Young, Brigham, "Remarks," Deseret News [Weekly], 26 Nov. 1856, 298.
By President Brigham Young, Tabernacle, Nov. 16, 1856.
[REPORTED BY GEO. D. WATT]
I rise to make a few remarks, to satisfy the feelings of the people and correct their minds and judgment.
You have heard concerning the sufferings of the people in the hand-cart trains; and, probably, you will hear the Elders, for some time to come, those who have lately returned from their missions and those now on the plains, speak about the scenes they have witnessed, and I would like to forstall the erroneous impressions that many may otherwise imbibe on this subject.
Count the living and the dead, and you will find that not half the number died in br. Willie's hand-cart company, in proportion to the number in that company, as have died, in past seasons by the cholera in single companies traveling with wagons and oxen, with carriages and horses, and that too in the fore part of the season. When you called to mind this fact, the relations of the sufferings of our companies this season will not be so harrowing to your feelings. With regard to those who have died and been laid away by the roadside on the plains, since the cold weather commenced, let me tell you that they have not suffered one hundredth part so much as did our brethren and sisters who have died with the cholera.
Some of those who have died in the hand-cart companies this season, I am told, would be singing and, before the tune was done, would drop over and breathe their last; and others would die while eating, and with a piece of bread in their hands. I should be pleased, when the time comes, if we could all depart from this life as easily as did those our brethren and sisters. I repeat, it will be a happy circumstance, when death overtakes me, if I am privileged to die without a groan or struggle, while yet retaining a good appetite for food. I speak of these things, to forestall indulgence in a misplaced sympathy. . . .
Not long since I was talking with one of the brethren who has crossed the plains this season, in regard to the propriety of companies' starting so late. He argued that it was far better for the Saints to be striving with all their might, doing all they could to serve the Lord and keep his commandments; and traveling the road to Zion with intend to build it up and establish the kingdom of God on earth, even though they should lay down their lives by the way, than to stop among the gentiles and apostates. I told him it was a good argument, though it was not exactly according to the will of the people and the will of the Lord, for he wishes to throw temptation and trial before his people, to prove them preparatory to their eternal exaltation; consequently if the people have not an opportunity of proving themselves before they die, by the ruler of their faith and religion, they cannot expect to attain to so high a glory and exaltation as they could if they had been tried in all things. Yet I believe it is better for the people to lay down their bones by the way side, than it is for them to stay in the States and apostatize.
I told the Elder that his argument seemed reasonable, but it made me think of the story about a Roman Catholic priest and Jew. The priest was crossing on the ice and on his way found a Jew, who had fallen through an air hole, clinging to the edge of the ice and unable to get out. He begged of the priest to help him out, but he would not, unless he first professed a belief in Jesus Christ. "I cannot," said the Jew. "Then I will let you down," replied the priest, and let go of him. Still clinging to the ice, as the priest was about to leave, he again begged him to pull him out. "I cannot, unless you believe in Christ." "I cannot believe," said the Jew, and the priest let him go again. At length the Jew said, "take me out, I do believe in the Lord Jesus Christ with all my might." "Do you?" said the priest, "then I think it is best to save you, while you are a Christian and strong in the faith," and he shoved him under the ice.
If we could have it so, I would a little rather the Saints could be privileged to come here and serve the Lord, or apostatize, as they might choose, for we surely expect to gather both the good and the bad. You recollect what I told you, last Sabbath, that we can beat the world at any anything. If br. Willie has brought in some of the sharks, the garfish, the sheepheads, and so on and so forth, it is all right, for we need them to make up the assortment; as yet I do not know how we could get along without them; all these kinds seem to be necessary.
I have seriously reflected upon the gathering of the people. They have all the time urgently plead and importuned to be gathered, especially from the old countries where they are so severely oppressed; and they are willing to come on foot and pull hand carts, or to do anything, so they can be gathered with the Saints. Well, we do gather them and where do many of them go? To the devil. . . .
If br. Willie's company had not been assisted by the people in these valleys, and he and his company had lived to the best light they had in their possession, had done every thing they could have done to cross the plains and done just as they did, asking no questions and having no doubting; or in other words, if, after their President or Presidents told them to go on the plains, they had gone in full faith, had pursued their journey according to their ability and done all they could, and we could not have rendered them any assistance, it would have been just as easy for the Lord to send herds of fat buffaloes to lay down within twenty yards of their camp, as it was to send flocks of quails or to rain down manna from heaven to Israel of old.
My faith is, when we have done all we can then the Lord is under obligation and will not disappoint the faithful; he will perform the rest. If no other assistance could have been had by the companies this season, I think they would have had hundreds and hundreds of fat buffaloes crowding around their camp, so that they could not help but kill them. But, under the circumstances, it was our duty to assist them, and we were none too early in the operation.
It was not a rash statement for me to make at our last Conference, when I told you that I would dismiss the conference, if the people would not turn out, and that I, with my brethren, would go to the assistance of the companies. We knew that our brethren and sisters were on the plains and in need of assistance, and we had the power and ability to help them, therefore it became our duty to do so.
The Lord was not brought under obligation in the matter, so he had put the means in our possession to render then the assistance they needed. But if there had been no other way the Lord would have helped them, if he had had to have sent his angels to drive up buffaloes day after day, and week after week. I have full confidence that the Lord would have done his part; my only lack of confidence is that those who profess to be Saints will not do right and perform their duty.
Your hear the testimony of the brethren with regard to the feasibility of the hand-cart mode of traveling; that testimony and their experience have fully sustained the correctness of the views and feelings of myself and others upon that subject from the beginning. It is the very essence of my feelings that the people in this house, if we wanted to cross the plains next season to the States, could start from here with hand carts and beat any company in traveling that would cross the plains with teams, and be better off and healthier. These are my feelings, and they have been all the time. . . .
You may take the rich and the poor, every person, and they can gather from the Missouri river, or from parts of the States where there are no railroads or steamboats, easier than they can with teams. And I am ashamed of our Elders that go out on missions, it is a disgrace to the Elders of Israel, that they do not start from here with hand-carts, or with knapsacks on their backs, and go to the States and from there preach their way to their respective fields of labor. Br. Kimball moves that we do not send any Elders from this place again, unless they take hand carts and cross the plains on foot. When the time comes I expect that this motion will be put to vote.
It is a shame for the Elders to take with them from this place everything they can rake and scrape. I can go on foot across the plains. As old as I am, I can take a hand cart and draw it across those plains quicker than you can go with animals and loaded wagons, and be healthier when I get to the Missouri river. Our Elders must have a good span of horses, or mules, and must ride, ride, ride; kill many of their animals and get little or nothing for those left when they arrive at the Missouri river besides taking four or five hundred dollars worth of property from their families. And some ride so much that they do not know how to preach, whereas, if they would walk they would be in far better condition to labor in the gospel.
As to the expediency of the hand-cart mode of traveling, brs. [Edmund] Ellsworth, [Daniel D.] McArthur, and [Edward] Bunker, who piloted the three first hand-cart companies over the plains, can testify that they easily beat the wagon companies. Br. Ellsworth performed the journey in 63 days and br. McArthur in 61½, notwithstanding the hindrance by the baggage wagons. If br. Willie's company could have had their provisions deposited at Laramie and at Green river, and had been free from wagons, they would have been in this valley by the time they were in the storms.
We are not in the least discouraged about the hand-cart method of traveling. As to its preaching a sermon to the nations, as has been remarked, they are preached pretty nigh to destruction already. We do not care whether the hand-cart scheme preaches to them, or whether it be by the teachings of the Elders of Israel. They are so bound up with their friends and so priest-ridden that they cannot burst through those chains; and they will have to remain so until Jesus devises some other means to save them, for the great majority will not hear and obey.
There are a few who are sufficiently independent to obey the truth when they hear it. We will gather them up, and let the devils howl and let all hell be moved in striving to overthrow this people. We will gather the faithful, God being our helper, and we do not care whether the rest hear and believe or not. . . .