In 1856, during this week, my ancestors suffered severe trials on the Western plains as members of the Willie Handcart Company. I’ve thought especially of my third great grandmother Eliza Chapman Gadd who made the journey to Zion as an unbelieving, unbaptized spouse of an ardent believer. Her husband Samuel and two sons died on the plains. Eliza and her six surviving children entered the Salt Lake Valley on November 9, 1856. A week after arriving in Utah, Eliza asked to be baptized and remained a faithful member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints throughout her life.
Their story inspires me to perservere and look towards an eternal goal.
A cousin wrote this narrative of the Gadd’s experience based on available diaries.
HER JOURNEY WITH THE WILLIE HANDCART COMPANY
BY SAIL, RAIL, & TRAIL
The Story of Eliza Chapman Gadd
Written by Great-great Grandson, Larry & Casi Smith
Alone with her thoughts, Eliza quietly walked through the rooms of her home for the last time to make sure nothing of importance was left behind. She would never see her home again in Orwell, Cambridgeshire, England, and she wanted one last look and to feel the emotions of twenty years spent here with her husband and nine children, one of whom was buried here.
Only their most important possessions could be taken with them, as they would be part of a handcart company upon reaching America. Weight and space in these carts would contain only a small portion of what they had accumulated in England during their married years. Even if she did survive the journey, there was no one she knew to greet her — no family, no friends, no home, and only rudiments of civilization that she had known in England. Only the love her family could compel her to make this sacrifice.
In the extraordinary account of the tragic Willie Handcart Company of 1856, Eliza Gadd was a noteworthy heroine. She is the focus of this history due to the hardship, sacrifices, and personal losses she suffered crossing the plains with her large family in the company of the Willie pioneers whose religious beliefs she did not share and the subsequent loss of her beloved husband and two young children.
Eliza’s story began in England where she was born on March 13, 1815, into the family of William Chapman and Mary Pentlow in Croydon, Cambridgeshire, a small village of around 200. Eliza was a blue-eyed girl with brown hair who grew into a fairly tall young woman with a dignified bearing. She spent her life in that area and worked in a hat factory, making straw hats for men and women using a splitter of 4 to 12 prongs. She also had been taught and practiced nursing skills which she used in England and more extensively in Utah as a midwife.
Eliza’s religious beliefs are not well known, but the records of her family’s births, deaths, and christenings are found in the Wimpole and Orwell Parish Registries. This would suggest that she was not opposed to the traditional English faith which would most likely be the Anglican or Church of England. She may have also been negatively influenced by her father’s belief in spiritualism and not affiliated with any particular religion.
She eventually met Samuel Gadd, born July 25, 1815, in Wimple, Cambridgeshire whom she married on April 13, 1836, when she was 21 and he was still 20 for a couple more months. Samuel made his living by farming and selling his agricultural products and never acquired any wealth. He and Eliza were blessed over the next 18 years with nine children. Alfred was born in 1837, Jane in ’39, William in ’41 (he died 9 months later), William C. ’43, Samuel ’45, Mary Ann ’47, Sarah ’50, Isaac C. and Daniel (twins) ’54. Ultimately, the Gadd family numbered ten.
In 1841, Mormon missionaries arrived in Cambridgeshire and found a ready convert in Samuel who was 25 years old at the time, the first of his family to join the church. He was baptized on October 13, 1841, in Orwell, Cambridgeshire, the same year that baby William died. Other family members followed later: Jane was the first of the children to join and was baptized on June of 1855 when she was 16 years old. Alfred, the oldest, was baptized October 1855 at age 18. Just days before leaving England, both William C. and ten-year-old Samuel were baptized on April 28, 1856. Eliza did not share her husband’s religious beliefs and did not join the church with other family members.
After Samuel’s conversion, he was a very dedicated member, and when an Orwell Branch was created in 1851, Samuel was the presiding elder in the branch. As he was the only priesthood Elder, he was most likely the Branch President at age 35. The Orwell membership rolls show that he baptized eleven people.
Life in England was probably quite difficult with their large family and poor circumstances, as Samuel made his income by farming on rented land. Eliza’s nursing skills were helpful in raising their growing family, and this training also became very useful in serving the Saints while on the pioneer trail and after arriving in Utah.
Brigham Young, the prophet of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, believed there was a great need for thousands of Saints to immigrate to Utah and assist in building the Kingdom of God, constructing temples, and strengthening the members. With President Young’s strong encouragement, the Spirit of Gathering touched the hearts of English and Scandinavian Saints who desired to live among the saints in Zion, and they obeyed the prophet’s call to leave their homelands and travel to the Salt Lake Valley.
Like the Gadd family, a great number of these members who wished to immigrate to Utah were too poor to save the money needed for passage on a ship plus the cost of overland travel that included a covered wagon with a team of oxen (a cost of over $300) plus their needed provisions. By the end of 1855, the Perpetual Emigration Fund was out of funds. Brigham Young decided to return to a plan he had considered back in 1852 of using handcarts instead of wagons. His goal was to enable the impoverished members in
foreign lands to gather to Zion and follow their religious beliefs without persecution.
These Saints would save up enough money to sail to America and then haul their own belongings in an inexpensive handcart ($10 – $20 depending on upgrades) across the plains. He also felt the emigrants could travel faster by this mode than by using oxen and wagons.
This handcart plan was put into action in 1856 for poorer saints traveling to Utah, and anyone needing assistance from the Emigration Fund had to use this means of transportation. More than 2,000 people who traveled with handcarts were too poor to pay their own expenses, and this probably included the Gadd family. Approximately 3,000 saints used this mode of travel, forming ten separate handcart companies from 1856 till 1860. Only four to five percent of the total number of Utah-bound pioneers used handcarts.
When this opportunity of affordable emigration was announced, Samuel Gadd decided that he and his family would leave England, family, and friends for a new beginning in Zion. England was the Gadd family’s homeland, and they lived in an area where friends and relatives interacted often. Their roots were established there, and it must have been a sacrifice for each one of them to leave behind their native soil and lifelong ties.
One can imagine the conflict that arose in Eliza’s heart over the real possibility of never seeing her dear, lifelong friends again. She had a brother who was living, but her father and perhaps her mother plus four siblings had passed away. The familiar sights, sounds, and smell of the homeland she loved would become only memories.
The Restored Church was not her faith, and it must have been heartbreaking to give up all she had known for 41 years for a religion she did not believe. Even though she wanted to stay in England, she did not want to walk away from her husband and children who had accepted the Gospel and strongly desired to relocate to America.
Her decision to follow her husband would have challenges she could never imagine. The trail to Zion would leave a path of death, illness, starvation, freezing weather, and heartbreak that would test her emotionally and physically almost beyond her strength.
Samuel had experienced many losses while in England. Both of his parents had passed away and seven of his siblings were buried near his hometown. He would be leaving behind two brothers and a sister who probably tried to convince him this journey to a foreign land was insane. But for Samuel, it was more about raising his family in Zion where they would be able to have the blessings of a temple and the support of the Saints who felt the same as he did. England was not an easy place in which to live for members of the Church.
Not much is known about the Gadd family’s situation in England and if Samuel’s conversion to Mormonism caused contention or persecution for them as many other Mormon converts experienced. Many Saints in foreign lands who previously enjoyed community respect and, in some cases, prosperity were shunned and harassed by relatives and townspeople, eventually losing their social status and even their livelihood. Some even suffered financial ruin and near starvation for their religious beliefs. Most foreign Saints were anxious to immigrate to America to raise their families in Zion with the companionship of other members living gospel principles and to make temple covenants as well well as to enjoy freedom and greater opportunities in this country.
With few worldly possessions, the Gadd family of ten gathered on the dock at Liverpool on May 1, 1856, to board the ship Thornton, carrying a total of seven hundred and sixty-three Saints. The vessel departed the shores of England on May 4th bound for a six-week voyage of 3,300-miles to America. Shorter ocean voyages were available by steamships crossing the Atlantic Ocean, but passage was very expensive and unaffordable for these emigrants
Some of them had traveled long distances from their homelands to join the English Saints at Liverpool. Exercising great faith and obedience, all these emigrants left their homes, relatives, and most of their worldly possessions at great sacrifice to embark on this amazing venture that would take over six months to complete. Their entire journey would eventually be made by sail, rail, and trail.
James G. Willie
A 42-year-old returning missionary named James G. Willie was appointed by England’s Mission President Franklin D. Richards to preside as the leader of these Saints and to captain their handcart company traveling to the Salt Lake Valley. Thus this group of future pioneers was named “The Willie Handcart Company.”
Captain Willie was an educated Englishman, born in 1814, who left at age 21 to seek his fortune in America. After joining the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints six years later, he served a mission in the Eastern states. He married Elizabeth Pettit, and they joined the Saints in the Salt Lake Valley three months after the first pioneer company of 1847.
Five years later, his name was announced from the church pulpit with a mission call to England, so he parted from Elizabeth and three small children to preach the Gospel in his native land for the next four years. During his mission, James inherited a large sum of money when his older brother died. He generously donated most of his inheritance to the Perpetual Emigration Fund to pay ship passage for many handcart saints and used only a small portion to defray his mission expenses. Although formally released in February, 1856, his mission included helping the emigrating saints arrive in Zion.
After the long, tedious voyage over the Atlantic Ocean, the emigrant Saints who voyaged on the Thornton landed in New York on June 14th, one month late in the season for the arduous task of crossing the plains. While there, Captain Willie recruited Levi Savage who was returning from his four-year mission in India to become one of the company’s five sub-captains, each one responsible for a group of 100 emigrants.
After their arrival at Castle Garden, they cleared customs and boarded a barge to take them to the terminal of the New York and Erie Railroad at Piermont, New York on June 17th. That was followed by a 460-mile train ride from Piermont to Dunkirk, New York over Lake Erie. Traveling day and night, the company arrived at Dunkirk on June 19th. Those trips were some of the easiest parts of the journey and also the most scenic.
Next, the Saints traveled 280 miles on a steamship, The Jersey City, and were fortunate to have calm weather for this passage that took them to Toledo, Ohio where they arrived on June 21st. Boarding a railroad train the same day, they headed for Chicago and arrived in the afternoon on the 22nd after being treated very rudely by railroad personnel. They were fortunate to find an empty warehouse in which to stay overnight but were cruelly harassed by some belligerent people of that city.
At the Rock Island Depot on June 25th, they met more anti-Mormon persecution but were protected when the police sent the mob home. The Saints finally arrived in Iowa City, Iowa on June 26th. After arriving in the New York harbor, these people had traveled about 1,200 miles in less than two weeks. The easy part was over — no more trains and ships — the rest of the journey would involve walking and pulling handcarts. But before that could happen, three weeks of hard work were required to prepare for the 1,300 miles left in their westward trek.
After arriving at Iowa City, one of the first order of business was to separate the group into companies of 100 each. The Willie Company was comprised of five companies, as about 500 men, women and children of the original emigrants remained for this journey to the Salt Lake Valley. Once the companies were established, a group of twenty individuals were assigned to each tent with four handcarts between them.
The Gadd family had ten members, so they probably had two handcarts to pull. John Linford, a tent captain, recorded in his journal the names of occupants in his tent: the Gadd family of 10; the Linford family of 5 (John and Maria Linford and their 3 sons); Mary Ann Britin (age 55); Maryann Funnel (age 61) and her daughter Elizabeth (age 22); Maryann Miller (age 30); and Ann Howard (age30).
Several people kept journals of their westward trek, and it appears that Alfred Gadd, the oldest son of Eliza and Samuel, was one of those assigned by Captain Willie to keep a daily journal. Alfred’s entries began on June 28th and continued until they reached the valley. His comments were very brief and in many cases only specified where they stopped and the distance covered that day.
Fortunately, Levi Savage, Captain Willie, John Chislett, and William Woodward kept detailed journals and other pioneers recorded significant events that were very valuable in tracking the handcart journey.
Tents and handcarts became a priority to these emigrants as they were travel-ing late in the season; however, none of these needed items were available when the Willie Company arrived in Iowa City. Thus, this company experienced their first unexpected and unfortunate delay. At this time of year, any setback could have serious consequences.
There was a feeling of great urgency to prepare for the westward trek, so the people immediately set to work. The day after arriving, the sisters began sewing large tents made of canvas that could each accommodate twenty people. Until then, the Saints were at the mercy of the weather, and rain was problematic for these pioneers. Whenever it rained at night, they would wake up in the morning soaking wet to begin their day’s activities. For two weeks, there was a great deal of effort by the sisters who finally completed this task on July 8th. Wet, sleepless nights and nighttime guard duty for the men resulted in lingering illnesses that later led to the death of many men, including Samuel Gadd and John Linford, as they traveled through Wyoming.
As tents were being fabricated by women, handcarts were being assembled by the men and boys. These handcarts could only accommodate a certain amount of weight from personal items, as food also had to be carried. The first problem that arose within the company and caused considerable contention was the restricted amount of luggage the emigrants could bring with them. Seventeen pounds per person was the limit on each handcart. Back in England when the Saints boarded the ship Thornton, each person was able to bring fifty pounds of personal luggage. However, for the handcart part of their journey to the Rocky Mountains, the Gadd’s ten-member family would have to discard up to 330 pounds of luggage.
The question became which items were essential for the overland journey and what was expendable. These decisions were made in the middle of summer, so the people probably could not foresee the harsh winter weather which lay ahead. Certainly the clothing for the high prairies of Wyoming would be much differentthan the conditions that existed in England. Inadequate clothing would haunt the handcart pioneers for over 500 miles after they passed Fort Laramie.
Many saints tried to sell excess baggage to the local population around Iowa City, and some even paid wagon companies to bring their possessions later. But for most of them, this was a big loss of personal items which they planned to use in their homes in Utah and was an even bigger sacrifice to those who lost their property or were forced to leave valued family possessions behind in their homelands.
There were unforeseen delays to prepare the handcarts, so the Willie Company stayed at Iowa City for a total of three weeks, making their final preparations for the trail. A week before their company left, another even larger company of emigrating Saints called the Martin Handcart Company arrived on the ship “Horizon.” That added 800 more emigrants who needed to be outfitted with tents and handcarts plus provisions for the journey west.
Iowa City became a very busy hub before the Willie group headed west. This huge number of emigrants overwhelmed the emigration leaders who were unprepared for so many people in such a short time, and they fell behind in being able to provide enough resources to make tents and handcarts. These unexpected delays in Iowa City due to the two overlapping companies would cost both groups dearly in lost lives and unimaginable misery. It actually caused many more deaths among the Martin Company whose departure was two weeks behind the Willie Company.
The Willie Company finally left Iowa City on July 15th. The Gadd family had two handcarts, and the older children pushed and pulled the handcarts along with their parents while the younger ones walked along with them, except for the very young twin boys, Daniel and Isaac, who rode in the handcarts.
The Willie Company now consisted of nearly 500 people, 120 handcarts, 25 tents, and five supply wagons that carried flour, tents, and miscellaneous food supplies. They also carried members of the company too weak to walk or who would not live much longer. The next leg of the trail was a fairly easy one, as they passed through a small town where they could exchange money or property for food or other needs. The weather was pleasant, although hot, and everyone seemed to be in good spirits. A big hindrance to their progress was the handcarts which broke down frequently and had to be repaired, losing precious time for the whole group.
Another challenge for the company that led to the death of many men and even some sisters was the company’s composition. There were more children than adults and more single women and widows than able-bodied men. The Danish group was fairly typical of this breakdown; there were only 24 men in this group that was assigned 20 handcarts, meaning that there was only one man per cart for the most part.
In the tent of 20 people to which the Gadds were assigned, there were only two adult males, Samuel Gadd and John Linford. But at least there were three teenage boys in their tent group who would have been a big help in pulling handcarts and setting up tents.
Due to the weather and health of the men, the problems became even worse. The rain was a problem through the Iowa part of their journey, especially when tents were not available for warmth and shelter. Guard duty assignments for the men was an extra burden, for the men lacked much-needed rest after their daily labors and were subjected to the elements of rain and cold temperatures.
River crossings also created a tremendous burden on the men. They helped in the various aspects of the demanding river crossings, assisting the women and elderly people when necessary. It was challenging for women to cross streams with the burden of long skirts and petticoats that absorbed a lot of water and became heavy, making it difficult to walk because those skirts took a long time to dry. Exhaustion wore upon most of the men, and illness soon followed. Very few men over the age of 50 survived this ongoing ordeal, and some younger men also succumbed to these conditions and did not reach their destination at the Salt Lake Valley.
After leaving Iowa City, the Willie Company covered 270 miles across Iowa in just over three weeks, arriving at Florence, Nebraska on August 11th. There were few deaths during that time because of favorable weather and adequate provisions. Their 270-mile part of the journey was a very valuable experience to prepare the Saints physically and emotionally for the most difficult part of the journey, the Wyoming high country.
Many of them were city dwellers who had never camped outdoors or cooked over open fires, so they were learning new skills. Some of the children toughened their feet for their journey by running around barefoot. In many cases the countenance of former factory workers who had lived in crowded, dirty cities, breathing air polluted with coat dust greatly improved as they walked miles each day in sunshine and fresh air.
One of the worst parts of the Iowa trip was the harassment they encountered from anti-Mormons hurling profanity and derogatory slurs as well as making threats against their lives. Some townspeople urged the women and girls to leave their religion and stay with them. There were some members who dropped out of the company as they passed through Iowa; some left the church and others, like President David O. McKay’s ancestors, waited a year before continuing to Utah.
Florence, Nebraska was the last outpost at which to gather food and supplies before heading into the unsettled western lands toward their destination. One thousand miles of open, undeveloped country lay ahead of them without any towns existing on their route to the Valley. Added to the adventure of crossing this barren section of the country was the real possibility of defending themselves from Indian attacks. Very few of these pioneers had even seen an Indian let alone faced the terrifying thought of confronting them in open conflict.
The five days spent in Florence was mainly devoted to repairing handcarts, as this was their last opportunity before traveling the long distance to the Valley. Iron hoops were mounted around the spoke wheels to reinforce and strengthen them for crossing the rough mountainous terrain ahead.
Deciding to Proceed or Remain
While there, John Chislett, one of the group captains, recommended to Captain James Willie that they decide the pros and cons of continuing their journey so late in the season. Florence was on the edge of the frontier, and once they left, there would be few options for turning back. There was nowhere else they could stop for the winter if the snows and weather threatened their survival. Also, a small group turning back after a few days out could be prey to the real threat of Indian attacks.
To make sure everyone was committed to continuing their westward trek, Captain Willie felt it necessary to address the entire group of emigrants. Three of the leaders addressed the saints and gave their opinions. James Willie exhorted them to go forward with faith regardless of the sacrifice.
With an opposite opinion, Levi Savage, another group captain who was familiar with harsh conditions in the
West, gave the following dire prophecy: “I then related to the Saints the hardships that we should have to endure. I said that we were liable to have to wade in snow up to our knees and shovel at night, lay ourselves in a thin blanket and lie on the frozen ground without a bed. I said that it was not like having a wagon that we could go into and wrap ourselves in as much as we like and lay down. No, said I, we are without wagons, destitute of clothing and could not carry it if we had it. We must go as we are. If we hit bad weather, some of the strong may get through, but many of the elderly and weak will have their bones strewn along the way.”
Captain Willie then got up and condemned Levi for his lack of faith, saying, “The God that I serve is a God that is able to save to the uttermost.”
The last speaker, Millen Atwood, another group captain, exhorted the Saints to pray to God and get a revelation and know for themselves whether they should go or stay, for it was their privilege to know for themselves.
When the majority of the Saints voted to go forward, Levi Savage made these final comments, “Brothers 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.” This statement was met with a long silence as the people contemplated the decision they had made.
Samuel and Eliza must have been especially concerned, as several of their children were ages ten and younger. Also, Samuel was not in good health after those long days of pulling a handcart, crossing streams, inadequate food, and scanty rest due to guard duty some nights. Their decision to go forward would have grave consequences for the Gadds.
The handcart company began moving out from Florence on August 16th with reduced numbers, as about 100 members decided to stay and to continue west in the spring. The official count of those remaining in the company was 404 persons with 87 handcarts and six wagons. The Danish Saints all continued with the handcart company; most of the 100 who stayed in Florence were the English Saints.
As they departed Florence, the days were hot and humid which caused the pioneers to feel very exhausted by evening. Some days the group would travel 10 to 12 miles, and on a good day would reach twenty miles.
Most of the time the company followed the muddy Platte River and crossed it several times. The river was shallow and very wide in spots.
On August 23rd, they were only 86 miles from Florence, covering an average of 11 miles per day. Captain Willie ordered a cow and calf to be butchered and split among the company; each person was allotted one pound. Intermittent rain squalls drenched the company during those days, making their days or nights miserable.
Levi Savage loved to fish and sometimes was able to bless his group with catfish to give a little variety to their bland diets of wheat and beef.
While crossing the Nebraska plains on the 28th of August, they began to see buffalo—the first time any of these foreign pioneer pioneers had ever seen this animal. They were fascinated by the incredible sight of enormous herds of bison (buffalo) roaming the plains. To supplement the pioneers’ diet, fresh meat was needed, and since they were in buffalo country, several men were sent out to kill buffalo. On September 1st, some men succeeded in killing one and brought it into camp late at night. The meat was divided so that each person was given one pound. On Wednesday, August 3rd two more buffalo were killed, and the meat was divided among the camp.
Another first for the Saints was the close association of Indians. On August 30th, the company met a tribe of 800 Omaha Indians. Fortunately, they were friendly and told the pioneers of an attack on the Babbitt Company that had traveled a short distance with the Willie Company two weeks earlier when they left Florence. Cheyenne Indians had attacked the Babbitt Company on August 25th and had killed two of Babbitt’s men and a little child. A third man was shot through the thigh, and a woman was carried away captive.
This horrific account sent shock waves through the camp which was traveling the same route. The Omaha Indians did not take part in the Cheyenne atrocities.
On August 30th, the Willie Company came upon the shallow graves of the two men and the little child and added large quantities of earth upon the graves to protect them from the wolves. Indian wars had been going on for a couple years now, and the handcart companies were traveling through the middle of it. The Lord’s hand must have protected the Saints, as large bands of Indian war parties roamed the trails they passed through without incident.
Perhaps the biggest turning point in the Willie Company’s journey occurred when the group was about halfway across Nebraska. On the evening of September 3rd or early the next morning, thirty head of cattle were discovered missing, including many of the oxen used to pull the supply wagons.
The cause of this livestock loss is not known, but a major storm hit the prairie that night with thunder, heavy rain, and wind which may have stampeded the animals. The hurricane-like wind raged so furiously that some tents were blown down and others had to be held down.
Another possibility was Indians driving off the cattle. Groups of men were sent out in different directions to find the animals, but the rainstorm had washed away the tracks of the animals and the men returned to camp without success at 8:00 p.m.
Colonel Babbitt came into camp the morning of September 4th and added to their troubles by stating that the warring Indians were staging a war with the U.S. Calvary at Ash Hollow in the same direction they were headed. Other wagon trains headed westward and eastward were being attacked by the Cheyenne, and the handcart pioneers feared that they could be next. It’s hard to imagine the terror and helplessness the Saints endure, as they found themselves 300 miles from civilization with reports of wild Indian attacks about 70 miles ahead. Traveling with open handcarts made their group even more vulnerable than those with the minimal protection of covered wagons.
However, their immediate problem was dealing with the loss of their best oxen to pull their heavy supply wagons. This delay would prove very unfortunate for their progress late in the season.
As an interesting note, Porter Rockwell and Abraham O. Smoot were also in the area when the cattle were lost. They were both leading wagon trains to Salt Lake City so were not able to help the handcart company but gave them encouraging words about the journey ahead.
Several precious days were lost trying to find the cattle and also attempting various ways to compensate for the lost cattle. Milk cows and other unbroken cows were yoked together to pull the supply wagons, but those animals were unable to pull the heavy loads like the draft animals. While decisions were being made on ways to move the supply wagons, more reports came in about Indian attacks on small wagon trains resulting in the deaths of women and children. Again fear swept through the emigrant train. Thus, forty bags of essential flour weighing 100 pounds each was then loaded onto some of the handcarts. This was a heavy burden that further weakened the already-fatigued travelers and slowed down the company.
Leaving a couple men behind to look for the cattle, the rest of the company moved out on September 8th. That unfortunate incident set their progress back three precious days, and those three days later resulted in additional deaths when they reached the high altitude around South Pass.
The new draft animals were very difficult to handle, as they had never been harnessed. This breaking-in period took some time and slowed the progress of the company even more. After the loss of thirty cattle, the average mileage dropped to about ten miles a day. That improved as the new draft animals got used to pulling wagons, but they never matched the strength and pulling ability of the lost oxen.
By September 10th, the Willie Company had traveled about 300 miles and still had at least 700 miles left. Weather was ideal at this time. They also had plenty of meat, as they were able to kill a buffalo from time to time as needed. Another plus was the availability of buffalo chips used for making their cooking fires when wood was not available. In a couple weeks these ideal days would end when they approached the higher country around Wyoming where temperatures would also drop, especially during the evenings.
Franklin D. Richards
Late that evening President Franklin D. Richards and his traveling group that were speeding toward Salt Lake City arrived in camp; included in this group were several returning missionaries from the European Mission. President Richards and his company stayed overnight and gave the Saints an encouraging talk. In his talk he promised them that no obstacle whatsoever should come in the way of this Camp and that they
hould be able by their united faith and works to overcome with God being their helper and that if a Red Sea would interpose they should by their union of heart and hand walk dry-shod through it like Israel of old.
He also promised them that they should arrive in the Valleys of the Mountains with strong and healthy bodies and that this should be the case with the aged the sick and the infirm. After this talk, he told them they must cross over to the other side of the North Platte River and follow that route which caused them to bypass Fort Laramie by a few miles. This counsel was most likely because of Indian problems which resulted in a previous wagon company to be massacred just a few days before at the same location where they spent the night. President Richards and his group left the next morning and, before leaving, he called Levi Savage to repentance for stating his concerns in Florence, Nebraska about the fear of winter storms on their journey.
On September 17th, the company awoke to find frost on their tents, as a cold north wind blew in during the night; this was their first record of frost. They were now 380 miles from Florence and about 650 miles from Salt Lake. They were averaging only 12 miles a day. Brigham Young had calculated that once the handcart companies became used to the trail they could travel about 20 to 25 miles a day, but too many variables existed in this type of travel to maintain such a rigorous schedule.Two men died during that time; both were 66 years old. Older people seemed to weaken quickly, and yet the younger ones got stronger, especially the women. The trail along the Platte River had a lot of sandy areas through which it was difficult to pull handcarts and which exhausted the travelers, slowing them down considerably. Maintaining a travel schedule was also hindered by the frequent need for handcart repairs.
One whole day was lost on September 19th to search for a woman who wandered off and became lost. Later in the day, she wandered back into camp after hearing men working on the handcart axles.
On September 18th, Levi Savage wrote in his journal that the colder weather started to have an adverse effect on the company which continued as time went by. Some cold, weary, and weakened travelers wanted to ride in the sick wagon that soon became too crowded for all the sick, so some had to ride in handcarts pulled by family or friends.
Levi made the following entry on September 23rd. “This morning was cold and foggy. The Saints slow in rising and getting breakfast early, notwithstanding Brother Willie’s repeated order to arise at the sound of the bugle.
Apparently not realizing the necessity of our making as much distance as possible in order to reach the Valley before too severe cold weather, some complain of hard treatment, because we urge them along. Many hang on to the wagons.”
Probably some were too ill or exhausted to push handcarts, and there was no room in the sick wagon so they hung onto the supply wagons to support themselves while walking. Lack of healthy food eventually became a problem with low supplies and poor variety, so people’s strength and stamina soon diminished.
On September 24th they camped near Chimney Rock, one of the landmarks of the westward journey. The pace of the company started to increase; eighteen or nineteen miles a day was now common. They were now trying to reach 20 miles per day. With the weather turning colder, especially at night, there was urgency in moving faster. They broke camp around 7:30 a.m. which means they had to be up by daylight to leave that early.
On the 28th the company received some bad news—Almon Babbitt and two of his men were killed by Cheyenne Indians. They also met a company of 100 “apostates” heading back to the states from Salt Lake City.
On the 29th, they were within a few miles of Ft. Laramie and stayed about four miles from the fort. Some of the brethren went to the fort for the additional cattle and flour that President Richards had assured would be waiting for them. But due to unforeseen and unfortunate circumstances, the fort was also short on cattle and flour and could not spare these items for the Saints. This devastating news was relayed to Captain Willie in a letter that President Richards left for Captain Willie explaining that he could not obtain the needed supplies at the fort.
This shortfall of needed beef and flour would have severe consequences in the near future. The Saints were already starting to experience colder temperatures and freezing nights. Once the colder weather combined with food shortages, death began to stalk the company.
Only seven people died on the 500-mile trek that took six weeks from Florence, Nebraska to Ft. Laramie, Wyoming. There were still another 500 miles to walk during the next six weeks. The next 500 miles took the lives of 60 people, and three of those who perished were members of the Gadd family.
The company only progressed about seven miles on October 1st and camped by the Platte River, placing them about 10 miles west of Fort Laramie. Before leaving Fort Laramie on October 1st, Captain Willie tried to purchase some supplies from the fort but was only able to buy a couple of barrels of hardtack biscuits that would be reserved until all other food was gone. While they were near Fort Laramie, a couple of the younger women were persuaded to stay at the Fort rather than continue on to the Valley. Some of the soldiers may have been looking for wives.
On October 2nd, Parley P Pratt visited the Saints on his way back East for his final mission. This was a fateful, tragic trip for Elder Pratt who was murdered during that mission. Before leaving the handcart company near Fort Laramie, he spoke to the Willie Company.
Then Captain Willie informed the group that rations must be reduced, as they were not able to obtain food or animals at the fort. The normal ration was 16 ounces of flour per person per day which was now cut to 12 ounces for adults; this reduction in flour was approved by the body of the Saints. This cutback in food was entirely inadequate for the effort exerted while traveling faster. They had traveled beyond buffalo country, so their meat was limited to their own cattle which were few in number.
Eliza’s compassionate heart and nursing experience compelled her to do her best to help the sick and dying members in the company. But without proper nourishment, adequate rest, and medical supplies, even her best efforts could not save all those afflicted by their destitute circumstances, even some of her own beloved family members.
On October 4th, the first of several tragedies struck the Gadd family. Daniel, the two-year-old twin brother of Isaac, died and was the second child that Eliza lost. Her first was a little son in England before they immigrated to America. Three people in the Willie Company died and were buried that day plus one who died the day before. The mood in the camp must have been very low, and before long they became numb to the sight of death which became an almost daily occurrence.
A cow was killed that day to provide much-needed protein to strengthen the people. The reduced rations took a tragic toll, especially on the men required to do most of the heavy work such as putting up the tents, helping others to cross rivers and streams, and night guard duty as well as pushing or pulling handcarts. They burned up several times more calories than their scant food provided and did not get enough sleep. From this time on, each day became a burden to these pioneers.
Samuel Gadd Strength Failed
Samuel Gadd’s strength began to fail, so he was not able to help with the daily handcart responsibilities. Eliza and the children had to bear that hardship. As their son, Alfred recorded in his journal on October 9th, Samuel Gadd was one who was so ill that he was allowed to ride in the sick wagon that morning and died later in the day. It is likely that he suffered from pneumonia, although the cause of his illness was not documented. When the family checked on him at noon, Father Samuel was dead at age forty.
On the following day, Samuel Gadd was buried at Glenrock, Wyoming, the only person buried that day. One can only imagine how heartbreaking his premature death was for his family.
Eliza now had complete responsibility to take her family safely to the Salt Lake Valley under the most difficult conditions imaginable. She did not share the religious faith of the other Saints in the handcart company which may have left her with even greater sorrow and loneliness.
Many of those heading for the Valley had loved ones waiting for them, but the Gadds were on their own. Eliza probably thought about the security she enjoyed with family and friends in England and longed to turn back the clock. To her everlasting credit, she never gave up but faced the future with a resolve to finish the journey to which her husband and children had committed several months before. She took charge of her family and their belongings and again took up the journey without anything to which she could look forward.
At a trading post at the Platte River Bridge, the company came across several soldiers. When President Richards had traveled earlier through that area, he purchased 37 buffalo robes for the Saints at that location, so the soldiers gave Captain Willie those robes. The handcart pioneers’ preference was flour or other food supplies of which they were in desperate need, but the robes were needed later when their blankets and clothing become inadequate for the harsh weather conditions. Each robe would accommodate a couple of adults or several small children lying on the cold or frozen ground.
The company chose to cross the Platte River six miles away instead of using the bridge that cost money they did not have. The river was low that time of year which made a crossing quite easy. The company then arrived at Fort Casper, Wyoming.
Like the pioneers, the animals, too, began feeling the effects of the long, hard journey. The cows pulling wagons could not cover 12 miles on October 11th, and several cows gave out and one died on the road. Even the oxen were unable to continue and needed rest.
The cold weather was now having an adverse effect on the members, and some were giving in to its numbing effect. One of the sisters sat down on the trail and could go no further, losing her will to live. She was ready to drop behind the company and die until she was aroused by a voice that spoke to her soul, telling her she had a mission to perform in Zion which gave her the strength to continue on.
Another family sadly left their young daughter who was extremely cold and appeared dead somewhere along the trail covered with little branches, as there was nowhere to bury her. Then a short time later the mother remembered the promise made to their family that all of them would arrive safely in Zion and had the strong feeling that her girl was still alive, so their family returned to where she lay and warmed her until she revived.
On October 13th, the company climbed to the top of Prospect Hill from which they looked toward the west and saw some prominent landmarks they would soon encounter such as Independence Rock and Devil’s Gate. By the end of the day, they were 12 miles from Independence Rock, one of the great landmarks for westward travelers.
On October 14th, the Saints reached the Sweetwater River for the first time. An excellent source of clear, cold, sweet water, this river was a real treat to the thirsty pioneers especially compared to the warmer, muddy water of the Platte River which they had followed for several hundred miles. The lovely, meandering Sweetwater twisted westward and provided excellent grasslands for cattle and willows for protection in harsh weather.
During various migrations to the West over the Oregon, Mormon, and California trails, over 500,000 pioneers passed the outstanding landmark called Independence Rock. Many wrote their names all over the enormous rock as well as inside the small caves where names are still visible. Independence Rock became like a post office where it was common for pioneers to leave messages for those traveling days or weeks behind them. Its smooth surface makes for an easy and fun climb on the 130-foot-high rock which is about 1,900 feet long and 850 feet wide. The banks of the Sweetwater River wind around the nearby area.
The Willie handcart pioneers arrived at an elevation of about 5,500 feet where temperatures dropped lower. The next day on October 15th, the company traveled past Devil’s Gate and the area now called Martin’s Cove, known then by the name of Fort Seminole, which was deserted for the winter. They traveled about 12 miles past this landmark before they camped for the night. (That was the location where many Saints in the Martin Company later perished from starvation and freezing temperatures.)
Elizabeth Panting’s Rescuer
Flour was now in short supply, so it was necessary to cut rations again. It was agreed by the company to cut the flour ration from 12 oz. down to 10 oz. for men and women; large boys would receive 9 oz., and children would receive 6 oz. They also killed a beef heifer and one poor cow to distribute among the Saints to supplement the flour rations.
A miracle took place after they set up for the night. Sister Elizabeth Panting walked away from the campsite to collect buffalo chips for cooking her meager food rations for herself and her two children. She had just filled her large apron with these chips when a man suddenly appeared who was not part of their company was and whom she had never seen before.
He asked her how the company was doing, and she told him they were starving. He told her to follow him to a nearby cave which she found to be full of dried buffalo meat on one side of the cave and shelves of books on the other side of the cave that looked like the Book of Mormon gold plates. She said they appeared to be sealed. The man then loaded up her apron with dried meat and showed her the way back to the camp. When she turned around to thank the man, he was gone, and she searched around for the cave and could not find it. She returned to camp and shared the gift with those of the company in most need.
Three more members of the company died the next day, on October 16th. The freezing temperatures and lack of food contributed to the death of these Saints, and as the temperatures dropped dramatically over the next few days, many more perished. Over the next two days two more men died: one on the 17th and one on the 18th, but starting on the 19th the higher death toll began to strike the company. Deaths had occurred on nine of the 18 days they traveled after leaving Fort Laramie and every day since leaving Independence Rock, but the worst was yet to come.
A kind Danish sister named Helena Mortensen brought a small supply of hand-woven linen sheets made from flax on their island farm. Along their prairie trek, she often wrapped one of her treasured cloths around the body of one who died. From the original number of sheets that she brought from Denmark, she saved only two for their new home in Zion. One of them was used later to cover thirteen pioneers buried in a common grave, including one young ancestor, ten-year-old Samuel Gadd, who died on the trek up Rocky Ridge.
Sunday, October 19th, was a day of sorrow and also joy. The company woke up to a very cold morning after little sleep because of the freezing temperatures. That day they had to travel 16 miles until they again reached the Sweetwater River which was the only place to obtain water for themselves and the few remaining cattle. There was little or no room in the handcarts to carry much water, so they depended on the water supply available through Mother Nature.
Captain Willie gave out the last of the flour rations that had to sustain them until they could find another source of food. Earlier in their journey, they had received word that supplies might be available at Pacific Springs, just a couple miles on the other side of South Pass. The pioneers did not have the food or energy to go beyond the next campsite which would be famously named the Sixth Crossing of the Sweetwater.
Pacific Springs was still several days away, and they still faced the hardships of Rocky Ridge. They were now literally freezing and starving to death. Since all the flour was gone, sick people filled the empty supply wagons, crowded to the point that those weakened Saints were very uncomfortable. After his father’s death, Alfred Gadd’s brief daily log did not mention any of the Gadds using the sick wagons.
The condition of the Willie Company seemed hopeless when they left the campsite at the fifth Crossing of the Sweetwater River, heading for the Sixth Crossing. No trees or shelter were on this sixteen-mile stretch of the trek, only cold temperatures and a strong headwind which dropped the temperatures below freezing.
About six miles into their forced march, they passed Ice Slough, and around noon the company was hit with the first snow storm in the journey. It came with a bitter cold wind, so the handcart company was forced to stop and seek shelter under their handcarts. The storm was only a half hour in duration, and the clouds
cleared so they continued on.
Soon after the storm, joyous shouts could be heard throughout the company. A wagon and four men were heading their way. Two of the men were on horses, and the other was in a wagon. Two of the men were Cyrus Wheelock and Joseph A. Young, the advance part of a rescue party sent from the Salt Lake Valley that was advancing toward them but was still some thirty miles away.
When Joseph Young saw Emily Hill, whom he had known as a missionary in England, he burst into tears. He told her that it was because she looked starved. He then gave her a small onion he had in his pocket. Later that night Emily gave that onion to a man in the company who was starving to death. He later told her that her act of kindness probably saved his life.
The rescuers held a meeting with the Saints and told them about the rescue party just ahead of them. They explained how Brigham Young organized this rescue in such a short time along with the generosity of the valley Saints who outfitted wagons with food and clothing. As it turned out, many of the rescuers were former missionaries recently returned from their European missions. Some had barely arrived home and then turned around to aid in the rescue.
The Willie Company did not reach their destination until after dark on October 19th. They did not cross over the Sweetwater River that night but stayed on the east side of the river in the protection of the willows along the riverbanks. One of the sick wagons didn’t arrive in camp until 11:00 p.m. due to a wrong turn they had taken. This was a dark day for the company—five died, the most in a single day—but it would get worse.
Not long after they arrived, another snow storm came blowing in without letting up and the next morning the company woke up to 6 to 8 inches of snow. The joy of meeting the express riders of the rescue party had now turned into misery because of their condition. A thick blanket of snow covered the whole camp. Along with freezing temperatures, their clothing was inadequate, their food supply was exhausted (except for the hard biscuits purchased earlier at Ft. Laramie), and most of the Saints suffered from dysentery.
The rescue wagons were still a couple days away, and things looked hopeless. Anna F. Tait died that morning, and four more died the next day before the rescue wagons arrived.
Captain Willie Searches for the Rescue Party
On October 20th, Captain Willie decided on a heroic action that saved many suffering Saints in his company stranded in destitute condition near the Sixth Crossing of the Sweetwater River. He knew they could not wait any longer for the rescuers, so he and Joseph Elder, in their weakened state set out riding mules during a snowstorm to find the rescue party which he felt would be at the base of Rocky Ridge, about 10 miles away. However, the rescuers were not there.
The two men then continued on across Rocky Ridge, hoping they would be near the top of the ridge but did not find them there. By that time they had traveled about 15 miles. Without food or warmth, they traveled another ten miles during which it became dark and cold with no sign of the rescuers. Willie and Elder did not take bedding with them, so if they missed the rescuers, they would not survive as they were now about 25 miles from the Saints on the Sweetwater River.
Another miracle was in progress that no one expected. The rescue party was also hit by the snowstorm that brought the Willie Company to a halt, so they found shelter about three miles off the main trail at the mouth of Willow Creek.
As they were so far away from the main trail, Harvey Cluff, a young man in the rescue party felt prompted to put a sign on the main trail in case the four men of the advance party tried to return to the main group and could not find them in the storm. They were not even aware that Willie and Elder were trying to find them. Even though discouraged by the other rescuers to do so, Harvey walked those three miles in the snowstorm.
Shortly afterwards, Captain Willie saw the sign, so he and Joseph Elder were able to find the turnoff and join the rescuers waiting out the storm. That sign saved not only their lives but also those of the Saints stranded by the Sweetwater who would have been without food for several days while these rescuers waited out the fierce storm that brought them and the handcart company to a halt. Many more lives would have been lost without the valiant, inspired actions of those three men.
The rescuers had no idea how much suffering the Willie Company had endured. Had they known, they would not have planned to wait out the storm but continued on until they reached the handcarts. Captain Willie and Joseph Elder stayed the night with the rescuers, and after explaining the impoverished plight of his company, all of them left in haste early the next morning.
After Captain WillieWagons and Joseph Elder left the Willie Company’s camp to locate the rescue wagons, the Saints waited with expectations that the wagons would arrive that same day. When that day had already passed and evening of the next day was descending, the people had almost given up hope of rescue.
The Rescue Company Reaches the Willie Company
Then on October 21st John Chislett, one of the sub-captains over 100 Saints, described the following event: “On an eminence immediately west of our camp several covered wagons (14 wagons), each drawn by four horses, were seen coming towards us. The news ran through the camp like wildfire, and all who were able to leave their beds turned out en masse to see them. A few minutes brought them sufficiently near to reveal our faithful captain slightly in advance of the train. Shouts of joy rent the air.”
Another sub-captain, Millen Atwood, expressed this: “I was surprised when I saw the relief wagons loaded with garments, stockings, shoes, blankets and quilts that had been liberally contributed and sent out to minister to us. I never saw the like, and I marveled and wondered where it all came from.”
John Chislett also noted: “That evening, for the first time in quite a period, the songs of Zion were to be heard in the camp and peals of laughter issued from the little knots of people as they chatted around the fires.”
Those lifesaving supplies came at considerable sacrifice from the Valley Saints who suffered a drought in 1856, so their resources were also in short supply. Many lives were saved by the valiant effort of these young men and their tenacity and obedience in not stopping short of their objective–to find the find the handcart companies and bring them home.
Some wagon companies following these first rescue wagons turned around and went back to Salt Lake when they could not determine where the handcart companies were. But those young men under the direction of George Grant with his 16 wagons did not give up, even when they had no idea how far these handcart pioneers were from the Valley of the Great Salt Lake. They were true heroes.
Sadly, not all the Saints camped at the rescue site lasted the day. The rescuers were too late to help at least four who died on the banks of the Sweetwater the same day the rescue wagons arrived. One of those who perished was John Linford whose family of five shared the same tent as the Gadd family whose father died earlier.
When the journey began at Iowa City, there were twenty people in the tent that Brother Linford’s family shared with the Gadd family and five single women. Now there were only eighteen. Both of the men, Samuel Gadd and John Linford died and were buried on this trek west, so their sons were overwhelmed by taking over duties once performed by their fathers. One more person from their tent would succumb to the journey in a couple more days. That would be Eliza’s ten-year-old son, Samuel.
The next morning, October 22nd, the company began a ten-mile trek to the base of Rocky Ridge. Six of the rescue wagons would continue with the Willie Company under the leadership of one of the rescuers, William H. Kimball. The other eight continued east under the direction of George Grant to find the Martin Company. The Martin Company was over 100 miles behind the Willie Company which caused them to arrive in the Valley three weeks after the Willie Company and to suffer twice as many deaths.
The company would need to first cross the Sweetwater where they were camped, which was very difficult due to freezing temperatures and icy water. Wet clothing froze, and icy pants or skirts chafed against the skin causing cuts to the legs. Due to their long skirts and petticoats, some of the women were carried across the rivers, but others, especially the younger ones, tried to cross on their own.
At the base of Rocky Ridge, the Saints tried to rest and prepare for the ascent of the Ridge. Eliza Philpot was one of two Saints who died that day and were buried at their base camp. Her husband had died just five days earlier, so their two young girls, ages 13 and 11, became orphans.
Sleep was sporadic that night, as snow covered the ground where they laid their blankets. What meager comfort and warmth those thin blankets or quilts provided.
Even though the six rescue wagons provided the Willie Saints with food and some additional clothing, they were still very weak and cold. There was not room in the wagons to carry members of the company, so handcarts would be needed until they reached Fort Bridger, when sufficient wagons would be available to carry the beleaguered saints. Some who were very ill and weak were put into the rescue wagons, but there wasn’t sufficient space for all of them.
The 23rd of October tested these handcart pioneers like no other day of their journey. The sizable company was spread out over many miles as they hiked across the sixteen miles toward Rock Creek Hollow. The trek up Rocky Ridge was a 700-foot elevation gain over a three-mile climb from the base and was the most physically-demanding experience for the Saints, including the Gadd family.
By this time, some people’s feet were wrapped in rags after their shoes or boots had worn out, and their bodies were weakened and suffering from inadequate food and clothing. Hauling handcarts up Rocky Ridge was hindered by Arctic-like conditions of freezing temperatures and a biting wind blowing snow in their faces.
These conditions caused Eliza to undergo temporary blindness lasting three days. She still had the burden of pulling her handcart up the hills, so nine-year-old Mary Ann guided her mother through the storm. Large families needed two handcarts to carry their supplies, so Eliza’s two teenage children were probably pulling a second handcart and were unable to help their mother.
With hundreds of people moving up the Ridge in a storm, many families were separated during their forced march, and many children did not know where their fathers or mothers were. During this part of their trek, Eliza endured yet another personal loss and heartache-somewhere on this journey her ten-year-old son, Samuel, met the same fate as her husband and two-old son Daniel. She later affirmed that young Samuel was the child in her family most eager to reach Zion.
She, like other pioneers who lost loved ones, never had the chance to mourn after a loss. Eliza had to pick up her handcart handle and keep trudging forward. After their daunting task of climbing to the top of Rocky Ridge, the thought of walking another twelve miles before resting at Rock Creek Hollow was probably overwhelming to her and her. They put one foot in front of the other and kept walking toward their destination with every ounce of energy left inside them.
The journey for some Saints was not completed until 5:00 a.m. the next morning, when two wagons carrying the sick and dead arrived at camp. After the long, brutal trek to reach the Hollow, the Company rested one full day and overnight. When every member of the company finally reached the camp, the sorrowful task of burying the dead awaited them. Two were buried on October 23rd, and thirteen more were buried the on the 24th in a common grave that included Eliza’s ten-year-old son, Samuel Gadd. In recent years a plaque engraved with his name and the names of twelve other souls was mounted on that grave site.
Before the common grave was covered with branches and rocks, Helena Mortensen, the Danish sister who had generously bestowed her handwoven linens to wrap bodies of the dead during their prairie journey, took out of her handcart another large sheet to lay over the thirteen bodies in the grave. Helena’s last remaining linen sheet is displayed in the Pioneer Museum in Parowan, Utah.
How heartbreaking for snow-blind Eliza to listen to the picks and shovels breaking the frozen ground for a grave in which to place her beloved son and the other deceased ones without being able to see Samuel’s final resting place. Her blindness lasted another couple days, so her children led her until her sight returned.
When John Stewart Sr., a young man of 31 years was placed with the frozen corpses in the common grave, his grief-stricken wife, Ann, age 29, noticed that he was still breathing. Fortunately, the error was discovered, and he was carried to a fire and revived, thus avoiding his premature death.
After the Saints buried their dead, they were still 260 miles from the Salt Lake Valley.
Reddick Allred Stayed at His Post
Reddick Allred, who was stationed with additional supply wagons at South Pass by Captain George Grant to assist any handcart pioneers heading to Salt Lake, arrived at the Willie Company’s camp with six supply wagons to aid the suffering Saints. After faithfully executing his duty to assist the pioneers, Reddick returned to his camp at South Pass. He waited three more weeks in freezing temperatures until the last of emigrating Saints safely came through. His devotion to this assignment saved many lives.
Before the Willie Company left Rock Creek Hollow on October 25th, they sadly buried two men near the site where the thirteen members were buried the day before. These men, one an older man and the other a younger one, had exhausted themselves the previous day digging the common grave from the frozen earth and had perished from this strenuous exertion in their weakened condition.
The Saints traveled fifteen miles to the camp site at South Pass where Reddick Allred and his company were stationed. More food was available there, so while some in the company were gradually becoming stronger, the debilitated condition of others still took its toll. Two more people were buried at South Pass.
As the company left the Pass and headed down to a lower elevation, the weather became a little milder but then changed again to colder temperatures as they moved westward. Most of the company still pulled handcarts with the wagons carrying those too sick to walk. Two more died on October 26th.
The 27th was a good day for the company with no deaths for the first time. That day, Eliza Gadd was also blessed when her vision returned. Her young daughter, Mary Ann, had been her guide ever since Eliza’s affliction of snow-blindness during the ordeal of crossing Rocky Ridge. This must have been a tremendous relief to her after facing the possibility of being blind for the rest of her life when she had the responsibility of providing for her six remaining children who survived this six-month.
Although their company was still twelve days away from reaching the Salt Lake valley, the future was starting to look hopeful for these handcart Saints.
They traveled 11miles on the 28th without any deaths. Journal entries became shorter, as the journey became less eventful. Two days passed before a death occurred, and one person died each day on the 29th and the 30th.
As they continued westward, they were met by more wagons, so fewer pioneers had to pull handcarts. No deaths occurred on the 31st, but one death was recorded on November 1st.
Ephraim Hanks Reached the Willie Company
On the 2nd of November the company met Ephraim Hanks, heading east to assist the stricken Martin Company. Ephraim met that company on November 11th and was instrumental in saving many lives. He told the Saints that many more wagons were on the way, and soon none would have to pull a handcart.
This promise came true when they reached Fort Bridger later that day. The rescue was almost complete. But, unfortunately, there was one death on this day.
On November 4th, William Kimball rode ahead of the Willie Company to inform Brigham Young of the status of the company and to prepare the Valley Saints for welcoming the 350 remaining survivors. Many individuals in this company had frozen limbs and needed prompt medical attention.
Echo Canyon was reached on the 5th where they camped for the night. Two more members of the company were buried thathday. The weather turned bitter cold again and snow was on the ground where they had to sleep. The cold was still taking its toll. More children became orphans before the Valley was reached. The Valley Saints took these children into their homes where they became part of a new family.
Two more people died on November 6th. One was Archibald McPhail, a Scottish convert, a true hero who had saved lives, sacrificing his own. He came so close to realizing his dream of settling in Zion.
November 7th was also a sad day when two children under the age of ten years died as well as a young man only 25 years old. Even though they were most likely riding in wagons, the bitter cold weather still took its toll on human lives.
After reporting to Brigham Young in Salt Lake, William Kimball returned to the Willie Company on November 8th and brought welcome supplies for them. He also informed them that a home would be provided for any who did not have friends or relatives in the Valley. This provided great comfort to families who did not know anyone in the Valley and especially to Eliza Gadd, a recent widow and not even a member of the Church.
Reaching the Salt Lake Valley
On the glorious day of November 9th, the Willie Handcart Company reached the Valley at last. The company’s journal stated: “As soon as the company arrived in the city of Great Salt Lake, the Bishops of the different wards took every person that was not provided for a home and put them into comfortable quarters. Hundreds of persons were round the wagons on our way thro’ the city welcoming the company safely home.” We do not know the name of the family who housed the Gadds after they entered the Salt Lake Valley.
Gospel discussions probably ensued during this time, plus Eliza’s faith in God must have developed during the journey, because she accepted the religion of her husband and was baptized on November 16th, one week after reaching the valley and was a faithful member for the rest of her life. She later received temple ordinances on December 6th, 1861 for herself and husband who passed away in 1856 during their westward migration.