“Come on,” Benjamin said to the other man on guard duty. “We can’t stop.” Benjamin Platt’s throat felt tight. Swallowing was difficult. He talked between clenched teeth to keep his throat from hurting. If he had felt this sick back in England, he would have gone to bed. As a member of the Martin handcart company, however, he couldn’t stop and wait to get well.
Blowing snow blocked the two men’s vision. The frozen ground was uneven, and they often stumbled.
“We have to keep moving.” Benjamin spoke with as much force as he could. “We need to check the other side of the camp.”
“Why?” his friend asked. “What are we guarding?”
“The camp’s provisions.”
The other man laughed quietly. “We have no provisions. We have nothing.”
Benjamin knew the man was right. The camp had very little. His stomach hurt with the pain of no food. His breath was shallow, his fatigue great. All he wanted to do was lie down on the frozen ground and sleep, but he knew that doing so meant sure death. So he urged himself and his companion on. They shuffled around the borders of the camp, waiting for light to ease the cold blackness.
Yesterday the handcart company had made little progress from the Platte River. Much of the snow had melted during the day, turning the trail to mud. Mud caked onto the travelers’ clothes. When the sun set behind the gloomy clouds, the heavy mud had frozen. No one was clean. Benjamin recognized most of the handcart company by their eyes and voices rather than their faces. What was not covered with rags was covered with mud and dirt.
“I can’t go anymore,” his partner said now. “I’ve done my best, and it isn’t enough.”
Benjamin looked at his tired companion. Dirt caked his face and was frozen into his hair. His hands were wrapped with rags. His pants were ripped and showed skin purple from the cold. Tears slid down his face as he grieved over not being strong enough.
Benjamin put his hand on the other man’s shoulder and helped him around the camp. “It’s OK, Brother. Just remember a poem my father used to tell me:
“For great and low,
There’s but one test.
’Tis that each man
Shall do his best.”
After one more painful tour of the camp, Benjamin’s companion crawled into a tent to rest. Benjamin began his rounds again. He heard the wind blow, and the branches of a few scattered cedar trees creaked with the weight of the snow and force of the wind. As the wind heaved one hearty blow, Benjamin saw that the large tent the man had just crawled into had collapsed.
Benjamin started forward. His wife, Mary, and at least 20 other people had been sleeping in that tent too. They were all now trapped beneath tent poles, tent fabric, and heavy snow. With numb hands, Benjamin struggled to pull up the icy fabric. The snow weighed the canvas down, smothering those underneath. The tent stakes had been pounded into muddy ground. Now the ground was frozen. Those on the inside of the tent could not pull the stakes out.
Straining every muscle, Benjamin pulled harder. A small girl was screaming under the tent. A woman started sobbing as she tried to free herself from the icy canvas that was suffocating her. Unseen hands punched upward at the tent. The group was trapped.
Scrambling frantically around the outside of the tent, Benjamin found the opening. Quickly scraping off snow, he forced himself into the opening and under the wet material. Slowly, a little at a time, he stood up with the tent on his shoulders.
Benjamin yelled, “This way. Crawl this way.” Few people heard the soft voice coming through his sore throat. Benjamin shouted louder. This time, two men understood and crawled toward his voice. When they got to where Benjamin had lifted the tent, they stood up and helped him support more of the wet material. Gradually all the people in the tent crawled out into the snowy night.
With frying pans and cooking pots, the awakened Saints scooped the snow off the downed tent. Dawn streaked the sky with soft light, so they rolled the tent up and prepared for a long day’s trek in the snow.
When the first three rescuers arrived from Salt Lake City seven days later, the Saints cheered. Benjamin didn’t join in the cheering. His throat was raw and tight. But he had yelled his best when it had mattered most.
“The only thing you need to worry about is striving to be the best you can be. And how do you do that? You keep your eye on the goals that matter most in life, and you move towards them step by step.”
Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin
Of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles
(“One Step after Another,” Liahona, Jan. 2002, 29)