JOHN JACQUES AND MARTIN HANDCART COMPANY SUFFERING

(Compiled and written by David Kenison, Orem, Utah, dkenison@xmission.com)

Elder John Jacques was born in 1827 in England and baptized in 1845. He crossed the plains with the Martin Handcart Company in 1856. In a series of letters to the Salt Lake Herald in 1878 and 1879, he related some poignant details of the company's trek and eventual rescue late in 1856:

"One man's hand-cart broke down one afternoon in the hills, and by some mischance the company all went on, leaving him behind, alone with his broken cart and his and his family's little stock of worldly goods thereon. He was drawing his little child in his cart, as he had drawn her most of the journey, and as he subsequently drew her to the last crossing of the Platte, but when his cart broke down he had to transfer her to somebody else's cart and send her on with the company. So he remained behind with his cart, anxiously expecting somebody to turn back and help him, but no one came. Night drew on apace, and still he was all alone, save and excepting the presence of a prowling wolf, which could be seen in the streak of light on the western horizon, a little outside of ordinary rifle range. Happily, just as darkness was settling down, Captain Hodgett's wagon company was observed coming down the opposite hill, from the east, at the base of which it encamped, a quarter or half a mile distant from the benighted and lonely hand-cart; he eagerly went and told his tale of misfortune to the wagon people, and they took him in for the night...."

Before long, the weather turned cold, and the suffering intensified:

"On the 19th of October the company crossed the Platte, for the last time, at Red Buttes, about five miles above the bridge. That was a bitter cold day. Winter came on all at once, and that was the first day of it. The river was wide, the current strong, the water exceedingly cold and up to the wagon beds in the deepest parts, and the bed of the river was covered with cobble stones. Some of the men carried some of the women over on their backs or in their arms, but others of the women tied up their skirts and waded through, like heroines that they were, and as they had done through many other rivers and creeks. The company was barely over when snow, hail and sleet began to fall, accompanied by a piercing north wind, and camp was made on this side of the river. That was a nipping night, and it told its tale on the oxen as well as on the people. At Deer Creek, on the 17th of October, owing to the growing weakness of emigrants and teams, the baggage, including bedding and cooking utensils, was reduced to ten pounds per head, children, under eight years, five pounds. Good blankets and other bedding and clothing were burned, as they could not be carried further, though needed more than ever, for there was yet four hundred miles of winter to go through...."

At the last crossing of the Sweetwater, the Saints faced a stream that was icy cold to the point of having chunks of ice floating down it. Some of the young men sacrificed greatly in helping women and children cross the river. Others did the best they could on their own:

"In the rear part of the company two men were pulling one of the hand-carts, assisted by one or two women, for the women pulled as well as the men all the way, so long as the hand-carts lasted. When the cart arrived at the bank of the river, one of these men, who was much worn down, asked, in a plaintive tone, 'Have we get to go across there?' On being answered yes, he was so much affected that he was completely overcome. That was the last strain. His fortitude and manhood gave way. He exclaimed, 'Oh dear! I can't go through that,' and burst into tears. His wife, who was by his side, had the stouter heart of the two at that juncture, and she said soothingly, 'Don't cry, Jimmy. I'll pull the hand-cart for you.' ... While in the river the sharp cakes of floating ice below the surface of the water struck against the bare shins of the emigrant, inflicting wounds, which never healed until he arrived at Salt Lake, and the dark scars of which he bears to this day."

Gradually the rescuers came from Salt Lake to assist, but the trials were not over. There was still much distance to travel:

"The hand-cart company rested in Martin's Ravine two or three or more days. Though under the shelter of the northern mountains, it was a cold place. One night the gusty wind blew over a number of the tents, and it was with difficulty some of the emigrants could keep from freezing. One afternoon Captain Martin and two or three other men started to go from the camp to Devil's Gate, but a snow storm came on and they mistook their bearings and lost their way. After wandering about for several hours, they came near perishing. In their exigency they endeavored to make a fire to warm themselves. They gathered some cedar twigs and struck match after match to light them, but in vain. At length, with their last match and the aid of portions of their body linen, they succeeded in starting a fire. This was seen from the hand-cart camp, from which, after all their anxious and weary wanderings, they were only about half a mile distant. Help soon came to the benighted wanderers and the 'boys' carried Captain Martin, who was nearly exhausted, back to camp. By this time there was a sufficiency of wagons to take in most if not all of the baggage of the company, and to carry some of the people. It was a trying time that day in leaving the ravine. One perplexing difficulty was to determine who should ride, for many must still walk, though, as far as I recollect, and certainly for most of the company, the cart pulling occupation was gone. There was considerable crying of women and children, and perhaps of a few of the men, whom the wagons could not accommodate with a ride. One of the relief party remarked that in all the mobbings and drivings of the Mormons he had seen nothing like it. C.H. Wheelock could scarcely refrain from shedding tears, and he declared that he would willingly give his own life if that would save the lives of the emigrants."

(Orson F. Whitney, _History of Utah_, 1:559-564)

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Copyright 1998, David Kenison and LDS-Gems, dkenison@xmission.com
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