I think that these bloggers have missed several points. First, many did stay and did not go on. They came later and all was typical with their journey to Utah: people died along the trail no matter how they traveled. What if…..all the members of the Willie and Martin handcart companies had stayed in Iowa? What would have happened to them? Perhaps the area could handle a 100, but could it have absorbed—sheltered, clothed, and fed over 1,500? What kind of clothing would those people, who traveled lightly to begin with, have had that would have lasted through a winter in Iowa and then across 1178+ miles to Utah the next spring? Second, there was not a thriving modern metropolis in Ohio at that time. There were no hotels, motels, empty available rentals for them. In fact, one journal mentioned that there wasn't even a shed available for them. The saints, when they arrived at present-day Coralville, Iowa, did not have anything to shelter them. They were living out in the open, with much rain I might add, for at least the first six days . The people went to work sewing tents, which were not completely ready for 10 days. I don’t think I would like to live in a tent through a winter in Iowa or Nebraska. Third, Nebraska was worse. It was the wilderness! It definitely couldn't have absorbed all these pioneers for almost a year. Fourth, Levi actually warned them and they were appraised of the dangers ahead. Obviously, they had the freedom to choose to stay or not. Even as late as Florence, Nebraska, the saints were approached by the brethren to see if they wanted to stay there or to go on. William Woodward wrote, “Many of our company agreed to leave the company.” Levi Savage reported that “Many are going to stop.” The saints were instructed to seek their own answers from the Spirit. My great grandmother was one who chose to continue on. Why? As an intelligent woman, she weighed the situation. As a saint, she sought the Spirit and was led. Was it about following the leaders? Partly, yes. Entirely, I think not. I think it was more about following the direction of the Spirit for her. Fifth, the Willie Company actually would have been in Utah before the snow came, had they not had innumerable delays caused by weather, a lost brother and lost cattle. The greatest enemy was the lack of food, greatly accented because of the loss of the cattle. Added to that was the lack of waiting supples at the various way stations along the way. Since the leaders didn’t know that these people were coming, supplies had not been restocked after what was supposed to have been the last handcart company of the seasion.
In total, 68 people of the Willie Company died. Twenty-four died on the journey from England to the western borders of what is now Nebraska. Fourteen more died before any snow flew. These people died because of exposure and lack of food. The rest, 30, died from the added exposure to the extreme weather of Wyoming. That means that less than half of the deaths were caused by the "lateness of the season." Yet, the lateness of the season has always been blamed for all the deaths. In actuality more people would have died in these companies had there not been bad weather. The urgency of the situation would not have pressed upon the saints in Utah as much had there not been this concerned. They knew that snow was imminent and that Wyoming was treacherous in wintertime. How much longer would it have taken to get those supplies to the handcart companies if there had not been this concern.
As in so many cases in history and our own personal lives, what we often feel is God's lack of love for us, actually is His love for us demonstrated. In our extremities, we receive the blessings of trials. In the aftermath, we begin to understand them as a remembrance rather than a forgetting by the Lord.
During my life, I have often made decisions that others may consider foolish. I have made choices based on what I knew at the time and what the Spirit led me to do. Those choices often have led to difficult and challenging trials, but that did not change the truth that it was the right thing to do. I would hate for my posterity to judge me so harshly as the handcart pioneers have been. I would hope that future generations would understand that they too will have to make difficult choices—and those choices often will lead to difficult times. I have come to believe that difficulties are not the enemy necessarily. They can lead to strength and to faith. This was the case for Elizabeth. Her faith continued on strong and endless.
I have always believed that those experiences of the handcart saints were not to build their faith, but ours. What they went through was for us. Their descendents, many whom I met on set, were sterling. They have the “power” of their ancestors to call upon when needed. I have Elizabeth to help me when I am weak, when I am failing, when I could, and probably would, otherwise give up. Her example, her experiences, her faith are my rescue.