George P. Waugh did not have the physical strength of a younger man, but he had an incredible ability to inspire others. Though sixty-eight years old, when surrounded by people in need, he forgot himself and dedicated his time to easing their burdens.
George was a veteran British soldier and convert to the Church when he sailed on the Horizon out of Liverpool in 1856. Edward Martin, called to preside over the Saints aboard the ship, chose Brother Waugh as his second counselor. Perhaps it was the life of a soldier that taught him leadership and gave him the ability to inspire people to do more than they thought they could, but being a soldier had not hardened George’s heart.
During the voyage, George went throughout the ship, seeking out those who were sick, comforting, and giving priesthood blessings to them. John Jaques recalled, “On shipboard [Father Waugh was] lively as a cricket.” The Saints affectionately called George, “Father Waugh” (Salt Lake Daily Herald, 19 Jan. 1879, 1).
When the handcart journey was well under way, George Waugh continued to look after others. Calling upon his experience as a soldier, tempered by compassion and love, he took charge of the “aged advance guard.” John Southwell recalled Father Waugh’s daily routine with the company’s oldest, most infirm members:
“There were the invalids to be looked after and cared for. An old gentleman . . . was elected to this office. He would muster them together, make an early start, and travel them so far as they were able to walk. Those who tired out would fall back to be taken up by some young man and carried to camp on his handcart. . . .
“In his company was one of the worst cripples I ever saw to be a traveler. His lower limbs were paralyzed and his body badly deformed, but he was strong in the faith. He was able to propel himself with surprising speed with the use of crutches” (John Southwell, Autobiographical Sketch. LDS Church Archives).
Josiah Rogerson also wrote of the noble heroics of George Waugh as he led his fellow elderly Saints across Nebraska:
“Father George P. Waugh, then between 65 and 70 years of age, would be seen and heard calling between tents for his company to muster between 7 and 7:30 a.m. These consisted of all the aged who [were] not required to pull at the carts. . . .
“Away they would start ahead of [us], singing and talking and cheering each other with the hallowed reminiscences of the early days of the gospel in the British Isles. . . . The oldest and most feeble of this advance guard would be picked up by the wagons as often as possible. . . .
“[After] an hour or two for our noon rest,. . . we were going again. The same aged advance guard [was] ahead of us, with Father Waugh . . . , one of the most devoted Scottish worthies that ever came to Utah” (Josiah Rogerson, Papers. LDS Church Archives).
Author Andrew Olsen wrote of George Waugh’s final journey, “After caring for so many people for more than six months and 5,000 miles, George Waugh would eventually wear down” (Andrew D. Olsen, The Price We Paid, 298).
John Jaques recalled, “In the latter part of the journey he failed gradually and [then] rapidly until he died on Canyon Creek” (Salt Lake Daily Herald, 12 Jan. 1879, 1).
Josiah Rogerson related arriving at the end of the trek when a lady approached the rescue wagons, asking for Father Waugh. He said his mother directed her to the wagon “where she could find the veteran. She was there instantly, and found her father, wrapped in a sheet, and dead. . . . The aged Scotch worthy had braved and weathered the storms of the Rocky mountains from the Platte bridge, and when within eighteen to twenty miles from the valley, and the Zion he worshiped, . . . succumbed to the hardships of the journey, between the Big and Little mountains, and was brought into the city for interment” (Salt Lake Herald, 8 Dec. 1907).
George Waugh gave the best anyone could give by giving his life to the service of others.