Bodil Mortensen - Willie Handcart Company

"Ever Onward" by Joseph Brickey.  For more information go to

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.  


Cyrus Wheelock - Wrote the lyrics to Ye Elders of Israel


attended the 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 ready..."

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 question.

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 Horgett 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 and over-exertion.”



Mary Hereford & Ephramine Wickland

Many individuals 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 burn: 

"Standing outside…I 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 restored gospel. 

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 continued on. 

Susannah was 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..."


Emigrants of Welshmen made up the Third handcart company -  Stories from a journal...

"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..."

Emigrants of Welshmen made up the Third handcart company -  Stories from a journal...

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."


Emigrants of Welshmen made up the Third handcart company -  Stories from a journal...

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.

Captain Bunker's 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 Kearney. 

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. 


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