M. Russell Ballard

"We cannot begin to understand the journeys made by those who laid the foundation of this dispensation until we understand their spiritual underpinnings. Once we make that connection, however, we will begin to see how their journeys parallel ours now. There are lessons for us in every footstep they took--lessons of love, courage, commitment, devotion, endurance, and, most of all, faith. Those 19th century pioneers to whom we pay special tribute never set out to be heroes, and yet they accomplished heroic things. That is what makes them Saints. They were a band of believers who tried to do the right things for the right reasons, ordinary men and women who were called on to perform an extraordinary work. At times, they gave in to their discouragement and allowed themselves to murmur and complain. But ultimately their faith in God and the man they sustained as their prophet and leader prevailed, and they righted their vision and attitudes along with their wagons. In the process they found joy amid the hardships and trials of the trek.No matter how difficult the trail, and regardless of how heavy our load, we can take comfort in knowing that others before us have borne life's most grievous trials and tragedies by looking to heaven for peace, comfort and hopeful reassurance. We can know, as they knew, that God is our Father, that He cares about us individually and collectively, and that as long as we continue to exercise our faith and trust in Him there is nothing to fear in the journey.Let us remember that the Savior is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and there can be no greater promise than to know that if we are faithful and true, we will one day be safely encircled in the arms of His love. He is always there to give encouragement, to forgive, and to rescue. Therefore, as we exercise faith and are diligent in keeping the commandments, we have nothing to fear from the journey."

On the Trail

Positive Attitude

I recall a true story from our pioneer heritage that illustrates how we can choose our response to adversity. Over one hundred years ago a Swedish family who had joined the Church faced a long ocean voyage to America, a train trip from New York to Omaha, and then a trek by wagon train to Salt Lake City. During their train trip they rode in stock cars used to haul hogs. The cars were filthy and filled with hog lice. On their wagon trip across the plains, a healthy baby was born, but their three-year-old contracted cholera. During the night, the father went to a neighboring wagon to borrow a candle, but was told they couldn’t spare one. This angered him, and he fumed as he sat in the dark with his son’s limp, feverish body in his arms. The boy died that night. The next morning the wagon master said they would hold a short funeral and bury the boy in a shallow grave. They were in Indian country and didn’t have time to do more. The father insisted on staying behind and digging a grave deep enough so the animals would not disturb the body. They experienced other hardships before they reached Salt Lake City. Now, both the mother and the father experienced the same trials, but the father became withdrawn, cantankerous, and bitter. He stopped going to church, found fault with Church leaders. He became caught up in his own miseries, and the light of Christ grew dimmer and dimmer in his life. On the other hand, the mother’s faith increased. Each new problem seemed to make her stronger. She became an angel of mercy—filled with empathy, compassion, and charity. She was a light to those around her. Her family gravitated toward her and looked to her as their leader. She was happy; he was miserable. (See Ensign, Feb. 1981, pp. 54–55.) Service helps us forget our own travails; it enlarges our souls and gives us greater capacity to endure our own trials. “I remind you … that regardless of your present age, you are building your life; … it can be full of joy and happiness, or it can be full of misery. It all depends upon you and your attitudes, for your altitude, or the height you climb, is dependent upon your attitude or your response to situations” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1974, 112–13; or Ensign, Nov. 1974, 80).

James Kirkwood

This is a story of two brothers, James and Joseph. Their family was baptized in Scotland and their father died before leaving with the rest of the family to come the United States and then to Utah with the Willey Handcart company. Before their father died he charged James to watch over Joseph (his 4 yr. old little brother). James took this task very seriously. On Oct 23rd of their journey west, James and his family left their camp near the Sweetwater to begin a 15 mile climb in a storm. They were cold and weak from starvation, the wind blew the snow in their faces and through their clothes, and it was hard to see. Their mother even had one eye freeze and went blind in that eye it was so cold. James and four year old Joseph became separated from their mother in the storm. Young Joseph’s shoes had worn out and his feet were numb. He fell down and started to cry. James tried to encourage him and tried to get him to climb some more, but Joseph couldn’t take another step. James picked him up and carried him slowly, first over his shoulders, then in his arms, then over his shoulders again. They fell behind the main group, but James never gave up. Sometimes, Joseph would start to slip because James’ fingers were frozen and he couldn’t hold on, but he would just set Joseph down for a time and pick him up again. Finally James saw a fire burning up ahead. They had made it to camp where their mother was waiting up for them. James had been quiet for a long time and Joseph couldn’t get him to talk. James brought his little brother into the camp at Rock Creek Hollow and set him down gently. James then collapsed from exhaustion and died. With determination he had faithfully carried out his task and saved his brother.

Little Pioneer Children

Ellen Parkinson

One of the most challenging trials to understand is when young children were left as orphans. That is what happened to our family. I am Ellen Parkinson and this is my daughter 5 year old Ellen named after me. We left England with our 9 children and eventually joined the Martin handcart company. Our trials began in July with the death of our 2 youngest children baby William and 3 year old Mary. Shortly thereafter our 16 year old son Joseph collapsed in the harness of the handcart and died as well. Next we lost 2 year old Ester. John, my husband, was the next to go. I took his coat to keep myself warm. That night, after partaking of a meager meal, I retired with my daughter Ellen to bed. I was so very cold that night. The weather was bitter. After a while I listened and listened to my mother but I could not hear her breathing. I shook her desperately and tried to awaken her but to no avail. When daylight came, some men came and prepared my mother’s body for burial. They wrapped her in a blanket and placed her in a shallow grave of snow. My 18 year old brother became discouraged at this point and left the company to return east. Now I along with my 7 year old brother, 11 year old sister, and 9 year old sister were orphans. I was also without my 2 oldest brothers who had carried me on their shoulders for much of the journey. Now I was left to travel alone.

Reddick Newton Allred

My name is Reddick Alred but most people called me “Bulldog.” I received that nickname because I was dogged determined to do what the prophet asked me to do. One day after Brigham Young delivered his famous rescue call, I was on my way to rescue those people. I was assigned to wait at South Pass with the extra supplies and meet the hand companies and the other rescuers on their way back to Salt Lake. Several other men were assigned to wait with me. After a period of time, most of the others presumed that the handcart pioneers were either dead or had decided to wait out the winter where they were, so they left and returned to Salt Lake. They tried to convince me to go with them but I would not leave my post. President Brigham Young was not happy with those that turned back. He said that he would turn them back again towards the handcarts so quick and he didn’t care if it snapped their necks. I saved my neck by sticking to my post. When Captain Grant got into my camp on November 17th he saluted me and said; “Hurrah for the bulldog, good for hanging on.” William Burt Simmons My name is William Burt Simmons but most people just called me Burt. I was very meticulous about following the prophet’s counsel to be prepared to return to Missouri. You see, it was prophesied that one day the Saints would inhabit Missouri again and I desired to be a part of that group of people. To that end, I kept a wagon and team ready at all times to make the return trip. In fact, I kept my best wagon and team prepared at all times my slogan was “Always the best for Missouri.” In the fall of 1856 when Brigham Young issued the call for rescuers to go gather the weary from the plains, I was already to go. I was one of the first wagons to leave. I ended up rescuing a young woman by the name of Mary Taylor Upton. Mary had really had a difficult time of the journey. He husband William died and both of her parents died on the journey as well. She also lost a baby along the way to either miscarriage or stillbirth. When I found her, she was unconscious her feet were black and her legs were frozen. I put her in my wagon and took her to my home, where my wife Amanda patiently and carefully nursed her back to health and strength. On March 15 of the next year, Mary became my second wife and together we had 5 children.

Faces To Remember

John Marshall/George Housely

My name is John Marshall and when I first heard the call to go out and rescue the saints, I wasn’t very happy about it. I thought it was foolish to go out at that time of year. I thought it was dangerous and risky. I determined that I would decline going with the rescue party. But I decided that I better make it a matter of prayer. As I prayed, I received my answer. I knew that I must go. It was noon when I arrived with the other rescuers and found the Martin Handcart Company in Southeaster Wyoming. As I rode into their stranded camp, I felt a pressing desire to go further beyond to search for stragglers. As I was riding, I saw a little speck up on the side of the hill that somehow caught my attention. As I rode on, the object appeared a little larger and I felt that urge to ride up and see what it was. Imagine my feeling when I found there a little boy. He was so could and hungry that he had slipped away from the others in his company. He had hid himself there on the bill and was praying to die and that the wolves would come and eat his body. I wrapped that young man in a blanket and put him on my horse. Although I didn’t even know his name, I saved his life that day. Brother Lyman: Years later, John here was telling that story to some of his grandchildren. These grandchildren were my grandchildren as well on account of John’s daughter Clarissa marrying my son Benjamin. Well, as John told the story, it sounded so familiar to me. I turned to him and said “Your horse was bay with one white foot, a white star on his forehead, and your blanket was red and black plaid!” Whereupon he asked in surprise, “How did you know that?” “Because I was that young man! I am sure it was because of the prayers of my mother that I lived until you found me.” You see, you never know who you might save when you do your part. I actually saved a part of my posterity.

Pioneer Baptism


Perhaps the most memorable pioneer stalwarts were the Saints who made the journey in handcart companies. These companies brought nearly 3,000 pioneers west between 1856 and 1860. In 1856, two handcart companies, with 1,075 pioneers under the leadership of James G. Willie and Edward Martin, left later in the year than planned, and they encountered early winter storms in present-day Wyoming. Peter Howard McBride, then but a boy of six years, was a member of the Martin Company. His father, after helping push handcarts through the icy river, died in the snow and freezing cold that night. Peter’s mother was sick; his older sister, Jenetta, watched out for the younger children. Her shoes had worn out, and her feet left bloody tracks in the snow. On the banks of the Sweetwater River, the wind blew their tent down during the night. Everyone scampered out as the snow covered the tent—everyone except little Peter. According to his account: “In the morning I heard someone say, ‘How many are dead in this tent?’ My sister said, ‘Well, my little brother must be frozen to death in that tent.’ So they jerked the tent loose, sent it scurrying over the snow. My hair was frozen to the tent. I picked myself up and came out quite alive, to their surprise.” We find one of the most touching stories of sacrifice, faith, and loving charity in the life of Jens Neilson, who was a member of the Willie Handcart Company. Jens, a relatively prosperous Danish farmer, heeded the call to bring his family to Zion. In Iowa he wrote that he had let all of his money go to the Church except enough to buy a handcart and stock it with 15 pounds of belongings per person. Jens wrote, “Obedience is better than sacrifice.” The people for whom Jens was responsible were himself; his wife, Elsie; their six-year-old son, Neils; and a nine-year-old girl, Bodil Mortensen, whom Jens offered to take to Utah. In the early Wyoming blizzard, temperatures plummeted below zero. The Neilsons had consumed their last pound of flour days before, but somehow they made it over the treacherous Rocky Ridge, urged on by their indomitable courage and unconquerable faith. Tragically, 13 of the company died at Rock Creek and were buried in shallow, snow-covered graves—among them, Jens and Elsie’s son, Neils, and young Bodil Mortensen. President Hinckley describes this portion of the trail as “a trail of tragedy, a trail of faith, a trail of devotion, a trail of consecration, even the consecration of life itself.” Jens arrived at Rock Creek, 11 miles beyond Rocky Ridge, with both feet frozen. He was unable to walk another step and pleaded with Elsie, “Leave me by the trail in the snow to die, and you go ahead and try to keep up with the company and save your life.” Elsie, with her unfaltering pioneer courage, replied, “Ride, I can’t leave you, I can pull the cart.” Such was the strength and the faith of many pioneer women on the trail.

Children's Hill Pull

Picture Download Site

I believe the Vanausdal's are creating a web site which will allow anyone interested to download individual pictures to their computer which can then be printed and stored in their Trek journal or other photo album. When that is up and running we will post a link to that address on this log. If you have taken photos while on the Trek in adition to sending them to the above listed e-mail address please burn a copy and give to the Vanausdal's as well so not only can they be included in this blog but also available for individual download and printing.


Comments. . .

Please feel free to leave comments. Just a Reminder to email pictures, stories or thoughts to OrchardHillsTrek@vita-flax.com to add to this web site.

Thanks For Viewing!