Sweetwater River Crossing
Backstory and Context
Life or death is the question that
rang in the minds of those facing the dreaded Sweetwater River in November 4,
1856. These pioneers were members of the
infamous Martin Handcart Company traveling to the Salt Lake valley from their
homes in Europe to join the rest of the Saints from The Church of Jesus Christ
of Latter-Day Saints or otherwise known, Mormons.
There was an argument between the handcart members before they left for the Salt Lake valley concerning the time of season they were going to leave. Levi Savage, being a man of much experience, told of his time he was a part of the search for the Donner Party who was found in a small cabin where their members turned to cannibalism in order to survive the harsh and brutal winter. Savage learned that he was outnumbered and that people were going to continue on the trek to the Salt Lake valley late in the season he was recorded as saying. “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 have mercy bless and preserve us.” What strong words of encouragement; Levi Savage helped these pioneers push and preserve longer than they would have without his leadership around them.
After leaving very late in the summer, they got caught in frigid early winter weather and storms. This forced them to slow down as a handcart company, create smaller food rations, and suffer death amongst their ranks. After several weeks of enduring this slow travel and break down of plans, a rescue party from Salt Lake City came to help. This timing could not have been any more perfect for these Saints on the verge of death. These rescuers brought food, clothing, and other needed supplies to the stranded company. After the company had recovered to a somewhat better condition than they were before, the company began traveling again with its rescuers to help along their way.
Everything seemed okay until they came to the Sweetwater River. It was covered in ice and it looked like death to those in the company. They had barely made it through the Platte River crossing and now they had to cross a river that was even bigger and more lethal. Several people sat on the banks of the river and cried because they knew imminent danger they faced. As one member of the party was remembered saying when confronted with the Sweetwater River, “O Dear? I can’t go through that” only to have someone respond “Don’t cry, Jimmy. I’ll pull the handcart for you” (Orton, p. 7). Three of the rescue party members volunteered to carry everyone across this frozen and frigid river. These young men were George Grant, David Kimball, and Allen Huntington. They took to the river and carried every member of the handcart company across the Sweetwater River. This heroic act would be remembered for years on end and these men eventually were restricted for the rest of their lives till death because of their sacrifice.
The Sweetwater River is a remembrance to those that are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints for those who sacrificed everything in order to live their religious beliefs. Without the sacrifice of those three young men, many more members of the company would have perished before reaching the Salt Lake valley in Utah.
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