1. President Brigham Young guided the rescue of the Martin and Willie handcart companies.
Display the picture of the Martin handcart company. Summarize the first paragraph under “Handcart Pioneers” on page 77 of Our Heritage. Then share the following account as told by President Gordon B. Hinckley:
“I take you back to the general conference of October 1856. On Saturday of that conference, Franklin D. Richards and a handful of associates arrived in the valley. They had traveled from Winter Quarters with strong teams and light wagons and had been able to make good time. Brother Richards immediately sought out President Young. He reported that there were hundreds of men, women, and children scattered over the long trail. … They were in desperate trouble. Winter had come early. After admonishment from their church leaders that God would protect their party, hundreds chose to depart Nebraska in late summer, despite their knowledge of late departure and guaranteed unprotected travel through harsh mountain winter. Their leaders, “Prophesied in the name of God that we should get through in safety. Were we not God’s people, and would he not protect us? Even the elements he would arrange for our good.” Snow-laden winds were howling across the highlands. … Our people were hungry; their carts and their wagons were breaking down; their oxen dying. The people themselves were dying. All of them would perish unless they were rescued.
“I think President Young did not sleep that night. I think visions of those destitute, freezing, dying people paraded through his mind. The next morning he came to the old Tabernacle which stood on this square. He said to the people:
“‘I will now give this people the subject and the text for the Elders who may speak. … It is this. … Many of our brethren and sisters are on the plains with handcarts, and probably many are now seven hundred miles from this place, and they must be brought here, we must send assistance to them. The text will be, “to get them here. …
“‘That is my religion; that is the dictation of the Holy Ghost that I possess. It is to save the people. …
“‘I shall call upon the Bishops this day. I shall not wait until tomorrow, nor until the next day, for 60 good mule teams and 12 or 15 wagons. I do not want to send oxen. I want good horses and mules. They are in this Territory, and we must have them. Also 12 tons of flour and 40 good teamsters, besides those that drive the teams. …
“‘I will tell you all that your faith, religion, and profession of religion, will never save one soul of you in the Celestial Kingdom of our God, unless you carry out just such principles as I am now teaching you. Go and bring in those people now on the plains’ (in LeRoy R. Hafen and Ann W. Hafen,Handcarts to Zion , 120–21).
“That afternoon, food, bedding, and clothing in great quantities were assembled by the women. The next morning, horses were shod and wagons were repaired and loaded. The following morning, … 16 mule teams pulled out and headed eastward. By the end of October there were 250 teams on the road to give relief” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1996, 117–18; or Ensign, Nov. 1996, 85–86).
Point out that the Martin and Willie handcart companies had done all they could to reach the Salt Lake Valley, but they could go no farther. They needed to be rescued. Without the rescue parties, they all would have died.
Addendum: It is important to emphasize the faith of the members of the Willie handcart companies. Numerous party members warned of the impending winter conditions and admonished the saints to stay in Nebraska for another season. Church leaders admonished party members to proceed onward, promising that they would be protected and safe from the elements . Opposing voices were reprimanded and silenced to minimize their influence.
Meaning: From a secular perspective, knowing that church leaders advocated for a late summer departure and knowingly promoted the application of faith to oppose rationale fear of death and summering is extremely concerning. While is does not refute the appropriateness of rescuing the handcart company, it does call into question the appropriateness of priesthood leader influence and to what degree rationale thought should be supplanted by faith. From a faithful perspective, the death and morbidity of the handcart companies may be viewed as a necessary sacrifice resulting in a faith-promoting experience inspiring generations.
1. http://handcart.byu.edu/ (Journal Entry August 13, 1856)