Loynd, James, The Martin Handcart Company, 1926.
We might almost call to day the 70th anniversary of this arrival since it was on the Sunday that the bedraggled survivors of the heroic band were brought into this city. They had left about one third of their number dead upon the plains and mountains.
Converts to the church residing in Europe Had written imploring letters to President Brigham Young and others pleading with them to assist them in some way to emigrate to the Valley of the mountains. No matter how they crossed the plains whether with ox-teams or horse team or on foot carrying their blankets on their backs, They would come if the way could be opened to them. In response to these importunities the following instructions were written as apart of the 13th general Epistle of the first President of the church dated great Salt Lake City, Oct. 29, 1855.
“Let all the Saints who can gather up to Zion and come, while the way is open before them. Let the poor come also. Let them come on foot with hand carts or wheel barrows. Let them gird up their loins and walk through and nothing shall hinder them.
After crossing the altantic [Atlantic] let them puruse the northern route from Boston[,] New York or Philadelphia and land at Iowa City Iowa the terminus of the railroad. Then let them be provided with hand carts on which to draw the provisions and clothing.
Then walk and draw them, Thereby saving the immense expense for teams and outfit for crossing the plains. There will
be <of> course be means provided for the conveyance of the aged[,] infirn [infirm] and those unable from any cause to walk.[”] The hand cart project became very popular with the Saints in Europe especial[l]y omong [among] those who hither to had been unable to raise sufficients means to emigrate. Many of those carried away with the idea of gathering to Zion that season Left their various employment in their native lands Before proper arrangements had been completed for their transportation. The result was that they were left to cho[o]se between the alternative To go to the poor house to starve or else run the risk of a late journey across the plains. They chose the latter course in which the President of the British Mission seeing no better way out of the difficlty acquiesced and directed matters to that end. accordingly the ship Horizon and Thornton were chartered which brought over the altantic [Atlantic] most of the emigrants who suffered so much crossing the plains and mountains in James G. Willies and Edward Martin Hand cart companies, and Wm. B. Hodgetts and John S. Hunt wagon trains which followed close behind the hand cart companies. Most of the members of Martins company crossed the altantic [Atlantic] in the ship Horizon which sailed from Liverpool England May 25, 1856 and arrived in Boston on the 30th of June following.
This company arrived in Iowa City July 8th and immediately set to work perparing for the long overland journey before them. Including the making of hand carts which unfortunately were not ready for them When they arrived because the number of emigrants requiring these vehicles was so much larger than had been anticipated.
This much precious time was lost which should <have> been spent in traveling. Three companies of hand cart emigrants which had started for the plains earlier in the season reached Great Salt Lake City without any un<u>sual amount of suffering.
They had crossed the altantic [Atlantic] earlier in the year than the Horizon and Thornton. The fourth company of hand carts under Captain Willies [James G. Willie] suffered many of the same experience that the [Edward] Martin company was called upon to endure a little later.
At last on July 28[,] 1856 the Martin company started westward from Iowa city. It consisted of 576 persons[,] 145 hand carts[,] seven wagons[,] six mules[,] 50 cows and beef cattle. The company divided into two sections. One wagon drawn by mules and two wagons drawn by oxen were apportioned to each section to carry provisions, tents, etc.
In this way the company traveled nearly 300 miles to F[l]orence, Nebraska, a new town commenced on the original site of Winter quarters so well known by the Mormon exiles from Nauvoo, Illinois.
Thus while passing through a sparsely populated country the emigrants learned many lessons regarding this mode of travel which were of great value to them later when they were hundreds of miles from civilization. as the hand cart emigrants passed through the settlements of Iowa, many of the pioneer residents jeered at them and some mob violence was threatened, But they arrived safely at Florence on the first lap of their journey, August 11, 1856.
A specimen of the hand carts used by the emigrants of 1856, May be seen among the exhibits in charge of the daughters of Utah pioneers in the states capitol.
the these hand carts weighed about 15 pounds, It being made as light as possible. The two wheels were set far enough apart to permit them to follow the track of the wagon drawn by oxen or mule teams.
The tires were made of heavy sheet iron riveted to the felloes. The carts had no tongue but the strips of wood, bolted on to the axle of the wheels upon which the box rested, extented [extended] far enough in front[.] The cross pieces could be morticed to the ents [ends] leaving room for a person to walk between it and the cart.
Thus those who pulled got into this space and propelled a cart forward with their bodies. As a rule two persons pulled walking side by side, But a strong man could pull a cart alone. Often the man would pull while his wife or other members of the family pushed from the rear.
At Florence the two sections of the company were consolidated into one as protection against Indians in crossing the mounters [mountains] and plains, and on
the Aug 25th <the> company rolled out of Florence.
Fort Laramie was reached six weeks later. Thus far the journey had not been more fatiguing than might have been expected, but with brave hearts the pilgrims pursued their journey day after day. They enlivened the time with camps fires at night with songs and conversation. The chorus of one of the songs run thus: and some must push and some must pull as we go marching up the hill[,] as merrily on the way we go until we reach the valley, O.
This expresses the spirit of the hand cart emigrants in spite of fatigue and hunger. For although up to this time the daily rations of one pound of flour for each adult had not been cut down, the fresh air made them hungry and their appetites were hardly ever satisfied. So at Fort Laramie they were glad to exchange their watches and other valuables for provisions which were sold at reasonable prices.
Those who were thus enabled to supplement selves with extra provisions fared better than many of their fellow travelers for soon after leaving Fort Laramie it was found necessary to cut down the rations. The pound of flour per day was reduced to three-fourths of a pound. Later to half pound and still the company toiled cheerfully on through the black hell [Hill] country where the roads were rocky and hilly causing the hand carts to become rickety and to need frequent repairs. W[illia]m Middleton, father of Dr. Middleton of this city, was in charge of one of the provision wagons, and he frequently picked up the little tired children whom he found crying to their mother’s skirts. and gave them a ride.
On the morning of Oct. 19 the beds of the travelers were covered with snow which had drifted in from the outside. about four inches of snow had fallen during the night. The air was bitterly cold and a high wind drove particles of snow in every direction. No wonder the hearts of the emigrants sank within them. Encampment had been made near the last crossing of the Platte and during the day the river had to be crossed. The water was exceedingly cold and up to the wagon beds in <the> deepest part.
of The current too was strong.
Some of the women and children were carried ocross by the men but most of the women tied up their skirts and waded through like the heroines they were.
For several days the storm continued until the snow was 15 inches deep on the level but they struggled on. Many however fell
ing by the wayside among them was a man named [William] Edwards, a bachelor. He and another man named [Luke] Carter had pulled a hand cart together. Edwards was known as a constant grumbler and this day grumbling more than usual. He declared that he would rather die than pull any more/ Finally his companion’s patience gave out and lifting up the front of the cart he said angrily, “Get out and die then!” Edwards staggered a few steps to the side of the road and in a few moments he was dead.
Another man known as father [Jonathan] Stone, who traveled in company with a little grandchild, about 10 years of age, lagged behind one day and was taken up by the Hunt wagon company traveling in the rear. He was invited to stop with them over night, but being anxious to rejoin his own company, he and his little companion went forward. On the morrow their mangled remains were discovered upon the plains surrounded by a pack of wolves.
Some time before this a company of returning missionaries traveling on horseback and with teams passed the company enroute for Great Salt Lake City. On their arrival in that city, Oct 4, they reported to President Young the deplorable condition of Capt. Willies hand cart company and depicted what naturally might be the condition of the Martin company more than a hundred miles behind. The general conference of the church was in session and the President at once laid the matter before the assembled saints saying, “We want twenty teams by tomorrow morning to go to their relief. I will furnish three teams loaded with provisions, and Bro Heber C. Kimball will do the same. If there are any brethren present who have suitable outfits for such a journey they will please make it known at once.”
Suitable men to accompany the teams were chosen and conference was immediatey adjourned in order to give all a chance to help in getting the relief teams started. Next morning by 9 o’clock sixteen first-class, four mule teams were seen wending their way towards Emigration canyon. The Willie company was not met as soon as expected having been detained by the storm, and the relief company realized more and more how insufficient their loads of provisions would be when divided between the 1,500 people who were still on the plains or in the mountains.
It was not until
l Oct 20 th that the Willie company was reached and the fright eningful condition of suffering in that company gave the brethren of the relief company little hope for the other companies in the rear. Immediately Capt George D. Grant with 17 men and 9 teams pushed on eastward to the relief of the Martin hand cart company and of the [William B] Hodgett and [John A.] Hunt wagon companies. Joseph A. Young, a son of President Brigham Young, and two other men were sent ahead to announce relief wagons. They found the Martin company near the Sweet Water on Oct 29 in a most deplorable condition. They they having lost 56 of their number by death since they left the Platte River nine days before. Their provisions were nearly gone and their clothing almost worn out. Most of their bedding had been abandoned on the road as they were too weak to haul it. The company was strung out for miles.
Old men were tugging at loaded carts, some women pulling sick husbands, and children struggling along
old through deep snow. Several deaths occurred that night. Two days later with the assistance of the rescue party these emigrants arrived at Devil’s Gate on the Sweet Water and two day[s] later the Hodgett and Hunt wagon companies arrived at the same place.
The crossing of the Sweet Water near this point proved a terrible ordeal to the weary travelers, standing, shivering with cold, on the river bank. They watched the huge pieces of ice floating down stream. The water at this crossing was about two feet deep and in other places still deeper. In spite of the cheering information that this was the last river they would have to ford, it seemed impossible for the emigrants in their weakened condition to make the attempt. At the prospect before them not only women and children wept but even strong men shed tears freely. A council was held to decide whether a winter camp should be constructed at Devil’s Gate and no further attempt be made to cross the mountains at that time. But fearing that it might be impossible to send supplies to them later in the season, the leaders decided to push forward to the valley.
Leaving some of the baggage at Devil’s Gate, the teams and wagons and some of the strong men with hand carts then forded the river at once and David P. Kimball, George W. Grant and C. Allen Huntington of the relief party entered the icy stream determin[e]d to save life. They waded back and forth helping the hand carts through and carr[y]ing the women and children ac[r]oss the river. Hour after hour they worked incessantly until just as darkness closed in upon them all the company had passed over. Every one of these brave men died young. Their relations and friends felt as President Young remarked when he first heard of <their> heroism, that their salvation was assured. They had among the namy [many] other brave mountains boys, proven themselves real heroes.
As the emigrants traveled up the sweet Water and over the mountain, more relief wagons met them from the valley, and one by one the hand carts were abandoned. At last by the assistance thus rendered the weary survivors entered Salt Lake city on Monday, Novenber [November] 30, 1956 after more than four month[s] of marching and toil pulling hand carts.