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Five Things You Might Not Know about the Handcart Rescue

Chad Orton and Curtis Ashton

Preparing the Rescue Wagons, ©1997 by Larry Winborg

The story of 3,000 Latter-day Saints pulling their belongings to Utah in handcarts has inspired people for over a century. This dramatic story includes efforts in 1856 to help rescue the Willie and Martin handcart companies and three wagon trains that were also late in the season. Although you may know the basic outline of the handcart rescue effort, some aspects of this story may still surprise you. Launch the gallery to discover five insights into this well-known story. Together, these insights show the blessings that come when Latter-day Saints heed inspired counsel and work together to help others in need.

LAUNCH THE GALLERY: Five Things You Might Not Know about the Handcart Rescue




  1. For more about 1849 rescue efforts, see George A. Smith and William I. Appleby letter to Orson Hyde, Oct. 18, 1849, in “Letter from G. A. Smith,” Frontier Guardian, Dec. 26, 1849, 2. For accounts of relief provided to an earlier handcart company, see “Daniel Duncan McArthur Emigrating Company, Journal, 1856 May–Sep,” history.lds.org/overlandtravels. For a typical response to Brigham Young’s call for more wagons in October 1856, see “Peter Sinclair journal, 1856–1862; 1874; 1881,” 18, Church History Library, Salt Lake City. For an example of snow falling early along the trail in another emigration season, see Isaiah Moses Coombs diary, Apr. 1855–Apr. 27, 1856, in Isaiah M. Coombs Collection, 1835–1938, Church History Library, Salt Lake City.
  2. Brigham Young sermon, Oct. 5, 1856, as published in “Remarks,” Deseret News, Oct. 15, 1856, 252.
  3. For Bishop Blackburn’s pledge of flour, see “Offerings for the assistance of the P.E.F. Immigrants, 1856 October,” in Perpetual Emigrating Fund Company General Files 1850–1887, Church History Library, Salt Lake City. For his response from Provo, see Provo Bishop letter to D. H. Wells, Oct. 10, 1856, in Brigham Young Office Files, Incoming General Correspondence, 1840–1877, Church History Library, Salt Lake City. For an example of a bishop relying on the teachers in his ward, see entries for October 5–6, 1856, in Alonzo H. Raleigh journal, September 1853–February 1861, Church History Library, Salt Lake City. For an account of ward members serving together on the trail, see Journal of Anson Call, edited by Shann L. Call and Hadyn Call (Ogden, Utah: Eborn Books, 2007), 57.
  4. For date of arrival, see entry for Monday, Dec. 15, 1856, in Dan Jones Emigrating Company Journal, 1856 May–December. For an example of one of Brigham Young’s repeated calls for more wagons and teams, see letter to Isaac Bullock Fort Supply, Oct. 24, 1856, copied into Shoshone Mission Journal, Church History Library, Salt Lake City. For President Young’s urgent call after hearing of teams who had turned back, see First Presidency letter, To All the Men and Brethren on the Road at Bridger’s Fort or elsewhere between here and Fort Laramie with teams designed to aid in the Emigration, Nov. 11, 1856. The calculation for the ratio of teamsters and wagons is based on reports that recorded both the number of men and the number of wagons. Not all references to rescue companies listed both numbers. Information about where people settled after their arrival comes from tithing reports at the Church History Library, Salt Lake City (closed for research). For an example of someone who settled in Iron County, see Francis Webster reminiscences, 9–10, Church History Library, Salt Lake City.
  5. “Remarks,” Deseret News, Dec. 10, 1856, 320. For more on the spirit of unity felt among the Saints that winter, see diary entries from Elias Blackburn, Peter Sinclair, and Alonzo H. Raleigh (journals of Peter Sinclair and Alonzo H. Raleigh are at the Church History Library; journals of Elias Blackburn are at the Utah State Historical Society). See also meeting minutes from American Fork, where a clerk noted that on December 21 those who returned from the mountains spoke to the congregation: “All felt well in going on their missions to rescue the suffering emigration from the snows on the mountains and bore testimony to the preserving hand of the Almighty God in their behalf” (American Fork Ward Historical Record [closed for research], 75, Church History Library, Salt Lake City).