Thirst


A true story

The summer of 1870 was a good time to live in the valley of the Great Salt Lake and to be 16 years old! The pioneers’ original settlement was becoming a bustling city, and there was work for anyone willing and able.

That is just what young Robert Hemphill Gillespie was. Bob had gained a reputation for being good with horses and cattle and for being a hard worker.

Bob already had a fine horse and the necessary gear for it—a big accomplishment for such a young man, especially one who had been on his own with no home or parents since he was nine. He had proven himself to be trustworthy and dependable, and people liked to hire him.

One fine June day, Bob accepted a job that required him to cross 100 miles (160 kilometers) of the Great Salt Lake desert. Today people can cross this desert in a car in less than two hours. But on that day more than 130 years ago, it took many hours on a horse. Friends told Bob to be sure and take along some water, so he filled a canteen and set off.

Bob had never crossed a desert before, and he didn’t realize the danger of needing water and having no place to get it. He drank all the water he had before he had covered even half the distance. When he and his horse really began to suffer, Bob figured they still had about 60 miles (98 kilometers) to go.

He thought, “Oh, if I had only saved some of the water! It was warm, but it was wet! If I hadn’t hung the canteen on my shoulder where it was so handy, I might have a little left now!”

He thought of all those swallows of water he had taken when he was not in real need as he was now! In desperate hope, he turned the canteen upside down above his mouth once more. The water really was gone! Fear made him urge his horse to go faster—for a while. Then he noticed that his horse was sweating, and he slowed down.

Soon Bob’s tongue was so swollen he couldn’t close his mouth. His horse was suffering too. “We have to have water!” Bob said to himself.

Just then he saw a small cabin a short distance off the trail. A cabin meant there would be water! He immediately turned in that direction. When he reached the cabin, he found it deserted. There was a deep hole in the ground nearby, and there appeared to be water at the bottom. Bob climbed inside. There was a little water! But there were also dead birds, a dead rabbit, and maggots! The water was bad. Sorrowing, Bob climbed out, mounted his horse, and returned to the trail.

Then he remembered his mother teaching him to pray when he was a small child. He had not prayed in a long time, but he decided to try. Looking around for a suitable place, he left the trail again. He found a large, low place, dismounted, knelt, and began to pray, pleading for water: “Please send me a drink, Lord. Yes, and a drink for my poor horse too! My fine, good horse! Please, Lord!”

Bob thought of rain. “God, canst Thou send rain, please?” he prayed. “Please forgive me, Lord, but we need a drink. Please make it rain. I thank Thee, Lord. Amen.”

After his prayer Bob felt a little better. He climbed back on his horse and rode on, still filled with thoughts of the heat, his thirst, and his horse’s thirst.

Recalling that he had asked for rain, Bob began to scan the sky for clouds. All he could see was one tiny cloud, far to the southwest. He watched that cloud closely, wondering and thinking. After a while he noticed a little wind coming toward him from the direction of that little cloud. Could it be drifting his way? It seemed larger now too. “Yes, Lord,” he said aloud, “I prayed for rain.”

Soon a drop of rain hit his hand. Another hit his saddle, another hit the horse, and then one hit his hand again. Suddenly there came a rain shower from that one little cloud! Within a few minutes, water was rushing down the trail and into a little ravine beside the trail, reaching almost to the horse’s knees! The horse bowed his head and drank. Bob dismounted, got down on his belly, and gratefully drank his fill of the muddy water. Then he refilled his canteen. Refreshed, he and his horse continued on their way.

After riding just a short distance, Bob found that the trail and the ground all around him were hot, dry, and dusty once again. It was then that Bob fully realized what had happened. Halting his horse, he again dismounted and knelt on the dusty trail. Again he prayed with a full heart: “I thank Thee, Lord, for making rain come from a small cloud in the desert so my horse and I could have a drink.”

From that day until Bob died at the age of 86, he told this experience many times to his children and grandchildren. They never tired of hearing it, and they have passed it on to their children and grandchildren.

The most thrilling moment every time Bob told the story was when he bore his testimony: “Now, children, don’t ever let anyone convince you that the Lord can’t answer your prayer, for I know that He can!”

[illustrations] Illustrations by Dick Brown