December 5, 2022

Martin Handcart Company, Sweet Water River Rescue

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The story of the Willy and Martin Handcart company is a story that is well known in the hearts of Latter-Day Saints everywhere. The Martin and Willy handcart companies had a late start and had gotten caught in early winter storms in Wyoming. There are many tragic stories that came out of this event, but this is a story of heart, perseverance, and determination. The rescue party sent by Brigham Young to save these people is a story of hope and Gods mercy. Although tragic, It is such a beautiful story with so many lessons to be learned.

In a paper written by Chad Orton from BYU studies he said:

”Although not the only remarkable story associated with the rescue the Martin Company’s crossing of the Sweetwater serves as a reminder that for an extended period of time countless individuals demonstrated the best of human nature under extremely adverse conditions.”

Members of Martin Handcart company had crossed the Sweetwater River 5 times and the incident of the rescuers helping the company across was on the 6th time crossing the freezing cold river.

One of the men in the company broke down when he saw that they needed to cross the river one more time. The record said:

”That was the last straw. His fortitude and manhood gave way. He exclaimed ”Oh dear, I can’t go through that, and burst into tears. His wife, who was by his side, had a stouter heart of the two at that juncture, and she said soothingly ”Don’t cry Jimmy. I’ll pull the cart for you.”

This couple did not have to pull the cart through the freezing cold water alone, because the relief party from Salt Lake had shown up to help! Can you imagine the relief to have come so far, and through so much. The relief to these warn our Saints was probably unimaginable!

Historical Records Background

To give some background on the accounts that were recorded, it was a painful time for the Saints. The Martin and Willy handcart companies had gone through so much! At the time, it seems like most people were not excited to talk about the details of the suffering. There was one man named Solomon Kimball that recorded his views of what happened, but he was not part of the handcart company or a rescuer, so what he recorded was not fist hand. For a long time his account was the only account that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints had, but over time, more has been discovered, and the accounts done by Solomon Kimball were not entirely accurate.

Soloman Kimball said that there were three eighteen year old boys that carried everyone across the Sweetwater river, but there were multiple boys, not just three. To this day we do not know how many boys exactly were there helping the Martin Company cross the river. He also said they were 18 years old, but they were from the ages of 18-25, the best we know now.

President Hinckley references Soloman Kimball in his talk that is linked above. Although, we know there are some things that have changed, or more information has helped us have a broader understanding of what took place, the depth and the heart of the story has not changed. This experience was a true sacrifice by “The Valley Boys”(the boys from the Utah rescue party). These boys made a selfless sacrifice by carrying the members of this exhausted pioneer party for hours in the freezing cold.

The Savior helps us bring forth our best, these boys that helped the pioneer party are examples of Christ-like love, may we learn from them, and may we be like them!

Places to Visit:

Winter Quarters Temple, Nebraska

Winter Quarters Museum, Nebraska

Martins Cove, Wyoming

Willie Rescue Marker

James Willies House

Sweet Water, Wyoming

Devils Gate, Wyoming


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