The Martin and Willie Handcart companies are some of the most famous pioneer companies to ever cross the plains to the West. The tragedy that struck these companies has been written about more than any other group of Saints that crossed the plains.
There was a time, in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, that nobody wanted to talk about these two companies because of judgments on how it could have been prevented. The leaders of the group were under scrutiny, because these faithful saints should not have had to go through so much. It is easy to pass judgment when you are not involved in the situation.
These handcart companies left later in the year, and from the very start of the journey it seemed like all was stacked against them. Every step of the journey was riddled with life threatening conditions and choices. Because these companies had left late in the year from Europe, there were no provisions in the United States to support them, let alone to get to Utah. This group of Saints chose to keep going with little food and provisions pray for the Lord to provide for them.
The most deadly stretch of the journey occurred in Wyoming after so much time with little to no food an early winter set in. It was on this stretch that these two handcart companies experienced the greatest death tolls. These exhausted Saints were not able to go any further.
68 people died from the Willie Handcart Company, and 145 from the Martin Company. The Martin Company was behind the Willie Company and were the latter of the two group to get help.
The stories of these groups of Pioneers are heart-wrenching, but there were many miracles that occurred during this trek to Utah. There is not a simple answer of why these people had to go through so much but the strength, faith and fortitude of these people, not just these Pioneer Companies but anyone that heard these stories is unmatched.
Places to Visit to Learn More about the Martin and Willie Handcart Companies:
Winter Quarters Temple: 10 Interesting Facts about the Winter Quarters Temple
Winter Quarters Museum
Church History Library In Salt Lake City
James Willie’s house in Cache Valley Utah: The Life of Captain James Willie
James Willie’s Grave Cache Valley Utah