LDS Pioneers and Converts
I gave this talk on July 25, 2003, the day after "Pioneer Day", which
commemorates when the first Mormon pioneers entered the Salt Lake
Valley, where they settled after their trek west. This topic was
challenging to me, since I am a convert, and had no relatives who made
As it turns out, the other speaker (who spoke after me) was descended
from people who survived the Martin Handcart Company. This was one of
the last hardcart companies to leave for Salt Lake during 1856. They
experienced a number of problems, including most
of their cattle being stolen by natives, early snow storms.
Many died along the way, and many of those that survived
lost fingers, toes, or feet and hands from exposure to the cold.
Table of Contents
Dear brothers and sisters:
I figure that if I live long enough, the Lord will teach me what I need
to know. It hasn't been easy for him, but fortunately he never gives up.
This week, several things came together to help me (once again) learn a
lesson He has been trying to teach me for some time.
It all started last Sunday during our Branch Presidency Meeting, when
they were discussing today's Sacrament Meeting. The topic would be
pioneers, and I wondered to myself, "what do the pioneers have to do with
me?" I'm a convert. None of my ancestors crossed the plains to get to
Shortly after that, President Boik assigned me that very same subject for
a talk. Great! I don't mind giving talks, especially if it is on a topic
that I know and love, but this topic? Why me? It seems that I have a
When I first joined the Church, my least favorite part of the scriptures
was the Doctrine & Covenants. There were a few sections that seemed
important, but there was also a lot of revelations to early church
members, and I wasn't sure how they applied to me and my life.
That was the first sign that I needed to develop a better appreciation of
early church members.
At one point I was called to teach in Primary. I was the Valiant B
teacher, which is now called the Valiant 10 class. These were 9 year
olds turning 10 that year. They were great kids, and I loved to teach
them. The only problem was the lesson manual. Back then, each class
learned a different topic. And the topic for Valiant B was Church
I loved teaching that class. I really got to enjoy the portions of church
history covered by the class. We learned about the early beginnings of
the church, the pioneers, and the presidents of the church.
Well, eventually I was released from Primary, and after several callings,
I was asked to teach early morning Seminary for our ward. This is where
Sister Boik and I first met. We were both teaching Seminary that year. As
most of you probably know, each year, Seminary studies a different set of
scriptures. They will study the Old Testament, the New Testament, the
Book of Mormon, and Doctrine and Covenants. Care to guess what they were
studying the year I was called? Yep, Doctrine and Covenants.
I very much enjoyed teaching Seminary, and got a much better appreciation
of the Doctrine and Covenants that year. But, as before, shortly after I
got released, I seemed to forget how much I enjoyed Church History.
One of my favorite Primary lessons consisted of four letters that were
written from early pioneers to my Primary class. The lesson manuals had
these four letters that were based on the writings of these early
pioneers, but they were worded as if they were written for you and me
If you haven't served in Primary, it is hard to imagine how spiritual it
can be. Some of my most spiritual experiences in the Church have happened
in Primary. As I read these letters again in preparing for this talk, I
was able to remember how much the pioneers meant to me.
I would like to share them with you at this time.
At this point in my talk, I read four letters that were part of the
Primary Lesson from back in the 1980's and early 1990's. The manual, of
course, was copywritten, and unfortunately, the
has not granted permission to post these letters on this site. As a
result, only a summary can be provided at this time.
He was born in Wales in 1810
Although he received a college education (which was rare back then),
what he really wanted to do was be a sailor.
He sailed all five oceans until he was 31, at which time he came to
He built a steamboat,
The Maid of Iowa
, and transported people up and down the Mississippi river.
When Parley P. Pratt needed a boat to send some people to Nauvoo (a
Mormon settlement) he hired Dan's boat.
When Dan met the prophet Joseph Smith, he was very impressed, studied
the Church, and was baptized a member in 1843.
Dan become good friends with Joseph Smith, and when Joseph Smith and
his brother Hyrum were arrested and sent to Carthage Jail, Dan went
along to keep his friend company.
The night before Joseph and Hyrum were killed by a mob, Joseph Smith
hinted that he knew he was going to die, but promised Dan that he would
live to see Wales again.
The day of the killing, Joseph sent Dan to see Governor Boggs with a
message warning of the problems in Carthage, but the Governor wouldn't
After seeing the Governor, Dan went to see Joseph's lawyers. By
mistake, he took the wrong road, but later found out that a gang of men
had been waiting to kill him, had he taken the correct road.
He eventually served a mission in Wales (where Joseph promised he would
visit) for four years, and baptized an average of a thousand people
After crossing the plains to Salt Lake, he explored southern Utah.
He was called to serve a second mission in Wales in 1852. During this
mission, he baptized John Perry, who was the first director of the
Mormon Tabernacle Choir.
Dan died in 1861 at Provo, Utah.
(See Ivan J. Barrett, Dan Jones: The Modern Day Paul mimeographed [Provo
Utah: Missionary Training Center]; Rex L. Christensen, Ensign, Mar. 1982,
C. Allen Huntington
Allen was 18 when Brigham Young learned that the Martin Handcart
Company were in trouble trying to get to the Salt Lake Valley.
Brigham organized several groups to travel east to meet the company at
various times and to provide help (food, clothes, blankets, etc.)
Allen and two of his friends, George W. Grant and David P. Kimball,
went with a group to offer assistance.
The group met up with the Martin Handcart Company as they arrived at
the Sweetwater River on Nov. 3, 1856.
The river had large chunks of ice floating downstream, and the company
was too weak to cross the river. Stepping into the frozen river seemed
like certain death. Grown men sat on the ground and cried when they saw
what seemed to be the end of their attempt.
Allen and his friends jumped into the icy water, and carried almost all
the people across the river.
When Brigham Young heard what the three boys did, he cried and said
that their actions would ensure everlasting salvation in the Celestial
Kingdom of God.
In later years, all three boys died of complications related to their
exposure in the icy waters while carrying the people across the river.
Nevertheless, they often said they were glad they were able to serve
the Lord by helping the company get to Salt Lake.
(See Solomon F. Kimball, Improvement Era, Feb. 1914, p. 288.)
Ephraim K. Hanks
Eph (as his friends called him), wanted to be a sailor, so he sailed
the Atlantic Ocean, visiting Europe and South America.
He returned home in 1844 to Ohio, where he found that his father had
died, and his brother had joined the LDS church.
The boys' mother was upset, and had several ministers try to talk his
brother into quitting the Mormon church. Eph found the ministers'
behavior rude, and wanted to learn more.
Eph travelled to Nauvoo, where he met Joseph Smith, and gained a
testimony that he was a prophet.
He helped build the Nauvoo temple, and travelled to Utah with the
When returning from a trip, he stayed the night at a friend's house.
During the night he heard a voice tell him that the handcart people
were in trouble, and asked him if he would help. This happened three
The next morning, he told his friends that he was going to help the
handcart people. He travelled to Salt Lake City, and arrived the day
that Brigham Young asked for volunteers to help the company. Most
people said they could be ready in a few days, but Eph declared that we
was ready to go right then.
The next day, Eph was travelling through the mountains in a light wagon
with supplies. He ran into the worst snow storm he had ever seen. The
snow became so deep the wagon couldn't pass through the snow.
Eph abandoned the wagon, then placed supplies on one horse, and rode
the other, to continue on his journey.
That night, he was thinking about how nice a buffalo robe would be to
keep him warm, and how good some buffalo meat would taste. Upon
completing a prayer for a buffalo, he looked up and saw a buffalo
within fifty yards of his camp. His first show brought it down, so he
had meat for dinner, and a robe to keep himself warm.
At the end of the following day, he met the Martin Handcart Company.
This was shortly after they had crossed the Sweetwater River. He gave
them the meat and food that he had, and went around ministering to the
sick. He later killed several more buffalo for the company.
(See LeRoy R. Hafen and Ann W. Hafen, Handcarts to Zion [Glendale,
California: The Arthur H. Clark Company, 1960,] pp. 135-146; "Church
Emigration," Contributor, Mar. 1893, pp. 202-203.)
Amanda Barnes Smith
Amanda married Warren Smith when she was 18, and they had two children.
When she was 20, she and her husband joined the Mormon Church. She was
baptized in April of 1831.
Her doctors told her she could not have any more children, since she
had experienced unusual pain during childbearing. She had the Elders of
the Church give her a blessing, and she give birth to a pair of twins
They moved to Nauvoo, where her husband helped build the Nauvoo Temple.
They were forced by mobs to leave and move to Missouri in 1838. As they
were leaving, they stopped by her mother's place, who was still angry
that they had joined the Church, and told Amanda she hoped she would
never see her again.
On October 30, 1838, they were travelling across Missouri and arrived
at a small village named Haun's Mill, that had been settled by other
members of the Church, and decided to stay the night.
A little before sunset, a mob of around 300 men came into the village
and began shooting at the inhabitants.
The men of the village told the women to take the children and hide
in the woods, while they tried to distract the mob.
Amanda couldn't find her boys,
so she grabbed her two young girls and ran for the woods, with bullets
whistling past her head as she ran.
Some of the men of the village ran into the buildings for protection.
The mob shot through the walls of the buildings, as well as at anyone
who was in the open.
After the shooting stopped, Amanda went back to see what happened. She
found her husband and ten year old son dead on the ground. Her six year
old son was still alive, but bullets had shattered his hip. The entire
hip joint was gone, and there was a 3-4 inch gap between the bones.
Amanda prayed for guidance, and was impressed on how she should treat
the wound. The boy was made to lie perfectly still for five weeks on a
soft bed that she had set up, while she tended the wound. During that
time, a new hip joint grew in place of the old one.
In later years, the boy could run and jump like any other. He served a
mission in Hawaii, and became a leader in both the Church and the
Amanda stayed at Haun's Mill for about three months with other widows
and children. During this time, mobs would often show up, threatening
to kill them if they continued holding prayer meetings and teaching
Eventually, Amanda travelled to Illinois without any money, bothered by
mobs as she went. They usually had to sleep outside, and were almost
Eventually Amanda and what was left of her family arrived in the Salt
Lake valley. She was part of the first Relief Society
that was formed, and helped to establish the first Sunday School
in Salt Lake City.
Amanda and her children remained true to their faith for the rest of
their lives. She commented that if she were going to lose her husband,
she was glad he died for what they believed. She said it is far better
to die for the faith than to fall away into inactivity.
Regardless of her struggles, Amanda felt that God was there to comfort
and care for her, even during the most trying times.
(See Amanda Barnes Smith, An Account of the Haun's Mill Massacre,
original notebook and typescript found in the Church Archives.)
As I think about the Pioneers, two things come to mind.
The first is that, not matter how hectic my day gets, it is never as bad
as what those early pioneers went through.
The second is that, in some ways, we are all pioneers. Hopefully our
children, our grandchildren, nieces and nephews, and the children and
youth that we work with will look back on our lives and be impressed with
how we were true to the Gospel.
Each of us should live our lives so that we can set a good example, and
encourage others to love the Gospel.
And this is my prayer, in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.
Hosting courtesy of
This site best viewed with FireFox.