In preparation for our week-long handcart adventure to Martin's Cove, Rocky Ridge and other Mormon history sites, we have been studying the lives of the pioneers from the Willie and Martin Handcart companies. Adam and I will be sitting reading together and look up at each other only to see that both of us are in tears. There are so, so many touching recorded and unrecorded stories.
Here is one that makes me tear up every time I read it. It's about James Kirkwood, an 11 year old boy from the Willie Handcart company. He was the 4th of 5 children. His mother was a recent widow and had lost one of her children but still wanted to emigrate to Utah with her 4 children, one of whom was crippled. On October 23rd, with the land covered in snow and a blizzard blowing through the area, Captain Willie told the company they had to find shelter. There was a cove 15 miles from camp, up and over Rocky Ridge. Joseph was James' four year old little brother and his shoes had worn out. 'That morning we left camp on the Sweetwater and began to hike Rocky Ridge. Joseph's shoes had worn out. His feet were numb from the snow and ice. Joseph would not and could not walk any more. The group was leaving us. I told Joseph not to worry, that I would take care of him. I picked Joseph up, first in my arms then over my shoulders and then in my arms again. Many times he began to slip from my grasp because my fingers were frozen. But I would take a short rest before picking him up and pressing on. The group had left us far behind. But I did not give up. I knew that if I stopped my brother would surely die. Over the last miles, Joseph tried to talk to me, but I could not respond. Mother was waiting for us at camp. I gently set Joseph down by the campfire. My last thought was that now, having brought Joseph to safety, I too could rest. I was buried in Rock Creek Hollow with 12 others.' John Chislett said that James,..."having so faithfully carried out his task, collapsed and died from exposure and over-exertion."
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