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Researching Family History: Sarah Goode Marshall was first handcart pioneer to enter the Salt Lake Valley 155 years ago

Published: Tuesday, Sept. 20 2011 5:00 a.m. MDT

A photo of Sarah Goode Marshall, who was the first handcart pioneer to arrive in the Salt Lake Valley, sits in the handcart of Lynn "Doc" Cleland, who is 60 years old, as he pulls his handcart into This Is The Place Heritage Park in Salt Lake City on Sept. 26, 2009, after pulling his handcart from Iowa City, Iowa, since June 9. Cleland is a descendant of Sarah Goode Marshall.

Keith Johnson, Deseret News archive

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So you don’t want to hear about an ancestor who was the first Mormon handcart pioneer to enter the valley of the Great Salt Lake? You say that should be limited to the July 24 or Pioneer Day? Sarah Goode Marshall entered the valley as a single mother with her six children on Sept. 26, 1856, near this time of year 155 years ago.

My wife is the third-great-granddaughter of Sarah Marshall. Much of the spunk and endurance that Sarah went through with her children I have seen in my own wife. Funny how some of these qualities in our ancestors seem to come out in our own lives. That is because such ancestors packed a lot of qualities and sent them down to descendants like us.

Sarah left a personal journal for her descendants to read and cherish. Some things about her have been written and published in other church writings and publications such as the Ensign magazine.

Sarah was born at Abenhall Parish in Gloucestershire, England, on March 2, 1821, to George Goode and Selina Holder. Years later, she married Thomas Marshall. They lived in apparent comfort when first married. As time progressed, she took an interest in what the missionaries from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were preaching. Her husband was bitterly opposed to her interest in the LDS Church and often followed her to the meetings. She would receive the impression that, "Sarah, you better go home, Thomas is coming." Often she would leave immediately and take a whipping from her husband before she got home. Thomas died in 1854 without ever embracing the gospel.

Sarah heeded the call to go to Zion with her little brood of children, all under the age of 12. Now left penniless as a widow, she worked during the day as a house maid and knitted gloves at night to earn enough money for her and her children to pay their passage.

The night before leaving, her relatives gave her a party. As her family said goodbye to Sarah and the children, they did so among tears of fear and warning. They worried that Sarah and her children would lose their lives. It was written that one of the elders overheard the statements of gloom and doom and immediately rose to his feet, raising his hand above his head and declared by the power of God, “I will promise Sister Marshall — in the name of Israel’s God — that she will go to Zion and shall not lose one of her children by the way!”

With faith unwavering and the promise given through the elder, she turned her heart heavenward and her face westward toward Zion, taking her band of six children and set off on the high seas for Zion. She and her children boarded the ship Samuel Curling, which was designed to carry the Saints from their fatherland to America. After four weeks at sea, they arrived in Boston.

Then they boarded a train heading for Iowa City. This was a gathering place for the Saints to make handcarts, which would contain the few precious possessions and what rationed food they had. Once the handcarts were made and loaded, then it was the constant push and pull with sounds of grit under the large wheels during the nearly 1,400-mile trek to the "Vallies," as many immigrating Saints called it. (See also: Bangerter, Russell and Leslie, "Stepping Stones to Zion," family history library book No. 929.273 P419brL).

After her handcart was built, she and her children were assigned to Capt. Edmund Ellsworth’s handcart company, the first handcart company to cross the Plains. Because Sarah was a single mother with six children, one leader in the company did not take too kindly to her. Apparently he thought she and her family would impede the progress of the company. Instead of offering to help Sarah, he made his concern known to her.

Clearly, Sarah was at a disadvantage. First, she was widowed. Second, she had six children with her, the youngest being barely 2 years old. On the same occasion, she told the leader that she would get to the valley before he and the company did. From that time on, she and her six children traveled ahead of the rest of the company, remembering her goal to enter the valley first. She literally led the way ahead of the company.

Her statement proved prophetic and her promise was kept when on Sept. 26 she and her children entered the valley ahead of the rest of the company.

When I hear the song “Faith In Every Footstep,” I am reminded of Sarah, her children and a thousand other pioneers who walked the distance through all kinds of weather and terrain. I admire the great faith that Sarah had. Through all odds, she made it with her children to Zion without losing any of them.

Sarah later moved north with her family to Fort Franklin (now Franklin) just north of the Idaho-Utah border. She is buried in the Franklin Cemetery.

Genealogy graduate Russell Bangerter is president of Ancestral Connections Inc. at www.ancestralconnect.com. He is a professional genealogist, author and speaker and adviser at www.treasuredsoulstokeep.com.

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