Yesterday I visited with Greg Allen on his radio program The Right Balance about an epiphany that I had recently as I walked along a dusty old Mormon trail in Wyoming.
The Martin and Willie Handcart Companies left Iowa City very late in the year of 1856 on their trek to join other members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in Salt Lake City. What transpired on their way west can be looked at from one of two perspectives: (1) as the result of a completely illogical and very dumb decision, or (2) as one of the most poignant examples of sacrifice, courage, and heroism that the world has ever known.
On October 16, 1856, the weather was
What transpired can be looked at as the result of a completely illogical and very dumb decision, or as one of the most poignant examples of sacrifice, courage, and heroism that the world has ever known.pleasant on the Wyoming plain. Three days later an unseasonably violent winter storm left the Martin and Willie handcart pioneers in dire straits. Over the next few weeks food began to be rationed in ever more meager quantities until, unless rescue parties hadn't arrived, everyone of those nearly 1,000 pioneers would have perished.
As it was, the men perished in much greater disproportion to their numbers than did the women and children. It wasn't until I walked some of those same paths that I came to understand why. As the food became more and more rationed, father after father couldn't bear to see their children suffering, and so day after day, these fathers divided out their meager portions of food among their children. "Here, I'm not hungry today," they lied. Malnourished, they pushed their carts forward, many of them paying the ultimate sacrifice for their families.
Greg Allen mentioned, following my telling of that story, that we don't have many heroes like that anymore. We don't have to sacrifice like that anymore, and so we have come to completely forget what it means to do without. We have a lot of celebrities masquerading as heroes, but very few who actually fit the part.
When faced some years later with criticism of the decisions of the Martin and Willie Companies to come west at such a late season, Francis Webster, a member of the Martin Company chastised his critics soundly.
"I ask you to stop this criticism. You are discussing a matter you know nothing about. Cold historic facts mean nothing here for they give no proper interpretation of the questions involved. Mistake to send the Hand Cart Company out so late in the season? Yes. We suffered beyond anything you can imagine and many died of exposure and starvation, but did you ever hear a survivor of that Company utter a word of criticism? Not one of that Company ever...left the church because every one of us came through with the absolute knowledge that God lives for we became acquainted with him in our extremities.If the only reason that the Martin and Willie Handcart Companies made their fateful decisions was so their stories of courage, heroism, and sacrifice could stand as monuments to a world unfamiliar with sacrifice, then to me it was all worth it.
"I have pulled my hand cart when I was so weak and weary from illness and lack of food that I could hardly put one foot ahead of the other. I have looked ahead and seen a patch of sand or a hill slope and I have said I can go only that far and there I must give up for I cannot pull the load through it. I have gone on to that sand and when I reached it the cart began pushing me. I have looked back many times to see who was pushing my cart but my eyes saw no one. I knew then that the Angels of God were there.
"Was I sorry that I chose to come by hand cart? 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 Hand Cart Company."
As I come to understand the sacrifice of these noble people, and particularly the husbands and fathers who went without so that their children could have just a little more, I hope to myself that I can come to be a dad like that.