a. Have a space added for it on the tithing donation slip
b. Took up a collection
c. Convinced those that had given up tobacco and tea to add the savings to the fund
d. Had his missionaries sell the Book of Mormon rather than give it away
(B) A strong steer
From the journal of Esther Beilby Heaton: In William’s missionary journal the first mention of me is on December 17, 1850, when it says, “I went in company with Sister Esther Beilby with Brothers Marden and Menzies to York, came to Wheldrake again the same day.” The next entry is Monday, February 10, 1851, where it says, “I got married to Sister Esther Beilby. My brother Jonathan came to York last night and attended our wedding, which took place at the register office in York. We had a convivial party in the evening at my wife’s father’s in Wheldrake.” William preached the gospel for four years in England and Scotland, also I was not surprised when he said, “Esther, we will not be really happy until we join the Saints in America.”
“Must we go now, William? The baby is so tiny and delicate. I do not know if he is strong enough for such a long journey. I could not bear to lose him. And I am still weak also.”
“The way had been opened up for us to go now, Esther. You can lean on me. You have always strengthen and encourage me in the Lord’s work, and he will make me equal to any task if we will trust him and do his will.”
I had really known for a long time that this journey was my husband’s great dream. He understood also that I would be saddened in leaving my father who was old and lonely without my mother, for I was his youngest child. He was also bitter because he could not believe this new religion which was William’s whole life; but a wife must cleave unto her husband, and I could not do else.
My babe was only weeks old when on March 21, 1856, we sailed on the Enoch Train with more than 350 other Latter-day Saints. This was the first part of our journey to the promised land. We arrived in Boston May 1 and traveled to Iowa City by train. There we waited for the handcarts to be made, which we were to use in carrying our few belongings to Utah.
My baby was five months old and little Christopher three years of age when on June 11 we loaded our allotted supplies into the big-wheeled, flimsy carts that were to be our constant companions for 1,300 miles.
The Lord truly guided and protected us. We were not alone, for there were many of us traveling Zionward. We were in the second company led by our friend from the Enoch Train, Brother D. D. McArthur. There was a good spirit among us; we were united with dear friends and helped each other. Many became footsore during the first few days, and some of the older people became faint from the heat and fell under their carts.
The McCleve family, along with another, shared a big sleeping tent with us at night. Fifteen-year-old Mary Jane McCleve carried my baby many an afternoon, for she was a strong, healthy, Irish girl whose friendly teasing cheered the hearts of all who walked near her.
The gift William had of exhorting the Saints to persevere in the journey was called for often. I remember that he addressed the combined Ellsworth and McArthur companies near Fort Des Moines on June 22, after laying Brother James Bowers to his final rest. Oh, how my heart ached for Sister Bowers as she gathered her children around her and went bravely forward with the first company the next morning.
Indeed our hearts were often heavy within us, not, always for ourselves, but for those who had more to bear than we. There were Brother and Sister Laurenson, whose strength ebbed so quickly the first few miles that first one and then the other dropped unconscious in the road.
We sorrowed for brave Sister Parker, who was able to take her handcart bars in trembling hands and turn her back on the traveled road where her six-year-old Arthur was missing. We had made an early camp after a storm, and the boy could not be found. All day the men searched back along the trail for him without finding a trace of the tired lad. Yes, Ann Parker and three of her children were with us when we pushed on westward. Early that morning Ann had pinned a bright red shawl around her husband’s thin shoulders and sent him back alone to search again for their child. “If you find him dead,” she said, “wrap his body in this shawl. If you find him alive, it will be a flag to signal me. I will watch for you each night.”
On the third night the rays of the setting sun caught the glimmer of a bright red shawl, and the brave little mother sank into a pitiful heap in the sand. The boy had been found in the care of a woodsman and his wife. God had heard the prayers of his people.
We were still in partly settled country, and several families lost heart and strength for the rough road stretching forever before them. They sought refuge with people among the frontier farms.
Oh, I had good reason to be proud of my husband. His tenderness for me was never allayed. He was always able to tell when I was near collapse from weariness, and he would lift me on the cart and walk briskly along with it as if it were little more than a child’s toy. Yet I knew the cart was really a heavy load.
One day we met some friendly Indians. The chief, a tall, strong-looking man, showed some curiosity about the carts. He started pulling one of them and drew it about a quarter mile. It made the perspiration run down his face until the cart dropped on the ground.
We crossed the turbulent, muddy Missouri River on a steam ferry and camped at the Mormon campground below Florence, Nebraska. Here we were at the end of civilization. We rested. It was good to cleanse our weary bodies with blessed, blessed rest. It was wonderful to see the sun rise and set in the same place for a few long days. William repaired handcarts and I washed and mended our clothes. It was also good to get something more tasty to eat than Indian-corn stirabout. On the trail we had eaten little else for days, and it gave scant nourishment to make nurse for my baby. Little Chris, no longer chubby, romped about with the other children. My little one seemed a little stronger, though, bless his heart, he never did become a burdensome child to carry. We were all revived and refreshed as we faced the thousand miles of wilderness.
At that time I felt that I would not be such a burden to William in the future. I was his wife, his helpmate; I could walk beside him, a companion. I vowed to be an uplift to his idealistic soul. Surely he was right in seeking Zion, the brightly shining goal of his life.
There were rivers to cross and ferrys to help us over the large ones. There were pleasant campgrounds and many that were dry. The days when we had no water were the hardest. The lush meadows of my homeland swam tauntingly before my eyes. The violence of the prairie storms shocked me. We slept in our drenched clothes in wet beds when the rainstorms swept our tent shelters away. There was no wood now for bright fires to on which we cooked our small rations of food. There was no turning back now, for we had to keep moving in but one direction; either that or let the barren earth envelop us.
One morning it was my husband, my William, who turned pale and haggard. As the heavy miles unrolled slowly behind us, his footsteps lagged, and he stumbled behind the pulling bar. Weakly he stepped aside and sagged in a stupor beside the trail. Fear was a great smothering lump inside me. I eased his aching limbs into what comfort was possible, as my arms pillowed his head.
My thoughts cried out through the turmoil in my mind. “Oh, God in Heaven, is this to be the end of our journey too? Will our poor bodies join those of Robert and Christopher and dear Mary in this wasteland?”
I had nothing but my frail body to shelter my loved one from the merciless sky. “I can never leave you here to die alone,” I whispered. “I will stay; I will stay with you.”
The worried captains came and told me that I could not stay behind. They tried to rouse William, but he only mumbled, “Let me rest.”
Friends forced me to walk along with them. For a time I was filled with a hatred of God and the faith that had lured us here. Later, I came to feel my little boy’s hand in mine and could see his frightened, pleading eyes probing my soul’s depths, and I knew then that I could not fail him or the child in Mary Jane’s arms. They were their father’s future, and I knew that I must guard them well.
With a cleared vision I could then see that the only way I could help William or myself and the children was to draw near to God. Only when we do this can he perform the miracles that we need. Then I prayed as I had never prayed before. Softly and with every heavy step I took I pled with God to show me the way. Oh, I talked with God in my heart all the rest of that day. Finally, I gained strength and a kind of peace. I told myself, “Esther, you must really be the strong one now.” I pled again that William could lean on me as I had leaned so heavily upon him.
Mary Jane shifted the baby onto her shoulder and took the other hand of my clinging little boy and teased him into skipping in great leaps over the dry brush. “There you go, Chris lad, be a wild pony playing in the sun, leaping the high bushes and sailing over the streams.” He laughed happily and leaped again.
“There’s a spry one,” she encouraged.
“Mary Jane,” I said carefully, “after camp is made this night will you return with me to Williams’ resting place? If he is still alive, help me bring him on to camp. You are strong and able, and I need . . .”
Her answer was quickly given: “Aye, that I will, Esther. I’ve been thinkin’ that we must do something. He is such a faithful kind soul.”
We had not so far to go that night as we had feared, for my husband had revived somewhat in the cool of the evening and had tried to follow after us. As we supported him and put his arms across our shoulders, he spoke his gratitude. “Thank God you have come. I could not have made it to camp alone. Know this night you have saved my life.”
In the days that followed, when he was strong again, William would joke with Mary Jane. “Surely, Miss McCleve, you saved a life that should be of some use to you. Soon you will be needing a husband. Wouldn’t you like to be my second wife when we get settled in the valley?”
As we neared the mountains, our food became more scarce. We had not seen many wild buffalo that we had been told would be plentiful on the Plains. Though a cow was butchered now and again to sustain us, we had to ration our meager supply of flour. William was chosen, as an honest man, to guard and divide the precious meal. A cup a day for each person was our common fare. It was further reduced during the final days. Milk was portioned also, a pint in the morning and another at night for every five persons. This was when the cows had that much to give. We were not allowed to eat the berries that grew along the streams or in the foothills because we did not know which might be poison.
One day we came upon an emaciated young boy lying in the shade of a large rock. The lead carts hurried past him, for the travelers thought he was dead. My heart ached at the sight of the limp body, and I could not pass him by. When I touched his shoulder, I could tell that he was not yet dead, and I called.
“William, come and see if there is ought we can do for this boy.” When we turned the frail body over, it was a familiar, yet changed face that we saw.
“Why, Esther! This is Widow Bower’s Isaiah.”
“It is indeed,” I exclaimed, “and he is burning with fever. Feel his flushed face. We cannot leave him here, William.”
Gently my husband lifted him onto the cart, and I made him a small toddy from our medicine supply. We covered him over and with much lighter hearts proceeded on the trail.
After a time the lad broke out in a sweat and was soon wonderfully improved, so much so that he sat up and said he was ready to walk. He was a brave little fellow, for thought he often had to grab the cart as he staggered along, he broke into a song was we joyously went on our way to meet his mother.
The lead company was never far ahead of us. When we next came up to it, there was Ike’s mother scanning our slowly moving train. Suddenly she gave a cry and ran to the boy and hugged him close to her. She told us through her tears that when her son had gotten the mountain fever, she had tugged him along, then had finally put him onto the rickety cart. The leader was stern about it and had insisted that he be made to walk. “He could not keep up,” she sobbed, “and he dropped by the side of the road. It was almost more than I could do to go on, but I prayed with all my heart that he would be found. Thank you, oh, thank you Brother and Sister Heaton for bringing my son on to me alive!” We felt a closer kinship for the Bowers family after that and were rewarded by an association that lasted through the years.
One more incident that was faith promoting to us I will now tell you. While we were at the Platte River one of our oxen died that had been used to pull a supply wagon. The brethren wondered what could be done. “Should we place a cow in the yoke?” said one of them.
Suddenly another one exclaimed, “Look at that steer on the hill yonder.” There stood a large, fat steer, looking at us. The leader said, “The Lord has provided the animal that we may move on today.” When hitched up, the animal worked as well as the others. When we were within two days of Salt Lake City, we met some wagons sent with provisions to help us the remainder of the way The next morning when the animals were gathered in, that steer was gone. After hunting for him for several hours, Brother Ellsworth said, “The Lord loaned him to us as long as we needed him.”
We were deeply saddened two days short of our journey’s end, when Mary Jane’s’ kind, patient father died, leaving seven children and his faithful wife.
The last weeks, as we neared the valley of the Great Salt Lake, we pushed on great distances, tugging and forcing our carts up to twenty-eight miles a day, over hilly, rough country. During one of those days, in twenty miles we crossed the same canyon stream eleven times. Winds blowing off the high snow banks chilled us, and the snow flurries and rains made the nights far from comfortable. Yet we were nearer our new homes, and there was a sad kind of joy in our hearts as we took the downward slope of the Rockies.
We entered into the valley on September 26, 1856, and were met by Governor Young and a great many Saints who escorted us the last eight miles into the city. We were cheered by the stirring music of the Lancer’s band.
Words are lost to me when I try to tell you of my final sorrow. On October first, just a few days after walking into our safe, peaceful valley , my babe, my undemanding little William McDonald, slipped away to join the other casualties of the handcart trail. I did not lose him on the trial, but I knew he was lost because of the trail.
Yes, our handcart journey was an interesting one, a testing one. It made us better people, more nearly the Saints our Father needs in his kingdom. Its struggle was dimmed in the stress of building a home in the settlement of Payson. There we welcomed four more boys into our family. To Christopher, who traveled the Plains with us, it became a vague dream. In the fall of 1868, while the boys were still quite young, we made another long trek to settle the Muddy River valley in the red sands far to the south in what we thought was Mormon country. After many disappointments, we returned to Utah with a small group of old and new friends to build another new community. We were sent to long Valley, a narrow canyon sheltered on both sides by colorful, sandstone mountains. From that time on our children became involved in their own journeys, and that, too, was as it should be.
Lesson Committee, Chronicles of Courage (Salt Lake City: Utah Printing Company, 1995), 6:74-81.