“Following in Their Footsteps,” Ensign, July 1997, 8
The glory of God is portrayed in the lives of the Latter-day Saint pioneer men, women, and children who placed all they had on the altar. They were prepared to give everything, including their lives. These pioneers forged lives that were fired white hot in the crucible of some of the most difficult suffering and tests. This was a magnificent generation of common, ordinary souls who were brought together through their faith in God and who moved forward to meet danger and trials. They were given a monumental work to do, and they did it.
The gospel torch has been carried from one generation to the next; we are now the torchbearers to all the world. Our theme for this sesquicentennial year is an inspiring one, “Faith in Every Footstep.” Over the past five months there have been articles in the Ensign on the pioneer virtues of faith, work, sacrifice, courage, and resourcefulness. I hope we will strive to walk in the footsteps of these faithful pioneers and pass on this marvelous heritage to our posterity.
From among thousands of pioneer stories, I will share two. First, consider the faith of two handcart pioneers, Mary Bathgate and Isabella Park, both over 60 years old: “While crossing over some sand hills, Sister Mary Bathgate was badly bitten by a large rattlesnake, just above the ankle, on the back part of her leg. She was about a half a mile ahead of the camp at the time it happened. … She was generally accompanied by Sister Isabella Park. … Neither of them had ridden one inch since they had left Iowa camp ground. Sister Bathgate sent a little girl back to have me [Daniel D. McArthur] and Brothers Leonard and Crandall come with all haste, and bring the oil with us. … When we got to her she was quite sick, but said that there was power in the Priesthood, and she knew it. So we took a pocket knife and cut the wound larger, squeezed out all the bad blood we could, and there was considerable, for she had forethought enough to tie her garter around her leg above the wound to stop the circulation of the blood. We then took and anointed her … head, and laid our hands on her in the name of Jesus and felt to rebuke the influence of the poison, and she felt full of faith.
“We started on and traveled about two miles, when we stopped to take some refreshments. … After stopping one and a half hours we hitched up our teams. As the word was given for the teams to start, old Sister Isabella Park ran in before the wagon to see how her companion was. The driver, not seeing her, hallooed at his team and they being quick to mind, Sister Park could not get out of the way, and the fore wheel struck her and threw her down and passed over both her hips. Brother Leonard grabbed hold of her to pull her out of the way, before the hind wheel could catch her. He only got her out part way and the hind wheels passed over her ankles. We all thought that she would be all mashed to pieces, but to the joy of us all, there was not a bone broken, although the wagon had something like two tons burden on it, a load for 4 yoke of oxen. We went right to work and applied the same medicine to her that we did to the sister who was bitten by the rattlesnake, and although quite sore for a few days, Sister Park got better, so that she was on the tramp before we got into this Valley, and Sister Bathgate was right by her side, to cheer her up” (as quoted in LeRoy R. Hafen and Ann W. Hafen, Handcarts to Zion , 216–17).
Second, consider this story of sacrifice involving pioneer Jacob Hamblin and his daughter Ella, as related by C. Vorris Tenney and Colleen Arrott Carnahan, great-grandchildren of Jacob Hamblin:
“As a young girl, Ella’s most treasured possession was a pretty cloth or rag doll, whose face and hands were made of china. She always cuddled it beside her as they journeyed in their wagon, and she would put it to bed at night in a special place nearby.
“One morning the family was awakened early before daybreak and urged to break camp as quickly as possible because of the long journey and hot weather that lay ahead that day. Still half asleep, Ella was placed in the wagon and continued sleeping for the next several hours. By the time she was fully awake and aware of what had happened, they were already several miles into their journey. It was then that she realized her treasured doll was missing. ‘We’ve got to go back and get my dolly,’ she told her mother, who knew that it was out of the question. It was too far and the men and animals were already getting tired. Ella continued to plead for some time, but to no avail. ‘We’ll get you another doll,’ her mother said, but that didn’t stop the tears.
“When Jacob finally heard the crying child in the wagon, he rode up on his horse and asked what was wrong. He listened quietly as Ella explained where she had put the doll to rest on a bed of pine needles at the foot of the big rock where they had camped the night before. He told her he would try to find it and not to cry any more. She watched as he turned his horse and rode back down the long trail from whence they had come.
“The party set up camp that afternoon at the top of a long grade, and Ella sat down to watch the trail for any sign of her father’s return. When Jacob finally appeared in the distance and eventually got close enough to tether his horse in some trees at the bottom of the grade, she still couldn’t see whether or not he had found her doll. He walked up the grade toward her, with his hands behind him. After kneeling down in front of her and looking into her eyes, he brought his hands from behind his back and there was her precious dolly!”
In February 1996, I was privileged to attend the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C. The president and vice president of the United States of America and their wives hosted 3,000 top religious and political leaders. Of the 22 at the head table, 4 were Latter-day Saints.
To commence the breakfast, the Pine Forge Academy Choir sang “Come, Come, Ye Saints.” Can you imagine what a thrill it would have been for the pioneer Saints, who had sat around the campfire, tired and bone weary, to now hear those words being sung by a wonderful choir?
Come, come, ye Saints, no toil nor labor fear;
But with joy wend your way.
Though hard to you this journey may appear,
Grace shall be as your day. …
We’ll find the place which God for us prepared,
Far away in the West. …
And should we die before our journey’s through,
Happy day! All is well!
We then are free from toil and sorrow, too;
With the just we shall dwell! …
All is well! All is well!
(Hymns, no. 30)
We should make sacred commitments that we will not let the pioneer spirit die. In this sesquicentennial year of the pioneers’ arrival in the Great Salt Lake Valley, we ought to proclaim to the world that we hereby resolve, in the name of our God and our religion, to be true to our faith.
We, as Latter-day Saints, should resolve to hold high our modern-day “title of liberty” in memory of our God and our religion, our fathers and our mothers, our flag, and our country (see Alma 46:12, 36). We can honor through our lives the thousands who died crossing the plains and in the valleys and settlements. The spiritual values for which they died should ever be lodged in our hearts. We will carry the torch of faith which they bequeathed to us to light the way for those who follow.
We should further resolve to sustain our prophet and apostles, to be worthy to receive the blessings of the temple, to serve with heart and soul in our callings in God’s kingdom, and to spend our life in service to our fellowmen.
As we walk in their footsteps, we ought to proclaim to the world through our very lives that we are also a generation of destiny. God has preserved us to come forth in this season of the world to stand forever firm and loyal. Imagine the power that will come to us as we pledge with heart, hand, and spirit these great truths.
We, as a people, should stand against tyranny, evil, corruption, and abuse. We can stand proudly for fidelity, patriotism, and families. And most of all, we should stand faithful to our God and His Only Begotten Son, our Savior.
If it were possible to hear the voices of the pioneers echoing down through the century and generations, I think we would hear them singing, “O [you] of the noble birthright, carry on, carry on, carry on.”
They might hear us respond back through the channels of time:
Firm as the mountains around us,
Stalwart and brave we stand
On the rock our fathers planted
For us in this goodly land. …
We’ll build on the rock [you] planted
A palace to the King.
Into its shining corridors,
Our songs of praise we’ll bring,
For the heritage [you] left us,
Not of gold or of worldly wealth,
But a blessing everlasting
Of love and joy and health.
(Hymns, no. 255)
Isaiah prophesied: “And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it.
“And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem” (Isa. 2:2–3).
Oh, if only those who struggled so hard to arrive in a valley bleached and barren by the desert sun, a vast lake bottom, a wasteland, could see the mountain of the Lord’s house exalted above the hills. They would join with us and sing hosanna to God and the Lamb. Somehow, in ways we do not comprehend or understand, I think our pioneer progenitors will know that we have been true to the faith. This gospel means everything. We ought to clutch it to our bosoms, let it pervade our minds, and thank God from the bottom of our souls for it. If we do, then we will be worthy to walk with our beloved pioneers with “Faith in Every Footstep.”