Seminary Lesson 150 – Handcart pioneers; a covered up story about how the poor were sacrificed for money
Church lesson is located here: https:⁄⁄⁄study⁄manual⁄doctrine-and-covenants-and-church-history-seminary-teacher-manual-2014⁄section-7⁄lesson-150-handcart-pioneers-1856-1860?lang=eng
Probably the best article on the handcart company is by Will Bagley and called “One Long Funeral March” – It can be found here: https:⁄⁄⁄~research⁄central⁄handcart.pdf
I have listed 12 principles and facts from the article below at the church doesn’t talk about. There is so much information out there on this topic so this lesson is hardly complete.
1) Wagon support for the sick and injured was purposefully non-existent
Although“Taylor’s panel of experts had recommended allocating a wagon and three yoke of oxen for each fifty persons “to convey the sick,&c.,” Young rejected the suggestion on July 28. “I will say that it is all right not to provide wagons for infirm persons to accompany the hand carts for it would encourage infirmity or rather laziness which is quite as bad. There would soon be but few able to walk if such arrangements were made.”
2) There were a lot of defectors from handcart companies
“All three parties experienced large defections. Twiss Bermingham noted that fiftymembers of Bunker’sWelsh Company “stopped on the road,” while the Ellsworth Company’s official journal listed thirty-three members who had “backed out.””
3) When the rescue party arrived, the handcart pioneers were CHARGED for food
The grim reality (discussed below) is that, until October, there was no organized charitable or Church-sponsored effort to supply the handcart companies. Twiss Bermingham noted that the f lour would cost “18c per lb. \[payable\] when we get to the city.” Bermingham considered that the “conduct of the men from the Valley who came to meet us was disgraceful.”
4) Take care of your family first because your leaders will not
Far out on the plains, Edward Martin loaded a hundred pounds of flour onto Elizabeth Sermon’s cart, ordering her not to touch the flour or let her children ride. Finally, she recognized the injustice. “I stoppedmy cart at noon that day, took the f lour out of my cart and threw it on the ground. I told the Captain Martin if I andmy children could not eat some of it, I would not draw it any further, it is my duty to look after my husband and family first.” Martin told her she must be obedient and threatened to leave her “on the plains as food for the wolves.” Sermon retorted, “Brother Martin, leave those two girls you have in your carriage for food to the wolves, not me.”
5) The Prophet puts Profit ahead of you
Brigham Young sent a relief train to meet his wagons carrying a steamboat engine but sent out nothing to the Willie and Martin trains, “This raises a perplexing question: what happened to the relief trains that figured so prominently in planning the system? By the end of September, Brigham Young had not sent a singlewagonload of supplies to reprovision the Willie and Martin trains: he did, however, send “a relief wagon with flour” that reached A. O. Smoot’s “Church Train” at the Upper Crossing of the Platte on October 2”
6) Having faith that God will not throw more at you then you can bear might kill you
Speaking on October 15 with the first rescue party still aweek away from the Willie Company, Richards was startlingly optimistic. “About one thousand” Saints were still on the trail “with hand-carts,” he acknowledged. “\[They\] feel that it is late in the season, and they expect to get cold fingers and toes. But they have this faith and confidence towards God that he will over-rule the storms that may come in the season thereof and turn them away, that their path may be free from suffering more than they can bear.”
7) What do you get when you lead with faith?
“Some badly frozen; Some dying, and Some dead. It was certainly heartrending to hear Children crying for mothers, and mothers, crying for Childrin,” Savage wrote.
8) If things go South, your leaders will throw you under the bus
Brigham Young responded in the same meeting. He then cast about for amore likely target for the public’s anger and found it in “elders \[in the\] East” and “our Elders abroad.” Had he been able to manage the emigration from Liverpool, Young claimed that he could have brought many more people to Utah “provided I could have dictated matters at every point. That is not boasting; I only want to tell you that I know more than they know,” he preached
9) The worth of souls is only so much
“It will cost this people more to bring in those companies from the plains, than it would to have seasonably brought them from the outfitting point on the Missouri river,” he complained. “We need all our teams and means to prepare for those persons who are coming, instead of crippling us by taking our bread, men and teams and going out to meet them.” …Yet again he publicly scolded Erastus Snow for incurring “over sixty thousand dollars of indebtedness incurred for me to pay. What for? To fetch a few immigrants here, when I could have brought the whole of them with one quarter of the means.”
10) When the leaders plans don’t work out, they blame Satan
Kimball blamed Satan: “The devil has tried to hedge up the way, so that we should not bring about the wise plans devised by our President, and has tried to make those plans look as disagreeable and as miserable as possible.”
11) Even when things blow up, the church will claim it was a success
The First Presidency, unable to admit the handcart experiment had failed and refusing to give up the plan, officially pronounced it a success in a general epistle on December 10, 1856: “This season’s operations have demonstrated that the Saints, being filled with faith and the Holy Ghost, can walk across the plains, drawing their provisions and clothing on hand carts. The experience of this season will of course help us to improve in future operations; but the plan has been fairly tested and proved entirely successful.”
12) A lot of handcart pioneers left, but the reason many more didn't is they had to pay off their debt of travel to the church first under threat of death
Good publicity did not conceal the fact that several hundred disillusioned Mormons, including a large number of handcart veterans, desperately wanted to escape the promised land they had sacrificed so much to reach. As early as January 7, 1857, Brigham Young wrote to George Q. Cannon, who was then editing the Western Standard in San Francisco: “It is rather warm for the wicked, and we expect when spring comes there will be a scattering out of such as cannot abide righteousness.”154\\He claimed that he would be glad to see them go but insisted that emigrants who owed money to the PEF pay up before departing….For example, eight members of the Hillhouse family came to Utah in 1856 with the second handcart company under Daniel McArthur. When they tried to leave the next spring, Jeannette Hillhouse recalled that they were pursued and captured by “a posse of seven mounted Danites” who, “with drawn revolvers” ordered them to return “under penalty of instant death.”
Levi Savage
Levi Savage is one of the more famous handcart pioneers. Levi spoke up against James Willie in the Willie and Martin handcart disaster but went anyway. Levi stated, “Brethren and sisters, what I have said I know to be true; but, seeing you are to go forward, I will go with you, will help you all I can, will work with you, will rest with you, will suffer with you, and, if necessary, I will die with you. May God in his mercy bless and preserve us. Amen.”
Levi Savage had first told the saints that it was not a good idea to leave late in the season, for this, he received a rebuke from Franklin D. Richards as the apostles camped one night with the poor saints and past them in their carriages on the way to Utah. Richards told the saints, “though it might storm on the right hand and on the left, yet the storms should not reach them. The Lord would keep the way open before them, and they should reach Zion in safety.” – Page 210 - [https:⁄⁄⁄store⁄books⁄details?id=CUIzAQAAMAAJ&rdid=book-CUIzAQAAMAAJ&rdot=1](https:⁄⁄⁄store⁄books⁄details?id=CUIzAQAAMAAJ&rdid=book-CUIzAQAAMAAJ&rdot=1)
Of course, the Mormon church would have you believe that Levi was a smart guy who was faithful. Levi is the star of the movie 17 Miracles. The details of Levi’s later life are more interesting as he marries one of the women on the trail with him and then marries her daughters who were 4 and 6 years old on the journey after being their step-father. Does it get any creepier? Yes it does, The story goes that Adelaide climbed out the back of the wagon as they headed up the Black Ridge and started back to Toquerville. It seems she had taken a fancy to the bishop’s son, Tom Willis, who was a wild “hairum-scarum.” Mary Ann sat quietly in the wagon and didn’t say anything. We will never know how it might have worked out because Adelaide met Bishop Bringhurst traveling northward in his blacktop buggy. He persuaded Adelaide to get in and he took her back to Levi and Ann’s wagon. – (I cannot find the link where I originally found this and this is from old notes)
Seminary Question: Didn’t Levi Savage speak up against leaving so late in the season with the Willie handcart company? Didn’t Levi end up marrying a women in the company after their arrival and then her 4 and 6 year old daughters which were his step daughters for over 10 years when they were teenagers?
The Willie and Martin Handcart Companies from Disaster to Cover Up to Faith Promoting Stories
The thirteenth epistle stated this about the handcarts, “Let all things be done in order, and let all the saints who can, gather up for Zion and come while the way is open before them; let the poor also come, whether they receive aid or not from the Fund; let them come on foot, with hand carts or wheel barrows, let them gird up their loins and walk through, and nothing shall hinder or stay them…If any apostatize in consequence of this regulation, so much the better, for it is far better that such deny the faith before they start than to do so, for a more trifling cause, after they get here; and if they have not faith enough to undertake this job, and accomplish it too, they have not faith sufficient to endure, with the saints in Zion, the celestial law which leads to exaltation and eternal lives. If this project is once fairly tested, and proves as successful as we have no doubt it will, the main expense of the immigration will be avoided, consequently thousands more than heretofore can receive assistance.”
What happened next is a well know disaster. The Willie and Martin handcart companies had mass casualties. In addition many limbs were lost to frostbite.
Of course this didn't stop the church from publishing how these handcart disasters were a raging success.
Deseret News November 12, 1856 on page 285
“After all the hardships of the journey, mainly consequent upon so late a start, the mortality has been far less in br. Willie’s company, than in many wagon companies that have started seasonably and with the usual conveniences for the trip. The eminent feasibility of the hand-cart movement had been previously demonstrated; its healthfulness is now proven by the experience of this company, late though they were and in storms, cold and snow. And that movement, from the first until now, has evidenced the wisdom and truthfulness of the plans, counselings and promises of the First Presidency upon that point, so far as they were complied with. And wherein they have not been fully carried out, the mistakes and oversights have been thus far overruled for the salvation of Israel, and always will be, so long as the Lord’s covenant people strive to ‘live their religion’.
Deseret News December 3, 1856 on page 309
“We were highly gratified with the appearance of the men, women and children who had encountered cold, snow and storms; with the thankful and joyous spirit they manifested; with the cheerfulness of those who had left the comforts and labors of home to encounter hardships for the timely deliverance of their brethren and sisters; and with the promptness of Bishop Hunter, his Counselors and the city Bishops in forthwith furnishing them comfortable quarters and food, in which the citizens most cheerfully and liberally sustained their Bishops.”
“During Brigham Young’s lifetime, no faithful Latter-day Saints ever wrote about the handcart disasters, leaving the story to be told by dissenters and apostates. As Lyndia Carter observed, ‘a shroud of silence came down for many years and the vent was never discussed’ because ‘these handcart company deaths made the church look bad \[and\] they made Brigham Young look bad.” – Page 114 - : https:⁄⁄⁄~research⁄central⁄handcart.pdf
So what was once so bad that it was never discussed have become faith promoting stories in the lesson manual with questions like, “What did Elizabeth say her suffering for the gospel’s sake would do for her?” as she lost her husband to the elements and was left in the cold with her three children.
Seminary Questions: Why were the Willie and Martin handcart arrivals touted as a success upon their arrival in Utah? Why was the disaster never spoken of?
Francis and Betsy Webster Story
The church “Story”
Years later, as Brother Webster sat in a Sunday School class, he listened to some Church members criticize Church leaders for the handcart tragedy. Unable to constrain himself, he arose and testified of the blessings of being in the Martin handcart company.
“I ask you to stop this criticism for you are discussing a matter you know nothing about. Cold historical facts mean nothing here for they 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 was in it. … 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?”
The church story originates from a talk given by David O. McKay on October 2, 1847 and can be found in the January 1948 Relief Society magazine on page 8. https:⁄⁄⁄26⁄items⁄reliefsocietymag1948reli⁄reliefsocietymag1948reli.pdf
There were a lot of people who uttered words of criticism. Multiple captains of the group left the church. One of the captains of the Martin handcart company was named John Ahmanson. Let us read his story.
“John Ahmanson traveled with a Mormon handcart train to Salt Lake City in 1856. An early winter forced the travelers to store their luggage in an old cabin in Nebraska Territory so they could walk on unencumbered. Ahmanson had to sue Brigham Young to recover his belongings… Ahmanson had planned to go with a wagon train, but Franklin D. Richards had asked him to accompany the poor Danes with the handcart train… John Ahmanson wrote that here many who knew the climatic conditions of the country thought they should stay and winter in Florence, but the prophet Heber C. Kimball's oldest son, William, then rode into camp and gave a speech wherein he sharply criticized those people of little faith and promised to shove all the snow that they would see on the trip to Salt Lake valley in his mouth. Captain Willie then said he would continue the trip until he received orders from Brigham Young to halt….During the winter John Ahmanson became bitterly dissatisfied with Mormonism and determined to leave as soon as possible. At first he planned early in the spring to leave for California with some Danes; but on account of "terrible threats,'' he changed his mind and decided to travel back to the eastern states in company with a larger group…The agent admitted that he knew the goods belonged to Ahmanson, but he had orders from Brigham Young to let no goods be taken by persons returning to the States…On November 2, 1861, the jury found for John Ahmanson and awarded him $1,297.50… four years and seven months after the start of the court fight… the defendant Young pay plaintiff in cash one thousand dollars and discharge judgment and costs.”
Lesson Question: What principle can we learn from Francis Webster’s testimony?
Lesson Answer: The church will openly misrepresent just about anything if it is faith promoting.
Seminary Questions: Didn’t many people including captains of the handcart companies leave the church over the incident? Didn’t John Ahmanson have to sue to get his stuff back after leaving the church? Wasn’t John Ahmanson in fear of his and his family’s life when leaving? Didn’t Brigham Young tell his organization not to give belongings back to people if they were leaving the territory? Weren’t people criticized for not believing and being faithful enough when they told their leaders that the travel by handcart was too dangerous? Didn’t Brigham Young lose a lawsuit to one of the handcart captains who sued to get compensated for his belongings?
What can be learned from this story?
· Don’t let leader’s bully you into not being faithful if you disobey them, they won’t eat the snow but you will be punished for taking the wrong path
· Don’t be afraid to say no to a calling, Ahmanson was not blessed for going by handcart instead of by wagon with his family
· The church will take advantage of you when you are a member and when you try and leave
· A lawsuit with the church will be drawn out but can be won
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