Op-ed: Lessons from the Willie and Martin handcart companies

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  • Michael Shea, MD Yuma, AZ
    Nov. 11, 2017 1:06 p.m.

    It may be that politics is the only activity in the world that more clearly illustrates pridefulness, the limitations of human perception and understanding, and the frailty of human judgment more clearly than these incessant, repetitive, and inane Mormon vs. anti-Mormon debates. No armchair analyst can know all the variables - let alone comprehend them - that compel people to action, whether that action is deemed heroic, imprudent, or downright foolish, 170 years after the fact. Maybe it is best to just let people conclude whatever they will and let it all go. Ecclesiastes 5:2 is worth pondering, I think.

  • Jeffster1 Chile, 00
    Nov. 9, 2017 1:22 p.m.

    HI All,

    Thanks for your thoughts and comments

    Some comments below state...

    ¨Perhaps the lesson we need to draw is that we should engage our God-given mental faculties rather than rely on blind faith in the arm of flesh.¨

    ¨For me, part of the lesson here is that our faith ought to be accompanied with intelligent and informed evaluation before we undertake any endeavor that involves such huge risks and dangers¨

    It´s true, Levi Savage using his intelligence, warned against heading out so late. So what is it within him that makes him in that same meeting say...
    "What I have said I know to be true; (encouraging the saints not to go) but seeing you are to go forward, I will go with you, will help all I can, will work with you, will rest with you, and if necessary, will die with you. May God in his mercy bless and preserve us."

    Do mental facultiess and faith mesh? Or do you believe once one is ¨excersing faith¨ ¨informed evaluation¨ is no longer being used?

  • RedShirtCalTech Pasedena, CA
    Nov. 8, 2017 1:15 p.m.

    To "Impartial7 " I don't know where you get your facts, but they are wrong. Statistics show that overall only 3.9% of Mormon pioneers died while crossing the US. The Willie-Martin company had a 16% mortality rate. The irony of the situation was that the Mormons were actually safer crossing the US than they were remaining in the east.

  • Oatmeal Woods Cross, UT
    Nov. 8, 2017 12:12 p.m.

    Even a superficial examination of that anecdote reveals that it was likely manufactured years later and contains serious historical discrepancies. There is a BYU Studies article on it.

    The bottom line is that poor leadership (Franklin D. Richards) prodded those faithful pioneers into disaster. Levi Savage warned them but was rebuffed and his loyalty to church leaders was called into question. If one does not know the story of Levi Savage, one does not understand the causes of the disasters at Martin's Cove and other sites.

  • Freiheit Salt Lake City, UT
    Nov. 8, 2017 7:16 a.m.

    While the story of these two handcart companies is heroic in every sense of that word, both for the struggling companies and those who set out to rescue them, and certainly deserves to be remembered on that basis alone, the usual lessons drawn from it ignore a possibly more important one. When trying to decide whether or not to undertake the journey so late in the year, the group was addressed by Levi Savage as well as Franklin D. Richards. Savage, who knew the trail well, begged them not to go. Richards promised divine protection if they went. They chose to go because Richards was an Apostle and they blindly put their faith in him. Obviously he was wrong, and they paid the price. Brigham Young recognized this and sent out the rescuers post haste. His enduring anger with Richards, and virtual refusal to speak to him for the rest of his life is never mentioned. Perhaps the lesson we need to draw is that we should engage our God-given mental faculties rather than rely on blind faith in the arm of flesh.

  • David Centerville, UT
    Nov. 7, 2017 5:48 p.m.

    Some look outside and see storm clouds and rain and declare to themselves "This will be a bad day". Others see the rain, storm clouds, smell the fresh air, and glory in the same day. It's not a mystery that there are pessimists, doubters, those that are negative; and there are others that are optimistic, believers in the goodness of humanity, and are positive.

    Who would you rather hang around with?

  • PorLibertad Salt Lake City, UT
    Nov. 7, 2017 2:54 p.m.

    Prior to the heroic rescue of the stranded saints, history records that on September 13th 1856 according to John Chislett a survivor of the Willey company “Franklin D. Richards promised the Willie company saints that though it might storm on our right and on our left the lord would keep open our way before us and we should get to Zion in safety”

    For me, part of the lesson here is that our faith ought to be accompanied with intelligent and informed evaluation before we undertake any endeavor that involves such huge risks and dangers as the trek undertaken by the Willey and Martin handcart companies. The dangers and risks were well known to Brother Richards and other church leaders before these companies departed from Florence Nebraska.

  • Meckofahess Salt Lake City, UT
    Nov. 7, 2017 2:37 p.m.

    @Rocket Science:

    You are being unreasonably harsh in this instance with Impartial7 with whom I often disagree. While Impartial7 may have his issues with our Mormon faith, he does correctly point out that there are other lessons to be learned from the Willey and Martin handcart companies disaster.

    Another important lesson is described by Howard Christy a retired senior editor of scholarly publications at BYU who wrote: "an absence of prudence sufficient to allow for alternatives in case of unforeseen misfortune or breakdown imprudence that was heightened by an apparent belief that god would directly intervene if necessary to assure success and looming above all was a seeming unawareness of or unconcern for the serious limitations for safe travel imposed by the time and the seasons the combination not any single aspect resulted in a disaster that only great individual courage and faith on the part of the emigrants and extreme and heroic measures in the nick of time on the part of the rescuers saved those involved from total destruction"

  • Rifleman Salt Lake City, UT
    Nov. 7, 2017 1:55 p.m.

    Impartial7 - DRAPER, UT says: "If that's how God treats his children, that's no god most rational would chose to follow."

    God allows all men free agency to make their own decisions in life. What God cannot and will not do is to allow us to escape the consequences of those actions. Sadly the cruel actions of others can hurt us.

  • 1covey Salt Lake City, UT
    Nov. 7, 2017 1:52 p.m.

    The Mormon pioneers set forth out to settle a mountain desert land far away from civilization; they trusted in God and did the best they could with what they had. Incredible hardships; In those days we talk of wooden ships and iron men. Today, we have iron ships and...you get the point.

  • MacMama Sandy, UT
    Nov. 7, 2017 1:08 p.m.

    One comment that has not been made. Even after the rescuers arrived, the handcart companies still had to participate in their own rescue. They couldn’t just sit down and be done with it after the rescuers arrived. Rocky Ridge happened AFTER the first rescuers reached them.
    Almost all the handcart companies that set out arrived in the Salt Lake Valley safely- I think there were 7 others. It was just the Willie and Martin companies that we hear about- and only because of the early snow storm that hit them.
    The lessons I take from their experience- you have to participate in your own rescue and even when things are hard, you have to keep putting one foot in front of the other.
    Also, be ready so that if you are called to be a rescuer today, you are able to say, “I am ready now.” as Ephraim Hanks did.

  • Brave Sir Robin San Diego, CA
    Nov. 7, 2017 1:03 p.m.

    The lesson I take from the Willie and Martin handcart companies: Next time, fly.

  • Rocket Science Brigham City, UT
    Nov. 7, 2017 12:58 p.m.

    OK Impartial we all get it, your disdain for anything positive from the pioneer experience doesn't fit your desire to deride the LDS, but at least read and understand the article before being the most frequent and most critical one to comment. Your desire to criticize the present and past LDS Prophets shows frequently in your many posts.

    The article states: "On Oct. 4, Elder Franklin D. Richards arrived in the Salt Lake Valley and
    informed Brigham Young that there were still more than 1,000 people out on
    the trail. Brigham Young had knowledge that additional handcart saints had
    arrived in the United States, but he didn't know that the emigration leaders
    had sent them forward out on the trail so late in the season. Brigham Young
    later stated that if these leaders "would have thought and considered for
    one moment, they would have stopped those men, women, and children [at
    Florence] until another year."

    Winter provisions would have been difficult in Florence but the exposure would have probably been less. 10 years earlier the LDS struggled with life through the Winter in Iowa. All showed tremendous faith in their God.

  • Impartial7 DRAPER, UT
    Nov. 7, 2017 12:34 p.m.

    "While hindsight is perfect for us we should not allow ourselves to second guess those Saints, their sacrifices, or their struggles."

    But I thought the point was that Brigham Young was a prophet, communicating with god and divinely inspired. I guess hindsight , is more accurate than prophesy.

  • Kouger Lehi, UT
    Nov. 7, 2017 12:29 p.m.

    Here's a familiar anecdote about the Willie & Martin company:

    "In a Sunday School class there was sharp criticism of the ill-fated Martin and Willie Handcart Companies, which met with tragedy because of their late start on the trek to the Salt Lake Valley.

    An elderly man arose and said: “I ask you to stop this criticism. You are discussing a matter you know nothing about. Cold historic facts … give no proper interpretation of the questions involved. Mistake to send the Handcart Company out so late in the season? Yes. But I was in that company and my wife … too. We suffered beyond anything you can imagine and many died of exposure and starvation, but … we became acquainted with [God] in our extrem[i]ties.

    “Was I sorry that I chose to come by handcart? No. Neither then nor any minute of my life since. The price we paid to become acquainted with God was a privilege to pay, and I am thankful that I was privileged to come in the Martin Handcart Company” (as quoted in David O. McKay, “Pioneer Women,” The Relief Society Magazine, Jan. 1948, 8)."

    And those who perished still reached Zion too - the spiritual one, I'm sure. The most important beneficiaries of all this is me/us.

  • Rifleman Salt Lake City, UT
    Nov. 7, 2017 11:47 a.m.

    Impartial7 - DRAPER, UT

    The evil one was given permission to tempt Job. He proved himself and was thereafter blessed exceedingly because of their faith.

    I watched a woman recently that was dying of terminal cancer. She was happy and had a sweet smile because she had endured life's difficulties well and looked forward to going home. Some people dread the idea of going when they aren't ready.

  • Johnny Triumph Salt Lake City, UT
    Nov. 7, 2017 11:43 a.m.

    These people were anxious to get to Zion and to the blessings found there. They had sacrificed most things before the handcart trek began, they were prepared to sacrifice even their lives in order to be with the Saints. While hindsight is perfect for us we should not allow ourselves to second guess those Saints, their sacrifices, or their struggles. They made decisions based on their convictions, they did what many of us today would not and do not do. Being true to one's values is not a trait we hold strongly to very often these days, we'd do well to learn from these Pioneers rather than criticize and belittle them for their choices.

  • marxist Salt Lake City, UT
    Nov. 7, 2017 11:13 a.m.

    One of the messages of this piece is being grateful for rescue.

    Now if I might I'd like to point out a rescue for which Utahns have been ungrateful. With the 2008 economic collapse there developed a need nationwide for economic stimulus. This Obama supplied. Utah was one of the best prepared states to receive this stimulus cash (we were shovel ready, credit UDOT). Remember all of those sudden road projects? One of the reasons Utah recovered quickly was our shovel ready situation, and the Obama stimulus itself. BTW, my job was saved.

    But how have Utahns received this benefit? One storage facility north of town put on their board "My dog provides more shovel ready projects than Obama." My wife happened to make a positive remark about Obama at Relief Society. They laughed at her. Utah mostly despises Obama, the rescuer in 2009.

  • Impartial7 DRAPER, UT
    Nov. 7, 2017 11:10 a.m.

    "Down through history there have been people who have suffered incredible difficulties and never wavered in their faith in God. Job comes to mind."

    Really, Job? You think that's a faith promoting story? I wouldn't wish his life on my worst enemy. If that's how God treats his children, that's no god most rational would chose to follow.
    The point is, the way the church tells the history of that trek and what really happened, are vastly different.

  • UtahBlueDevil Durham, NC
    Nov. 7, 2017 11:03 a.m.

    I am amazed by the commitment and sacrifice these people made. I have to admit I am still a bit confused why their sacrifice was so necessary, instead of having them wait until they could make the journey safely. I get we need to have faith, and that there was some good gained in the lives lost ( in my mind needlessly ), but I still struggle with it. Was the rush to get so many people into the valley really worth those lives lost. It's just one of those points as a pragmatic person I struggle with.

  • Rifleman Salt Lake City, UT
    Nov. 7, 2017 9:27 a.m.

    Impartial7 - DRAPER, UT

    fatenews - Lehi, UT got it. Down through history there have been people who have suffered incredible difficulties and never wavered in their faith in God. Job comes to mind.

    And yes, there have always been those with shallow roots who withered and died when the going got tough.

  • fatenews Lehi, UT
    Nov. 7, 2017 8:49 a.m.

    You can't say you "get the message" of the article and then declare that "there was nothing inspired [sic] about it." The core of the message in the article is to be inspired by the events and either you "get it" or "don't get it". But you "got it!" Get it?

  • Impartial7 DRAPER, UT
    Nov. 7, 2017 8:07 a.m.

    I get the message here. But the Willie and Martin handcart company saga is not an inspirational story. It ranks as one of the poorest planned and executed treks in history. Everything from the time of departure (3 months too late in the season) to logistics (no supply stations en route) to the handcart construction (green wood). Over 25% of the pioneers died. Many more left the church as soon as they were in Salt Lake. Read other versions from outside church publications. There was nothing inspired about it. It was a disaster.

  • 1covey Salt Lake City, UT
    Nov. 7, 2017 7:58 a.m.

    I would only add that these handcart companies illustrate the fact that sacrifice brings us closer to God.