Rocky Ridge

Distance: 1,038 miles from Nauvoo

East of Rocky Ridge, at the Sixth Crossing of the Sweetwater, the Willie company became snowbound. Captain Willie and Joseph Elder forced their way through the snow across Rocky Ridge and found the rescue party waiting out the storm. The rescuers pushed east with supplies the next morning. The Willie handcart company finally made it into Salt Lake City on November 9, 1856. Sixty-nine members had died along the trail.

Journal Entries

Levi Savage

October 23, 1856

"We buried our dead, got up our teams and about nine o'clock a.m. commenced ascending the Rocky Ridge. This was a severe day. The wind blew hard and cold. The ascent was some five miles long and some places steep and covered with deep snow. We became weary, set down to rest, and some became chilled and commenced to freeze. . . .

"About ten or eleven o'clock in the night we came to a creek [Strawberry Creek] that we did not like to attempt to cross without help, it being full of ice and freezing cold. Leaving Brothers Atwood and Woodard with the teams, I started to the camp for help. I met Brother Willie coming to look for us. He turned for the camp, as he could do no good alone. I passed several on the road and arrived in camp after about four miles of travel. I arrived in camp, but few tents were pitched and men, women, and children sat shivering with cold around their small fires. Some time lapsed when two teams started to bring up the rear. Just before daylight they returned, bringing all with them, some badly frozen, some dying and some dead. It was certainly heart rending to hear children crying for mothers and mothers crying for children. By the time I got them as comfortably situated as circumstances would admit (which was not very comfortable), day was dawning. I had not shut my eyes for sleep, nor lain down. I was nearly exhausted with fatigue and want of rest."

(Stewart E. Glazier, ed., Journal of the Trail [Salt Lake City, Utah: 1996], 56.)

John Chislett, Willie Handcart Company

October 1856

"We had found a good camp among the willows, and after warming and partially drying ourselves before good fires, we ate our scanty fare, paid our usual devotions to the Deity and retired to rest with hopes of coming aid.

"In the morning the snow was over a foot deep. Our cattle strayed widely during the storm, and some of them died. But what was worse to us than all this was the fact that five persons of both sexes lay in the cold embrace of death. . . .

". . . It was also resolved in council that Captain Willie with one man should go in search of the supply train and apprise the leader of our condition. . . . They were absent three days—three days which I shall never forget.

". . . The recollection of it unmans me even now—those three days! During that time I visited the sick, the widows whose husbands died in serving them, and the aged who could not help themselves, to know for myself where to dispense the few articles that had been placed in my charge for distribution. Such craving hunger I never saw before, and may God in his mercy spare me the sight again. . . .

". . . On the evening of the third day after Captain Willie's departure, just as the sun was sinking beautifully behind the distant hills, on an eminence immediately west of our camp several covered wagons, each drawn by four horses were seen coming towards us. The news ran through the camp like wildfire. . . . Shouts of joy rent the air; strong men wept till tears ran freely down their furrowed and sun-burnt cheeks, and little children partook of the joy which some of them hardly understood, and fairly danced around with gladness. Restraint was set aside in the general rejoicing, and as the brethren entered our camp the sisters fell upon them and deluged them with kisses.

". . . That evening, for the first time in quite a period, the songs of Zion were to be heard in the camp, and peals of laughter issued from the little knots of people as they chatted around the fires. The change seemed almost miraculous, so sudden was it from grave to gay, from sorrow to gladness, from mourning to rejoicing. With the cravings of hunger satisfied, and with hearts filled with gratitude to God and our good brethren, we all united in prayer, and then retire to rest."

(John Chislett, as quoted by LeRoy R. and Ann W. Hafen, Handcarts to Zion [Glendale, Ca.: The Arthur H. Clark Company, 1960], 104-6.)

Jens Pederson

October 23, 1856

"When they were having such hard times with low rations and cold weather, one man decided he didn't want to put up with any more so just said he wasn't going another step. Different ones tried to talk to him and urge him to go on, but had no effect upon his decision. Grandpa, Jens O. Pederson asked for permission to talk to the man. Some told him it wouldn't do any good, so they went on and grandpa tried to reason with him, but that did no good. Finally he said, 'Well, if you are not going, I'm going to give you a whipping before I go on,' and he slapped him quite hard on the face, and started running to catch up with the company. It made the man angry and he started after grandpa and both of them caught up to the company. The man went on and later thanked him for saving his life."

(Stewart E. Glazier, ed., Journal of the Trail [Salt Lake City, Utah: 1996], 127.)