Thursday, May 8, 2008

The Price We Paid

Title: The Price We Paid: The Extraordinary Story of the Willie and Martin Handcart Pioneers
Author: Andrew D. Olson
Genre: Non-Fiction, LDS
Date Finished: 6 May 2008
My Rating: 5 Stars

I think this has to be the most in depth and complete telling of the Willie and Martin handcart companies.

(From the publisher)Although the story of the Willie and Martin handcart pioneers feels familiar to many of us, most of us know only selected anecdotes from this dramatic saga. In this new book, Andrew Olsen provides the most comprehensive and accessible account of this epic journey—all the way from Liverpool to the Salt Lake Valley. Along with a broad perspective of the trek, readers also get compelling personal stories from members of the company, many told in the first person. These memorable accounts include many inspiring miracles, plus clues to how the brave survivors were capable of successfully enduring so much travail. This story will motivate those who are seeking to be inspired and lifted, those who are struggling with personal difficulties, and those who are striving for greater consecration.

The first thing I did when I picked this book up was to check the index for my ancestors names. They were there, just a short paragraph but they were there. "The rescuers who met the Martin company on Rocky Ridge were led by Anson Call. He had returned from a colonizing mission about a week after Brigham Young issued the initial call to rescue. Soon after returning home, he was asked to leave again to to lead a group of rescuers from Bountiful. It is significant that this group did not turn back despite what could be considered good reasons to do so. Anson Call's rescue team met the Willie company at Fort Bridger on November 3. Some of them felt that they had fulfilled their duty when they met the Willie company, but Anson encouraged them to keep moving forward...Their timeliness in meeting the Martin company on Rocky Ridge is clear from Anson Call's own words:'We found them starving and freezing and dying, and the most suffering that I ever saw among human beings.' " (391-392)
Below that is a little blurb that says "Anson Call later married Emma Summers of the Willie company and Margaretta Clark of the Martin Company."
Anson Call and Emma Summers are my 3rd great grandparents. I am also actually related to Margaretta Clark who is a sister to another of my 3rd great grandmothers.

The title of this book, The Price We Paid, comes from a quote by handcart pioneer Francis Webster. Years after his experience Webster was in a Sunday School class where there was a discussion criticizing the handcart tragedy and the church leaders for allowing it to happen. "When he could bear the criticism no longer, he stood and asked the people to stop. Speaking calmly but with emotion, he acknowledged that is was a mistake to send the handcart companies so late. He also acknowledged that he and others in these companies had suffered greatly. 'Was I sorry that I chose to come by handcart? No. Neither then nor any minute of my life since. The price we paid to become acquainted with God was a privilege to pay, and I am thankful that I was privileged to come in the Martin handcart company.' " (2-3)
Olson brought the experiences of these pioneers to life again by telling us the details of their life in their homeland, their conversion stories, their experiences on the trail and what happened to them after they arrived in the Salt Lake Valley. While learning all the historical details of these handcart companies you are also learning about the people and what was happening to them during each phase of the migration to Utah. This is also where my only criticism of the book comes in. Because there are so many stories of the different pioneers, Olson got repetitive at times in telling the stories. At times it was welcomed, and helpful in remembering who all the different people were but at other times I just kept thinking I already read this story about 50 pages back. I did appreciate the thorough telling of the lives of so many of these pioneers, especially the histories of Captains Willie and Martin. I don't think I have ever read about these men and their lives before and after the trek.
Unlike most of the books written about the Willie and Martin handcart companies, Olson separated the stories of these two companies, making the time line of events more clear. Most of the time the experiences of these handcart companies are lumped together as if they were one but they were in reality two completely separate groups that were only together for a few days in Iowa City. Each companies experiences were vastly different from the others in many respects.
One of the stories that stood out the most for me was the difference between Franklin D. Richards and Brigham Young. Franklin D. Richards was the president of the Great Britain mission and was in charge of implementing the first season of handcart treks. He worked hard and tirelessly to get all the saints who wanted to immigrate ready and on the ships to America. But when the last two arrived so late in the season he did not encourage them to pass the winter in the Midwest instead of starting on the trail so late in the season. He believed that since they were so righteous in their desires to get to Zion that the Lord would make the way easy and hold back the bad weather. Even when he reached the Salt Lake Valley ahead of the handcart pioneers and made his report to Brigham Young, he did not seem overly concerned about the safety and well-being of those on the trail. Brigham Young, on the other hand, was very concerned. I think it is interesting that even though it was in the 70s and the first winter storms were still two weeks away, Brigham Young knew that rescue teams with provisions needed to be sent immediately. Following the handcart tragedy Brigham Young made it very clear that in no case was anyone to leave the Midwest for the Salt Lake Valley after August 1. Faith is important but faith needs to be practiced with a little common sense. Olson writes about a meeting held in the old tabernacle after the handcart tragedy during which Brigham Young gave an address saying that "emigration leaders could have made the right decision if only a bird had chirped it in their ears. He [Brigham Young] concluded by saying that a spirit of pride and arrogance is what had caused 'men and women to die on the Plains, by scores.' How were pride and arrogance manifested? By expecting God to mitigate the consequences of an unnecessarily risky decision."
Olson did not hide or try to ignore the mistakes or human weaknesses that lead to this tragedy that left more than 1,300 people on the trail with low provisions, dealing with storms, starvation, frostbite, dysentery and death. Olson also gave us the beautiful and uplifting story of these handcart pioneers and their faith and the sacrifices they made, many with out criticism and complaint, to reach Zion.

1 comment:

Debbi said...

I really enjoyed this book as well. I felt I learned so much from it and all the information was presented in a very fair way. I will have to check into the inter-library loans, but we are also moving out of state in the next month so maybe my next library will have it. Love your site!