When Brigham Young returned from enlisting men for the Mormon Battalion at Mt. Pisgah and Garden Grove, the Parkinson twins and their father came with him. Sister Parkinson had died in Garden Grove, and Brother Parkinson had traveled to Council Bluffs with the children. He wanted to enlist in the Mormon Battalion if he could arrange for Eliza and Elija to stay with Tommy’s mother until he returned.
“Tommy and I have been wondering who we could get to drive the other wagon while his father is away, and Betsy has been wanting a sister for a long time,” Tommy’s mother smiled.
All was arranged, and Brother Parkinson joined Tommy’s father as a member of the battalion. On July 20, to the accompaniment of Pitt’s Brass Band, the battalion started for Fort Leavenworth and the long march to California.
As Tommy watched the battalion march away, he remembered the words of his father: “I am not leaving you alone, Tommy. The brethren will help you, and our Heavenly Father will be as near to you as you will let him be.”
When the battalion was out of sight, Brigham Young stood on a wagon box to speak to those who were left behind. Tommy listened to him announce:
“We are not going any further west this year. Instead, we will establish a winter camp across the river. Wild peas grow there in abundance for winter feeding of the stock, and these will satisfy the needs of our cattle. We can also harvest the tall prairie grass for them.
“The Indians have given us permission to stay on their land and use their timber and water. In return we are to help harvest their corn and trade with them when possible.
“It will take the dedicated effort of every able-bodied man and boy to harvest the prairie grass, plow and plant the fields, and build houses before cold weather sets in.
“We will start moving across the river tomorrow. The ferry will transport the wagons and the people, but the thirty thousand head of cattle, sheep, horses, and mules will have to swim across.
“We have a big task ahead, but with God at the helm, we cannot fail.”
The next day Tommy and Elija waited a turn to drive their two wagons onto the ferry. Then they unhitched the oxen and took them down to the river’s edge. Eliza and Betsy and her mother were there waiting with Old Nell, the family cow.
Tommy’s mother was fearful. “It is so far to the other side, and the water is deep and black. With so many cattle in the river, who knows what might happen! Surely someone else can take our cattle across for us.”
Tommy was thoughtful for a minute and then asked, “Don’t you remember, Mama, that Brigham Young said the boys must accept their share of responsibility?”
“We will help each other,” said Elija. “And there will be others who will help us if we need it.”
Tommy’s mother gave each boy a hug and then returned to the ferry with the girls.
Tommy and Elija coaxed the animals into the water. They each jumped on one of the lead oxen. At first the oxen were frightened and the boys found it difficult to hang on to them, but after a few minutes they were swimming steadily forward.
All around were oxen belonging to those whose wagons were being ferried across the river. Everything went well until one animal became frightened. Tommy tried to push the ox away with his foot, then he tried talking to him in soothing tones, but nothing did any good. The frightened animal bumped into Tommy’s ox, and Tommy almost fell into the river. The owner of the animal shouted, “Reach for his horns, Tommy!”
Tommy looked down and saw that the animal was so close that if he could just get hold of his horns, he would be able to slide over on his back without falling into the river. Elija called out, “Now, Tommy! Now!”
Tommy let go of the horns of his own animal, grabbed for the horns of the frightened ox, and caught them. Another moment and it would have been too late. Tommy was able to pull himself over onto the back of the ox and was able to calm him. Soon they were making their way to the other side of the river.
When the animals were safely out, Elija exclaimed, “Tommy, you were terrific!”
The owner of the ox was grateful. “If it hadn’t been for you,” he said, “we would all have been in trouble.”
Tommy was pleased, but he knew that without the help of the owner and Elija, he would never have tried to do what he did. And without the help of his Heavenly Father, he could not have succeeded.
He thought again of his father’s words when he left with the battalion—“I am not leaving you alone, Tommy. The brethren will help you, and your Heavenly Father will be as close as you will let him be.”
For the first time since his father left, Tommy knew that all would be well.