“Verily I say unto you, all among them who know their hearts are honest, and are broken, and their spirits contrite, and are willing to observe their covenants by sacrifice—yea, every sacrifice which I, the Lord, shall command—they are accepted of me.”
Doctrine and Covenants 97:8
Some of those “willing to observe their covenants by sacrifice,” were the Mormon pioneers. Despite terrible conditions the pioneers traveled over 1,000 miles to arrive in Utah. In their extremities the pioneers came to know God and His matchless power.
Here are some faith-promoting stories from the pioneers:
Pioneer stories of faith
One day, young Agnes Caldwell and Mary Hurren encountered rattlesnakes. They carefully jumped past the rattlesnakes for what seemed to be more than a mile. They attributed their safety to the Lord’s protecting hand.
The Lord promised James Bleak his family would arrive safely in Utah. One day, James’ 5-year-old son Thomas fell into the river. When they took him out, he appeared to be dead. After no success, the company suggested they bury Thomas. James refused, remembering the Lord’s promise. He and his wife prayed and revived James.
On another occasion James became ill. Members of the company told his wife Elizabeth that James must be left behind. Elizabeth wrapped James in a blanket and left him at the side of the road. That night a lady asked Elizabeth about James and upon finding out the company had left him, the lady reminded Elizabeth of the prophetic promise they received. A wagon went back for James and the company nursed him back to health. The family arrived safely in Salt Lake City on November 30th, 1856.
One night when there was no food for dinner, Ann Rowley prayed and found two hard sea biscuits from her sea voyage. She knew the Lord could multiply food as he did in the New Testament with loaves and fishes to feed the 5,000. Ann put the biscuits in a dutch oven with water and asked for God’s blessing. She put on a lid and placed the dutch oven in the coals. When she took off the lid, the dutch oven was filled with food.
One day in Sunday School, a group of adults criticized the church for letting the Martin Handcart company suffer on their 1856 trek. An older man named Francis Webster stood up and said:
“I ask you to stop this criticism. You are discussing a matter you know nothing about. Cold historic facts mean nothing here, for they give no proper interpretation of the questions involved. Mistake to send the Handcart Company out so late in the season? Yes! But I was in that company and my wife was in it, and Sister Nellie Unthank whom you have cited here was there, too. 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? Every one of us came through with the absolute knowledge that God lives for we became acquainted with Him in our extremities!…I have pulled my handcart when I was so weak and weary from illness and lack of food that I could hardly put one foot ahead of the other. I have looked ahead and seen a patch of sand or a hill slope and I have said, I can go only that far and there I must give up for I cannot pull the load through it. I have gone to that sand and when I reached it, the cart began pushing me! I have looked back many times to see who was pushing my cart, but my eyes saw no one. I knew then that the Angels of God were there…Was I sorry that I chose to come by handcart? No! Neither then nor any minute of my life since. The price we paid to become acquainted with God was a privilege to pay and I am thankful that I was privileged to come in the Martin Handcart Company.”
Ellen’s parents died along the pioneer trail. Eventually Ellen Unthank‘s legs had to be amputated. Despite losing the bottom half of her legs, Ellen reared six children, worked and didn’t complain about her situation. Once a year Ellen and her children volunteered to clean the church meetinghouse.
After traveling through waist-high frozen streams and snow 4-5 feet deep, Louisa Mellor‘s mother could not keep up with the company and said she could go no further. Louisa prayed with faith God that would help them reach camp. As Louisa walked back to her mother, she found a pie in the road. After eating the pie, Louisa and her mother were able to cotinue their journey and reach camp at 10 p.m..
James Willie came to America from England when he was 21. James married and joined the Church. A decade later he returned to England to serve a mission. After his mission, James joined the pioneers as captain of the Fourth Handcart Company. He led his company by example, wading every stream back and forth until his feet bled and he was unable to stand.
When Levi Savage warned pioneers of the dangers that lied ahead of them, he was rebuked for not having enough faith. Despite his rebuke, Levi stayed with the group and helped them through their sufferings. He said “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 lived true to his word, working tirelessly to help suffering pioneers along the trek.
Brigham Young sent James Cole to help stranded handcart companies. One night James dreamed he would meet his future wife among the stranded saints. From his dream he said his future wife was beautiful, wore a fur cap, and a green veil tied over her cap. He explained his dream to a member of his recue team (William Kimball) who replied, “We will see no beautiful girl with a fur cap and a green veil in these frozen Saints.” As James’ rescue party arrived to help the stranded pioneers, William Kimball saw a 23-year old, Lucy Ward wearing a green veil. He said, “Brother Jim, there is your dream girl.” James asked Lucy to get in the wagon and she said, “No, I don’t know you.” Later Lucy realized she wanted to marry James and on November 2, 1856, William Kimball married them at Fort Bridger.
“It is not enough to study or reenact the accomplishments of our pioneers. We need to identify the great, eternal principles they applied to achieve all they achieved for our benefit and then apply those principles to the challenges of our day. In that way we honor their pioneering efforts, and we also reaffirm our heritage and strengthen its capacity to bless our own posterity and those millions of our Heavenly Father’s children who have yet to hear and accept the gospel of Jesus Christ. We are all pioneers in doing so.”
- Dallin H. Oaks
Personal Notes: The closest I’ve experience to a pioneer trek was a three-day backpacking trip through the Appalachian Mountains. One day we hiked 13 miles up and down on a steep incline- my legs never felt so exhausted. While I may not pass through physical trials as rigorous as the pioneers did, I hope to work as hard as I can to merit their company some day.