
Welshmen made up the Third handcart company - Stories from a
The Thomas D. Giles family traveled in the company. He was blind
and with a wife and baby girl and two boys, 7 and 9 he pulled his
handcart westward. Soon after starting across the plains, the baby
became ill and died. She was buried beside the trail and the
company moved onward. A few weeks later his wife died. She also
was buried beside the trail. The two boys were sent back to join
another company near Fort Bridger, Elder Giles became seriously
ill and after holding the company for two days, Captain Bunker
ordered the camp to move on, leaving two of the men to bury the
sick man when he died. It was expected that death would come in a
matter of hours. Remarkable faith and the frequent administrations
of the Elders who attended him kept the patient alive until
evening when Parley P. Pratt the Apostle, who had know Brother
Giles in Wales reached the camp. Elder Pratt gave him a remarkable
blessing. In it he made these promises: That he should rejoin his
company and arrive safely in the Salt Lake Valley; that he should
there rear a family; and that because of his faithfulness he would
be permitted to live as long as he wanted. These blessings were
all fulfilled in their entirety. He rejoined his company, reached
the Valley October 2, 1856, remarried, and lived to bless and name
seven of his grandchildren. His death occurred November 2, 1895,
after he had expressed a desire to go."
Ellenor Roberts -
"...walked the rest of the journey bare-footed."
Welshmen made up the Third handcart company - Stories from a
Ellenor Roberts, a Welsh girl, was married to Elias Lewis under a
shade tree at the Iowa outfitting camp. "As the journey continued,
food became very scarce and many of their priceless possessions
were traded for food. One of these was her wedding ring, which was
exchanged for flour." Elias and Ellenor walked the entire
distance. Ellenor was always particular about her shoes. She
always kept them shiny and clean. When they reached the Missouri
River she took them off, set them on the bank of the river, and
when she got on the other side she discovered she had left them.
She walked the rest of the journey bare-footed.
Company was welcomed into Salt Lake Valley on October 2. The first
three companies of 1856 had safely arrived in Utah
Josiah Rogerson Sr.
- "Let Us Oft Speak Kind Words"
September 13, 1856.
About 10:30 this morning we passed Fort Kearney and as on of the
singular deaths occurred on our journey at this time, I will give
a brief and truthful narration of the incident.
Two bachelors, named Luke Carter, from the Clitheroe Branch,
Yorkshire, England and William Edwards, from Manchester, England,
each about 50 to 60 years of age, had pulled a covered handcart
together from Iowa City to this point. They slept in the same
tent, cooked and bunked together; but for several days previous,
unpleasant and cross words had passed between them.
Edwards was a tall, loosely built and tender man, physically, and
Carter more stocky and sturdy. Carter had favored Edwards by
letting him pull only what he could do in the shafts for some
time. This morning, he grumbled and complained, still traveling,
about being tired and the he couldn’t go any further.
Carter retorted; “Come on, Come on, You’ll be all right again when
we get a bit of dinner at noon.” But Edwards kept on begging for
him to stop the cart and let him lie down and die. Carter replied
coarsely, “Well, get out of there and die then.”
The cart instantly stopped. Carter raised the shafts of the cart.
Edwards walked from under the and to the south side of the road a
couple of rods, laid his body down on the level prairie, and in
ten minutes, he was a corpse.
We waited a few carts of us a few minutes longer till the captain
came up and closed Edwards’s eyes. A light loaded open cart was
unloaded. The body was put thereon, covered with a quilt, and the
writer pulled him to the noon camp, some five or six miles, where
we dug his grave and buried him a short distance west of Fort
His traveling companion offered no compassion to him whatsoever,
but just before Edwards closed his eyes and was dying, Albert
Jones brought to him a drink of water in a tin cup and moistened
his dying lips.