Arthur Parker, Lost Boy in Handcart Company

"GREAT IS THE WORTH OF A SOUL" (Compiled and written by David Kenison, Orem, Utah, dkenison@xmission.com)

[Elder Boyd K. Packer wrote this account of a pioneer rescue:]

In the late 1850's many converts from Europe were struggling to reach the Great Salt Lake Valley. Many were too poor to afford the open and the covered wagons and had to walk, pushing their meager belongings in handcarts. Some of the most touching and tragic moments in the history of the Church accompanied these handcart pioneers.

One such company was commanded by a Brother McArthur. Archer Walters, an English convert who was with the company, recorded in his diary under July 2, 1856, this sentence:

"Brother Parker's little boy, age six, was lost, and the father went back to hunt him." (LeRoy R. Hafen and Ann W. Hafen, _Handcarts to Zion_, Pioneers Ed. Glendale, California, The Arthur H. Clark Co., 1960, p. 61.)

The boy, Arthur, was next youngest of four children of Robert and Ann Parker. Three days earlier the company had hurriedly made camp in the face of a sudden thunderstorm. It was then the boy was missed. The parents had thought him to be playing along the way with the other children.

Someone remembered earlier in the day, when they had stopped, that they had seen the little boy settle down to rest under the shade of some brush.

Now most of you have little children and you know how quickly a tired little six-year-old could fall asleep on a sultry summer day and how soundly he could sleep, so that even the noise of the camp moving on might not awaken him.

For two days the company remained, and all of the men searched for him. Then on July 2, with no alternative, the company was ordered west.

Robert Parker, as the diary records, went back alone to search once more for his little son. As he was leaving camp, his wife pinned a bright shawl about his shoulders with words such as these:

"If you find him dead, wrap him in the shawl to bury him. If you find him alive, you could use this as a flag to signal us."

She, with the other little children, took the handcart and struggled along with the company.

Out on the trail each night Ann Parker kept watch. At sundown on July 5, as they were watching, they saw a figure approaching from the east! Then, in the rays of the setting sun, she saw the glimmer of the bright red shawl.

One of the diaries records: "Ann Parker fell in a pitiful heap upon the sand, and that night, for the first time in six nights, she slept."

Under July 5, Brother Walters recorded:

"Brother Parker came into camp with a little boy that had been lost. Great joy through the camp. The mother's joy I cannot describe." (Hafen and Hafen, _Handcarts to Zion_, p. 61.)

We do not know all of the details. A nameless woodsman -- I've often wondered how unlikely it was that a woodsman should be there -- found the little boy and described him as being sick with illness and with terror, and he cared for him until his father found him.

So here a story, commonplace in its day, ends -- except for a question. How would you, in Ann Parker's place, feel toward the nameless woodsman had he saved your little son? Would there be any end to your gratitude?

To sense this is to feel something of the gratitude our Father must feel toward any of us who saves one of his children. Such gratitude is a prize dearly to be won, for the Lord has said, "If it so be that you should labor all your days in crying repentance unto this people, and bring, save it be one soul unto me, how great shall be your joy with him in the kingdom of my Father!" (D&C; 18:15.) Even so, I might add, if that soul should be our own.

And so we appeal to all to come. We call you from the world, more for what you can give than for what you can get. You are needed here. Come by families if you can, or alone if you must.

Here all that the Father hath can be given unto you. But not without cost, "For unto whomsoever much is given," much shall be required." (Luke 12:48.)

This is His church. In it you will not stand approved of all men. Many, perhaps most, will consider you strange. Some of the doctrines are not easy to understand or to accept. The commandments are not easy to live. The standards, I repeat, are high, but you can start where you are.

Many of you are burdened with unhappiness and worry and with guilt. Many of you struggle under the bondage of degrading habits or wrestle with loneliness or disappointment and failure. Some of you suffer from broken homes, broken marriages, broken hearts.

We are not offended at all of these things. All of these things may be set aside--overcome. Whoever you are and whatever you are, we reach out to extend to you the hand of fellowship so that we can lift one another and lift others.

This is His church. I have that witness. Jesus is the Christ; he lives. It's commonly taught that he is but an influence in the world. I know him to be Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Only Begotten of the Father. I testify that he has a body of flesh and bones. This is his church. Of that I bear witness, in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

- Elder Boyd K. Packer, General Conference, October 1974; see Ensign Nov 1974, p. 89-90

- Summarized in the Institute Church History Manual: "Church History in the Fulness of Times", pp. 358-9.

- "Treasures of Pioneer History" published by the Daughters of Utah Pioneers, 5:240-41.

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