My Granddad, Ephraim Stanley Miller, was named for his grandfather, Ephraim Crossley, who made the handcart trek when he was six years old. This account of courage and faith is taken predominately from one written by a family member.
James and Mary Jarvis Crossley lived in the little town of Radcliff, Manchester, England with their children. Mary, from a prior marriage to Mr. Smith, had two children: Mary Ann and Joseph. Together they had seven more: Hannah, Sarah, William, Elizabeth, Ephraim, Emma and Mary. Joseph, who suffered from a hip disease as a child, was left a cripple for life, but was known for his cheerful disposition.
They were a faithful Methodist family until about 1846 when they heard the gospel of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints preached. Elder Sessions was one of the missionaries that made regular visits to their home. Their mother embraced the message, but their father, James, “would laugh at her earnestness and sincere predictions.’ [Mother Mary] often said, ‘James you shall yet see as I do and be baptized and shall go first to the new Zion established in the tops of the mountains.’”
In 1847 James Crossley joined the Church and “in 1854 he immigrated to Utah, leaving his wife and young family to follow as soon as he could make a home for them. But this was not as easy done, as work was scarce and money hard to obtain.”
Two years later, with the newly presented handcart plan, Mary saw the way to take her family to Utah because it required only nine pounds ($45) per person. “She did not hesitate long, but . . . sold all their possessions,” then she, with her five living children, found passage on the “Horizon.”
“Mother Crossley was a small frail woman; Mary Ann was a young lady of twenty one years; Joseph, the crippled brother, age twenty years, who could never walk the thirteen hundred miles across the plains, was a brilliant student and a school teacher as well as an expert writer of shorthand. Hannah, sixteen years old, and Sarah thirteen years old were carefree, happy, strong young girls and Ephraim who was six years old was full of courage and very willing.”
Mother Crossley often quoted “All Englishmen love England,” but added that a stronger call led them to their new land. After thirty seven days at sea, the Horizon arrived at Boston harbor. From there, they travelled by rail to Iowa City, the gathering place for outfitting the handcart companies.
When the day came to depart for the trek, Mary Ann, who could have been a great help to her mother on the miles ahead, “lost heart at the sight of the poverty and hardships that surrounded her and her faith wavered.” At twenty-one, she sacrificed faith for the comfort and ease of England and chose to return home where she had friends and relatives. “She promised to return to her mother in a few years when the path would be trodden smooth and a home prepared, but the mother knew it was a last farewell and her heart was rung. Mary Ann begged to take Sarah back with her as she was fond of her, and once Mother Crossley thought it might be well, as there would be a tie there and Mary Ann would have to return with her younger sister. But Sarah would not go as she was anxious to go to Utah and her father, so they parted, never to meet on earth again. . .
“It was a strange pilgrimage, this hand-cart train. Men, women and children shared the load alike each lending their upmost strength to roll the carts over the uneven trail; a cart loaded with [their few] possessions, but the most precious treasure they carried with them [was their] implicit faith in God and undaunted courage to endure for that faith.” As difficult as the trail was, their burden was increased by the weight of Joseph who had to ride in the handcart they pulled.
In the handcart companies, rations were cut, then cut again. Hunger became their appalling reality, weakening them and slowing their progress. They lightened their loads by discarding clothing and bedding that was needed when the storms arrived. “Out in the open with few clothes and little shelter; they began their real suffering. . . Poor Joseph, . . jolting over the uneven road, suffered greatly and became thin and pale. All did their best, almost anything to keep his spirits up.” Yet Joseph began to “dwindle away.”
“Four hundred souls half starved, scantily clothed, some bare footed and [with] no sign of shelter of any kind, labored over the hard frozen ground, pushing and pulling with all the human strength they could gather until dusk released their burden. Wet and cold they laid their weary bodies down upon the hard cold ground to rest as best they could.”
“Many were dying each day, and men and women who started strong and well were dropping out. Each morning before leaving camp a grave was dug and the dead buried. Was it any wonder dear brother Joseph was stricken with this terrible disease? Each child gave him their own clothing to keep him warm but when morning came they found his suffering over. He was gone and frozen stiff in his bed.”
It was in these dire moments, when death seemed like a release for Joseph, and hunger the burden the rest of them still endured, that their sister prayed “that the commissioner of provisions would not know of Joseph’s death until she had received his [portion] of flour. But such a pang that smote her heart as he counted out the spoonfuls and when he came to Joseph’s name he said “Let’s see, you will be one ration short this morning” Hannah made the statement that: “She almost felt worse at the loss of the flour, cause she knew Joseph was out of his misery now”.
The history I have records, “Brother Joseph was left by the roadside November 5, 1856 with four others. The ground was frozen so hard that a grave could not be dug. So the dead were wrapped in a large blanket and left by the side of the trail, but before the train was out of sight, the wolves had reached the blanket covered bodies.”
The rest of their trek: river crossings, Martin’s Cove, the rescue wagons and final arrival in Salt Lake tried physically and emotionally from despair and apathy to rushing gratitude and hope. At South Pass, “Mother Crossley, Sarah, Hannah, and little Ephraim were met by dear father, James Crossley . . . In fact, most of the city came to look upon the suffering of this company and to give them aid, to take them into their homes, and nurse them back to life from the very jaws of death through which they had passed.
“Their first home was in Willard or Three-Mile Creek near by. Then two years later they moved to Fillmore. There too, they were unsuccessful and went on to Camp Floyd and finally to Bountiful, where they remained for some years establishing a brewery, for James Crossley was a brewer by trade. Here he was successful for some time. Mother Crossley’s health was never restored after the terrible strain she endured crossing the plains and there was always need for help in the home . . , [Yet,] never did she complain of her condition; never did her faith of the gospel waver in the slightest. She was a good neighbor and a faithful friend and loved by all who came in contact with her humble sweet gentle disposition.”
Sarah recorded, “I lived with my father and mother for several days, then Elder Sessions came and begged to be permitted to take one of us to care for as he felt very near to my father for his many kindnesses to him while on his mission in England, so I was permitted to go with him. I lived with his sister and she cared for me very kindly and brought me back to health, although I never did fully recover my former strength as long as I lived. I have always been a weakling.
“I lived most of the time in Mr. Session’s family. At the age of eighteen I was married to him. I think I loved him from my very childhood, and . . . I was the happiest woman in the world.”