The Pioneers are an important part of American History. Settling the west was no easy feat and we are grateful for the sacrifices made by these determined immigrants who settled in the desert, worked the land, and produced beautiful cities for us to enjoy.
But in our hearts, the LDS Church holds dear those pioneers who perished along the trail during that early winter in 1856. Brigham Young cancelled General Conference with the command to go and rescue the survivors.
The Riverton Wyoming Stake was blessed to actively participate in a Second Rescue of the Martin and Willie Handcart Companies. Their
story is unique, yet resonates with each one of us as we turn toward our own who need rescuing.
For many years of their leadership, the Stake Presidency of the Riverton Wyoming Stake each felt impressed that the members of those handcart companies were speaking to them, urging them to do something. At the time, they didn’t understand what, but little by little something began to unfold, and reveal itself, into a remarkable, sacred, and life-changing event.
On the night of July 21, 1991, the stake was called together for a special meeting where the presidency explained what was happening, and what each member of the stake was being asked to accomplish. Following are excerpts from the talks given by the presidency.
President Robert Scott Lorimer
Brethren and sisters, we thank you for coming. We welcome you here to this, the beginning of the Second Rescue of the Martin and Willie Handcart Companies. This is truly an historical moment in the history of the Church; one of special importance. Brethren and sisters, what you are to hear this day is very sacred and very important. You will be called upon to work and to make some sacrifices. Please listen to the things you hear. The Spirit will touch you, and you will be able to accomplish the task which is set before you.
A few years ago the Spirit of the Willie people began to rest upon me and I stood at this podium and asked you, the people of the Riverton Wyoming Stake, to pray about the Willie project. Looking back now on what has happened I realize that what I really asked for, as your Stake President, was that you would pray and help me and my counselors understand why the Spirit of the Willie people would not let us be.
In my questioning and wondering why these things had come about I spent many nights on my knees. I was concerned. I had asked this Stake to pray about the Willie project. I wasn’t sure why. I was afraid that the members of the Stake would begin to wonder if we really did have the “Willies” and were off our rocker. Spiritual experiences have happened and will continue to happen until this project is completed.
President John Kitchen
I’d like to testify to you that the Lord has been and continues to be with the Willie and Martin Handcart Companies and their people.
President Young, in speaking to the saints said, “When those persons arrive I do not want to see them put into houses by themselves. I want to have them distributed in the city among the families that have good comfortable houses. And I wish all the sisters before me and all that know how and can to nurse and wait upon the new comers and prudently administer medicine and food to them. Some you will find with their feet frozen to their ankles, some are frozen to their knees, and some have their hands frosted. We want you to receive them as your own children, and to have the same feelings for them. We are their temporal saviors, for we have saved them from death.”
We will find much the same condition in this rescue. We will find some who need to be sealed to parents, some who need to be endowed, others will need to be baptized and confirmed. the Lord loves these people and is concerned for their eternal salvation and is concerned for ours as well. Four young men carried the Martin Company across the icy Sweetwater, That same opportunity and blessing can be ours if we will do our part and show the same courage in this Spiritual Rescue.
President Kim McKinnon
Brothers and sisters, it is with great humility that I stand before you to bear my testimony of events which have recently transpired in our Stake.
I shed many tears as I read the trials of these faithful saints. They were valiant in testimony and left a legacy that we must safeguard and never forget. Their First Rescue was permeated with miracles as individuals were prompted and inspired to perform acts of selfless service. Their Second Rescue has many parallels in terms of the prodding and the inspiration which has come.
At the time, the Church had just recently come out with a Family Search program. After overcoming many obstacles, Pres. McKinnon was finally able to fill the Stake’s two Family History Centers with new computers and this new program. One day he asked Pres. Lorimer, “Why have I been so pushed about these computers? Why the great sense of urgency?” President Lorimer blurted out, “It’s the Willie’s People.”
President Lorimer indicated that the words had come into his mind in a distinct and unconfused manner that he had never before experienced. “It’s the Willie’s people! Their temple work hasn’t been done.”
It was shocking to think that these people had never had their temple work done, but as they soaked in this new insight, they realized this is what all of their prayers were for. Pres. McKinnon says, “We were embarrassed and humbled that these people had been waiting for over a hundred and thirty five years for all of this to come together.”
As they connected with the Brethren, in Salt Lake City, they asked, “Why now and why us?”
The Brethren said, “This apparently wasn’t possible until the resources were developed to allow it to happen. They died within the confines of your Stake, and President Lorimer is their Stake President. Now that the time is right it should appropriately come to him.”
The answer to a sad question was realized by President Kim McKinnon. Why haven’t their progenitors done the work for these brave people who gave their all and died on the High Plains of Wyoming trying to get to a temple? “We found that many did not have families who were members of the Church and as such became lost souls with no descendants to do their work.”
Later in the meeting, Pres. Lorimer spoke again with these words. “The similarities of this rescue are far and wide to that of the first. Brigham Young wept as he saw children with frozen feet and hands. He wept for those who didn’t make it. He prayed for the temporal rescuers of the Willie and the Martin people. In my conversation with President HInckley a week ago he became quite upset. He said, ‘President Lorimer, why isn’t these peoples’ work done?’ And I said, ‘President Hinckley, I don’t know.’ He said, ‘President, don’t you stop until it’s finished.’”
Pres. Lorimer continued, “Brethren and sisters we have been called to do a great work. This is the point of no return. This Stake will be changed. Our lives will be changed because of what it is we are going to do. Do not become discouraged. This is not going to be easy. The sisters are particularly difficult, not because they are sisters. You have to find their maiden name and sometimes that’s kind of hard–for example, Anne Olsen who was in the Willie company. Do you know how many Anne Olsens were born in England in the year 1814? Thousands, but we found our Anne in the computer system. When we did, I about broke three of President McKinnon’s ribs. I was so excited to see those names on that screen.”
“These people’s story has been told everywhere. It’s a motivational story of commitment to the Gospel and an understanding of the importance of the principles of salvation. They have been lost for a hundred and thirty-five years. Some of you will get names of people whose work has been done and that’s ok. If you have a name, and even if you don’t have one, that has had the work done, start looking at your own. Because in your family there are hundreds of [lost people] that need their work done.”
Information from “Remember–The Willie and Martin Handcart Companies and their Rescuers–Past and Present”, Compiled and written by members of the Riverton Wyoming Stake.