Journey by Handcart (Part One)


A true story retold from Janetta Ann McBride’s journal and her family’s history
We’ll find the place which God for us prepared, Far away in the West (Hymns, no. 30).

I’m very happy with my name, Janetta Ann McBride. Brigham Young gave me that name and blessed me when I was a baby. He was one of the elders who visited at my parents’ home in Church Town, England, where I was born on Christmas Eve in 1839. It isn’t everyone who can claim that a prophet gave them a name and a blessing.

My father was originally from Scotland. He came to England for work. There he met my mother and married her. They joined the Church just a few years later.

When I was six years old, my family moved to Island of Bute, Scotland. I at-tended the School of Industry, where I learned how to sew and keep house. I graduated when I was eleven years old. That’s when most children began working to help their family with expenses.

I, too, would have gone straight to work, except I got sick. Instead, I was sent to live with my grandmother by the seashore. It was thought that the sea air would be good for my health. It must have been, because I got well. But Grandmother had a serious accident one day and died. By that time, my family had moved back to England, and I moved there to live with them.

At the age of fourteen, I was apprenticed to a dressmaker and learned how to make beautiful dresses. I worked for her for two years. Then my family made the decision to move to America. Times were hard in England. Jobs and food were both scarce. Also a call had gone out from the Church for the Saints to gather to Zion.

At age sixteen, I was the oldest of the children in our family. Heber had just turned thirteen. Ether was eight, Peter six, and Margaret was still a baby, not quite two years old. We loved the Lord with all our hearts. We had been commanded to gather to Zion, and so we began our journey, one step at a time. Little did we know what would face us on the journey ahead. I think, though, that even if we had known, we still would have gone.

The Church had a special fund at that time that loaned money to members for travel to Salt Lake City, Utah. In 1856, however, there wasn’t much money in it. To cut expenses, it was decided that my family, along with many others, would travel across the plains by handcart. The journey from Liverpool, England, to Salt Lake City would then only cost about forty-five dollars per person—much less than the cost of using wagons and ox teams to cross the plains.

But first we had to sail to America!

I was excited when my family packed up their belongings and headed for Liverpool. It was a great seaport, teeming with ships of every kind. I loved watching the ships being loaded and unloaded with every kind of article you could imagine. Spices from India scented the air. Passenger ships were a hive of activity as their holds were loaded with food and water. There was so much to see!

Our ship was the Horizon, a good ship. We had fine weather all the way across the Atlantic, except for a few days when it was so foggy that we couldn’t even get candles to burn! On June 30, 1856, we safely landed in Boston, Massachusetts. We were thrilled to be in the land where the gospel had been restored!

I don’t think any of us had any idea how big America really was. When we landed in Boston, we didn’t realize that our long journey was just beginning, rather than nearing its end.

From Boston, we traveled to Iowa City, Iowa, by railroad. The new railroad saved us weeks of traveling by wagon. The cattle cars were crowded, but we endured the journey well. The train stopped in Buffalo, New York, on the Fourth of July. We could only watch the people celebrate. How I wanted to join them!

Finally we arrived in Iowa City. From the train station, we walked three miles in rain and mud to the place where we were to meet the Church’s agent in charge of organizing the trek. We had been assured that everything would be ready for us when we arrived, but it wasn’t. The handcarts hadn’t even been built! We camped and worked at preparing for the journey until all was ready.

Eventually the handcarts were obtained, and our family was assigned to Captain Edward Martin’s company. Near the end of July 1856, we cheerfully began our journey to Zion. Our family had three carts when we started out. Each cart could carry about 120 pounds of baggage, 100 pounds of flour, cooking utensils, and additional food. There were 576 people in our company. I’d never been with so many members of the Church!

Pulling the handcarts wasn’t bad at first. But many of them broke down because they were built of green wood. We pulled those carts three hundred miles to Florence, Nebraska. The last members of our company, and the Willie company, arrived there on August 22. As soon as we arrived, there was some disagreement as to whether we should continue on. Some said that it was too late in the year. They felt that we should set up a winter camp in Florence and wait until spring to travel to Salt Lake City. But most of the Saints were for starting immediately. After much discussion, it was decided to continue on. We were anxious to finish our long journey. About a thousand miles remained ahead of us, but we had already come so many miles that another thousand seemed like a short trip. We didn’t know that the worst part of our journey was still ahead.

(To be concluded in the August 2000 Friend.)

[illustration] Handcart Company, by C. C. A. Christiansen

[illustrations] Illustrated by Scott Greer