“Thirst!” Friend, June 2000, 20


A True Story

Whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst (John 4:14).

The summer of 1870 in the valley of the Great Salt Lake was a good time to be alive and to be sixteen years old! The original settlement was becoming a bustling city, and there was work for a willing and able hand. That’s just what young Robert Hemphill Gillespie was. Bob had gained a reputation as a good hand with horses and cattle and as a hard worker.

Bob already had a fine horse and the necessary gear for it. This was quite an accomplishment for such a young man, especially one who had been on his own with no home or parents since he was nine. He had proven himself to be trustworthy and dependable, and people liked to hire him.

One fine June day, Bob accepted a job that required him to cross a hundred miles of the Great Salt Lake Desert. Today, one can cross this desert in a comfortable, air-conditioned car on a fine paved highway in less than two hours. But on that day 130 years ago, it was just Bob and his horse with the sand, heat, lizards, snakes, and only the water he carried with him. Friends had told him to “be sure and take along some water,” so he filled a three-quart canteen and set off.

Now, Bob had never crossed a desert before and didn’t realize the danger of needing water and having no place to get it. He used up all that he had before even half the distance was covered. When he and his horse began to really suffer, Bob figured they still had about sixty miles to go.

He thought, Oh, if only I had saved some of the water! It was warm, but it was wet! If only I hadn’t hung the canteen strap over my shoulder, where it was so handy, I might have just a little left now!

He became very aware of how hot it was that June. He thought of all those swallows of water he had kept taking, not in real need as he was now! In desperate hope, he turned the canteen upside down above his mouth once more. The water really was all gone! Fear made him urge his horse to go faster—for a while. Then he noticed that his horse was sweating, so he slowed it down.

Soon his tongue had swelled so much that he couldn’t close his mouth. His fine horse was suffering, too. Strings of saliva hung from its mouth. We have to have water! Bob said to himself.

He thought he could see a small cabin off to the side of the trail up in some small hills. He couldn’t believe it! A cabin. A cabin meant there would be water! He immediately turned his mount in that direction. Riding up to the cabin, he found it deserted. There was a hole in the ground nearby, like an old well or a mining shaft. It was walled around with cedar logs. There appeared to be a little water about thirty feet down, so Bob climbed down inside. Sure enough, there was a little water! There were also some dead birds, a dead rabbit, and maggots! The water was bad. Sorrowing, Bob climbed back out, mounted his horse, and took to the trail again.

He remembered his mother teaching him to pray many years ago when he was a small child. He had not prayed for quite some time but decided to do it then. Looking around for a suitable place, he left the trail again. He found a large, low place that must have been either a wash made by runoff water long ago or a buffalo wallow. He dismounted, knelt, and began to pray, pleading for water: “For a drink, Lord. Yes, and a drink for my poor horse, too! My fine, good horse! Please, Lord!”

Bob thought of rain. “God, canst thou send rain, please?” he prayed. “Please forgive me, Lord, but we need a drink. Please make it rain. Thank thee, Lord. Amen.”

Having finished his prayer, Bob felt a little better. He climbed back up on his horse and rode off again, still filled with thoughts of the heat, his thirst, and his horse’s thirst. Oh, my poor horse! He agonized. I love my horse. I love my horse!

Recalling that he had asked for rain, Bob began to scan the sky for clouds. All he could find was one small cloud, far over on the southwest edge of the horizon. It seemed only about as big as a saddle blanket. He watched that cloud closely, wondering and thinking. After a bit, he noticed a little wind coming toward him from the direction of that little cloud. Could it be that it was drifting their way? It did seem a bit larger now, too. “Yes, Lord,” he said aloud, “I prayed for rain.”

Soon a drop of water hit his hand, another hit the saddle horn, another hit the horse, and another hit his hand. Suddenly there came a cloudburst from that little puff of a cloud! Within a few minutes, water was coursing down the trail and in the little ravine beside the trail, reaching almost to the horse’s knees! The horse bowed his head and drank. Bob dismounted, lay on his belly, and drank his fill of the muddy water. Then he refilled his canteen. Refreshed, he and his mount continued on their way.

After riding just a short distance, the trail and the ground all around were hot, dry, and dusty again. It was then that Bob fully realized what had happened. Halting his horse, he again dismounted and knelt on the dusty trail. Again he prayed with a full heart: “Thank Thee, Lord, for making the rain from a small cloud in the desert in June, so my horse and I could get a drink.”

Bob told this experience many times to his children and grandchildren, until he died at the age of eighty-six. They never tired of hearing it and have passed it on to their children and grandchildren. The thrilling moment was when he bore his testimony: “Now, children, don’t ever let anyone make you believe that the Lord can’t answer your prayer, for I know that He can!”

Illustrated by Dick Brown