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The following was written by James Ritchie for the ‘Missionary Moment’
It is sobering to write these few words after spending an afternoon with the memories of a few hundred people including my mother’s grandfather, grandmother and eight children – The Thomas Moulton Family. The Moulton’s survived the nearly impossible trek pulling a handcart and being members of the famous Willie Handcart Company. Two days before their rescue Thomas Moulton led his family down into the Willows near the 6th Crossing assuming it would be their final resting place on this earth. They were totally out of food, snow was deep and 20 below zero temperature with no shelter.
Thankfully it wasn’t their last day on earth because the Rescue party, those that hadn’t given up and turned back to Salt Lake, plowed through the heavy snow and gave them hope that food and supplies were just miles behind and making their way to save them. It literally did save them.
Here are some descendants of the Thomas Moulton family survivors, Keith and Vera Ritchie and me and my sidekick Carolyn Orton Ritchie. This photo was taken at the Martin’s Cove Visitor Center but our main focus of the trip was to visit the newly opened 6th Crossing Visitor’s Center 55 miles further west where the Willey Company along with our Moulton Family made their nearly last stand.
The Thomas Moulton family left Liverpool with a pregnant wife and seven other children. They had been promised by the missionaries that they would all live to see Salt Lake City. The fact that their new baby, born on the journey, together with what we all know was the nearly impossible to imagine hardships they endured – the fact that they all arrived alive in the valley was indeed a miracle. The baby was said to be so frail that you could read newsprint through his little body.
If it weren’t for Ephraim Hanks and a handful of others (including a young man by the name of Cluff, another prominent Heber name) who wouldn’t give up searching for them – when many assumed they had perished or turned back and had returned to Salt lake – they all would have surly perished as none could have gone on any further – in either company – over 900 in total numbers.
The real tribute – and challenge – of our trek in an air conditioned modern automobile, traveling the entire distance from SLC to 6th Crossing in less than five hours , is to THE RESCUERS, the Hanks, the Cluff’s and others who wouldn’t give up or abandon their commission and Priesthood charge: RESCUE THOSE PIONEERS TRAPPED IN THE MOUNTAIN PASSES OF WYOMING!
That’s what we brought home with us from 6th Crossing and Martin’s Cover, was the opportunity and obligation each of us still has: TO RESCUE THOSE WHO ARE TRAPPED IN THIS TELESTIAL TESTING GROUND AND WILL SURELY PERISH WITHOUT SOMEONE COMING TO RESCUE THEM. Whether it be temporal, moral, physical or spiritual it mattereth not…many are struggling and may be near their mortal or spiritual end and without an Ephriam Hanks showing up under sometimes truly impossible conditions they truly may be casualties of this earthly experience.
YOU and I are the Ephraim Hanks of today!!!!
Hope I’m man enough to not turn back but to press forward – in faith – to the RESCUE!!
Now I implore you to read the below paragraph, written by a widow survivor of this famous trek:
“I have a desire to leave a record of those scenes and events, through which I have passed, that my children, down to my latest posterity, may read what their ancestors were willing to suffer, and did suffer, patiently for the gospel’s sake. And I wish them to understand too, that what I now word is the history of hundreds of others, who have passed through like scenes for the same cause. I also desire them to know that it was in obedience to the commands of the true and living God, and with the assurance of an eternal reward-an exaltation in His kingdom—that we suffered these things. I hope, too, that it will inspire my posterity with fortitude to stand firm and faithful to the truth, and be willing to suffer, and sacrifice all things they may be required to pass through for the sake of the kingdom of God.”
Elizabeth Horrocks Jackson Kingsford, widow of Aaron Jackson, who died in the Martin Company
By James Ritchie