October 19, 1856 was a very cold autumn day in the Nebraska Territory. After the Willie Handcart Company passed what is known as Ice Springs (nine miles west of Jeffrey City, in central Wyoming), snow fell for about half an hour. Due to low rations and exposure, many were sick and had to ride uncomfortably in wagons. Five members of the company died that day—the most to die in a single day since leaving England.
Just as things started to look as bleak as ever, a miracle happened. Four men—an advance party of the rescuers who had left the Salt Lake valley a few weeks earlier—suddenly appeared, Cyrus H. Wheelock and Joseph A. Young, a 22-year-old son of Brigham Young, among them. Their news of the coming rescue party with teams and wagons loaded with provisions, filled the weary handcart company with cheer and hope, in spite of the cold.
Joseph Young recognized Emily Hill (20 years old) from when he served in Great Britain. When he saw Emily in her near starved condition, Emily reported later the Joseph burst into tears. He gave her an onion to eat, but she saved it. When she saw a man near death, lying near a fire, she gave the onion to the sick man. The man later said that this small act by Emily saved his life.
Susannah Stone Lloyd, who was age 25 at the time, wrote of her own experience about a week before: “Only once did my courage fail. One cold dreary afternoon, my feet having been frosted, I felt I could go no further, and withdrew from the little company and sat down to wait the end, being somewhat in a stupor. After a time I was aroused by a voice, which seemed as audible as anything could be, and which spoke to my very soul of the promises and blessings I had received, and which should surely be fulfilled and that I had a mission to perform in Zion. I received strength and was filled with the Spirit of the Lord and arose and traveled on with a light heart.”
When we are tested to the very limit, if we are living by genuine faith, we can expect a power beyond our own to reach down and lift us, whether by the voice of the Spirit or by hand of His servants.
It is through our extremity that we find that God is real and involved in the details of our lives.
For more information, see The Travels of the Willie Handcart Company.