‘‘I Cannot Administer to a Dead Man”

A Miraculous Healing at the Martin Handcart Company

the-rescue-of-willey-handcart-coIn substance the following is the story told by Elder Ephraim Hanks and verified in many instances by those who were well acquainted with most of the circumstances:

“I was down to Provo on a fishing expedition, and felt impressed to go to Salt Lake, but for what reason I knew not. On my way there, I stopped overnight with Gurney Brown at Draper. Being somewhat fatigued after the hard day’s journey, I retired to rest early, and as I lay awake in my bed, I heard a voice calling me by name and then saying: ‘The handcart people are in trouble, and you are wanted; will you go help them?’ I turned instantly in the direction from whence the voice came, and beheld an ordinary-sized man in the room. Without any hesitation I answered, ‘Yes, I will go.’ I then turned over to go to sleep, but had slept only a few minutes when the voice called a second time, repeating almost the same words as on the first occasion. My answer was the same as before. This was repeated the third time.

“When I got up the next morning, I said to Brother Brown, ‘The handcart people are in trouble, and I have promised to go out and help them.’

“After breakfast I hastened on to Salt Lake and arrived there on the Saturday preceding the Sunday on which the call was made for volunteers to go and help the last handcart company in. When some of the brethren responded by saying that they would be ready to start in a few days, I spoke out at once, saying, ‘I am ready now.’

“The next day I was wending my way eastward over the mountains with a light wagon, all by myself. About ten miles east of Green River, I met quite a number of teams that had been sent to the relief of the belated companies but had turned back on account of the deep snow. Those in charge had come to the conclusion that the emigrants as well as the twenty-seven heroes who had gone to their relief, had all perished, and they did not propose to risk their lives by going any further.

“I helped myself to such things as I was in need of, and continued on my way. Just before I reached South Pass, I was overtaken by one of the worst storms that I ever witnessed. Near the summit, I came to a wagon partly loaded with provisions in charge of Redick N. Allred. After enjoying a needed rest, I secured from him a saddled horse and pack animal, and continued on my way in snow almost to my waist.

“After traveling for a day or two, I met Joseph A. Young and one of the Garr boys on their way to Salt Lake with important messages for Brigham Young. The next evening as I was making my bed, I thought to myself how nice it would be to have a buffalo robe to lie on, and some fresh meat for supper. I kneeled down and asked the Lord to send me a buffalo. Looking around, imagine my surprise when I beheld a big, fat, buffalo bull within fifty yards of my camp. As soon as I could get my gun I brought him down with the first shot. After eating tongue and tenderloin to my heart’s content, I went to sleep while my horses were loading up on sagebrush.

“The next day I reached Ice Spring Bench, about sixty miles west of Devil’s Gate, and killed another big, fat, buffalo. I cut the meat into long, thin, strips, and lashed it onto my horses. I traveled on until towards evening when I spied in the distance a black streak in the snow. As I drew nearer, it seemed to move, and then I knew what it was.

“About sundown, I reached the ill-fated handcart camp, and the sight that met my eyes was enough to rouse the emotions of the hardest heart. The starving forms and haggard looks of those poor, dejected creatures can never be blotted from my mind. Flocking around me, one would say,  ‘Please give me some meat for my hungry children.’ Shivering urchins with tears streaming down their cheeks would cry out, \Please, mister, give me some,’ and so it went. In less than ten minutes the meat was all gone, and in a short time everybody was eating bison with a relish that did one’s eyes good to behold.
“During the evening, a woman passed by the fire where I was sitting and seemed to be in great trouble. Out of curiosity I followed her to Daniel Tyler’s tent, some distance away. She asked him if he would please come and administer to her sick husband. Brother Tyler accompanied her, and when he looked at the man he said, ‘‘I cannot administer to a dead man,’ and returned to his tent, as he was almost sick himself. I went over to the campfire where Captain Grant and Heber P. Kimball were sitting, and asked them if they would assist me for a few moments, which they consented to do. We washed the man from head to foot with warm water, and then administered to him. During the administration I commanded him in the name of Jesus Christ to breathe and live. The effect was almost instantaneous, and he immediately sat up in bed and sang a song. His wife was so overjoyed that she ran through the camp crying, ‘‘My husband was dead, but the man who has brought the meat has healed him.’

“This event caused general sensation throughout the camp, and many drooping spirits took fresh courage from that very moment. After that the most of my time was spent in looking after the sick and afflicted. Some days I anointed and administered to as many as one or two hundred and in scores of instances they were healed almost instantly.
“Notwithstanding these wonderful manifestations of God’s power, many of the Saints lost their limbs either whole or in part. Many I washed with warm water and castile soap until the frozen parts would fall off, after which I would sever the shreds of flesh from the remaining portions of their limbs with my scissors. Some lost toes, some fingers, and others whole hands and feet. One woman lost both of her lower limbs to her knees.

“As the company moved on from day to day, I would leave the road with my pack animals and hunt game. On these trips I killed many buffaloes, and distributed the meat among the hungry Saints. The most remarkable thing about it was that I had traveled that road more than fifty times, and never before saw so many buffaloes in that part of the country. There was not a member of the party but what believed that the Lord had sent them to us in answer to prayer.”
On the 17th, the emigrants were filled with delight when they met William H. Kimball at the head of another relief party. It will be remembered that Elder Kimball took charge of the Willie company, at Rocky Ridge, on the morning of October 22, and remained with it until it reached the Valley on the 9th of November. After remaining in Salt Lake one day, he started back with several light wagons loaded with provisions, clothing, and medicines. . . .

The company reached South Pass on the 18th, after facing a terrible snow storm all day. There was considerable wailing among those of the emigrants who were compelled to walk, as their feet, by this time, were in dreadful condition. From there on, they met teams almost every day and soon had wagons enough to carry them all.

On November 30, the four hundred and thirteen survivors of the Martin company reached Salt Lake, and the emigrants that belonged to the Hunt and Hodgett wagon trains came straggling along until the middle of the next month. Nearly all the cattle that were taken from Devil’s Gate perished before they reached Fort Bridger.

Probably no greater act of heroism was ever recorded in the annals of history than that performed by the twenty-seven young men who, on the morning of October 7, 1856, went from the city of the Great Salt Lake to the relief of the 1,550 belated emigrants, who were caught in the early snows of a severe winter, hundreds of miles from human habitation, without food and without shelter. By their indefatigable labors these brave mountain boys were instruments in the hands of the Lord in saving 1,300 of that number. Had it not been for their heroic efforts, not enough emigrants would have been left to tell the dreadful tale.

Improvement Era 17:112-17, 201-10, 287-99.



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