Navigation Bar for book - Descendants of Isaac Harris
Foreword   |   Contents   |   Isaac Beginnings   |   Part I - William   |   Part II - John   |   Part III - Wooten   |   Part IV - Benjamin
Part V - Elizabeth   |   Part VI - Mary   |   Part VII - Reuben   |   Part VIII - Zachariah   |   Part IX - Alexander Rhodes

Navigation Bar for Part VIII - Descendants of Zachariah Harris
Ch 1 - Sarah   |   Ch 1.5 - Sarah Green   |   Ch 2 - Ancil Mancil   |   Ch 2.2 - Alfred Greenberry   |   Ch 2.4 - Rebecca Jane
Ch 2.5 - Mary Emiline   |   Ch 2.5.2 - Eliza Jane Haines   |   Ch 2.5.2.6 - Mabel J. Smith   |   Ch 2.5.5 - Zenette Haines
Ch 2.5w - Willy Handcart Co.   |   Ch 2.6 - William Ancil   |   Ch 2.6.1 - Alfred G. H.   |   Ch 2.7 - Zachariah Obadiah
Ch 2.8 - Nancy Angeline   |   Ch 3 - Elizabeth   |   Ch 4 - Benjamin   |   Ch 5 - Zachariah   |   Ch 6 - Lucinda
Ch 7 - Pendleton   |   Ch 8 - Jacob   |   Ch 9 - Susannah   |   Ch 10 - Thomas Wooten   |   Ch 11 - Henry M.

The Willie Handcart Company

--A Brief Synopsis--

By Garda M. Hodgson

It is difficult to write a brief history of the Willie Handcart Company, one of many groups of "Mormon" pioneers who crossed the plains before the days of the transcontinental railroads. These people came to Utah after the first waves of immigrants, who traveled in covered wagons, pulled by oxen. With the influx of other pioneers to the west, both those taking the Oregon Trail and those heading for California in the "Gold Rush," there was a shortage of lumber and materials to construct "Prairie Schooners," and there were long waiting lists on orders for covered wagons. So many families ended up settling for a handcart, which was people-powered, and did not carry much more than very basic provisions and belongings. The handcarts could be built more quickly, with less of a wait. Many of these people left treasured possessions behind, or abandoned them on the plains along the route, rather than wait a long time for wagons to become available. Many groups of Mormon Pioneers made their way to the Utah Territory, pushing and pulling such handcarts over hundreds of miles of prairie and mountain trails. Each group has been identified in history with the surname of the person selected as leader of the group, thus "Martin Company," "Willie Company," etc.

Before they left England, Thomas Moulton was very worried about starting on this long trip when his wife was expecting a baby any day, but Sarah kept insisting that they should go, and that she would be all right. They had the Elders give her a blessing. They were promised that if they went, they would bring all their family safely to Zion. That comforted Thomas enough so that he was willing to go. They had saved and planned to go for so long. They were told to have a certain number of things for each person, etc. They ended up leaving boxes of things at the dock before boarding the ship, and a trunk in New York City when they docked there. More things were left in Iowa and along the trail to lighten their load.

Two handcart companies, those of Capt. James G. Willie and Capt. Edward Martin, were late leaving Iowa City on their westward trek to Utah in 1856. Capt. Willie's Company of 500 Latter-day Saints left Iowa City on July 15th, and left Florence, Nebraska on August 18th. My grandfather, James Heber Moulton, was a young lad, just eight years of age, at the time he traveled with his father, Thomas Moulton, and his mother, Sarah, and their little family as part of the ill-fated Willie Handcart Company.

They reached Fort Laramie on September 30th. As they began traveling up the Sweetwater River, the nights became severely cold. Many became ill, and deaths increased daily. The early part of their journey had been troubled by midsummer heat, dust and rains which converted the dust to mud, making travel difficult. Now, with the coming of an early winter they were forced to wade through freezing streams, and sleep in the open with insufficient bedding. Food was scarce and had to be rationed during most of the trip, and every few days rations were cut.

When they were near Fort Kearney they met with the loss of half or more of their draft oxen by the Cheyenne Indians. This necessitated the unloading into the carts of the company of half the provisions in the wagons and using beef cattle and heifers for pulling wagons. Two miles below the rocky ridge on the Sweetwater, they ran out of food. They had received word that relief wagons were on their way from Salt Lake City bringing food and supplies to the emperiled groups. The pioneer parties made camp and waited. While waiting for the relief supplies, many of the "handcart pioneers" suffered disabilities the rest of their lives from injuries suffered, and many died along the way. In fact, some of the rescuers were also overcome by the intense cold of that winter passage over the Rockies, and also suffered frostbite and loss of fingers, toes, or worse.

The James G. Willie Company arrived in Salt Lake City, Utah, on November 9th 1856. Sixty-six of their number died on this journey. Thomas Moulton, his wife, Sarah, and eight children all arrived safely. Eight year old James Heber Moulton had the fingers on his left hand frozen, and the flesh decayed and fell off the bones as they traveled. When they arrived in the Salt Lake valley, they amputated the bones. He lost part of each of the fingers on his left hand. My grandfather was lucky that he only lost part of each of his fingers on his left hand. (He was left handed, so he became ambidextrous.) Many people lost a foot, a hand, and some lost both feet; others had their feet amputated almost to the knees."

The baby, Charles Alma Moulton, who was born aboard the ship Thornton while it was still in the Irish Channel, was a mere skeleton. He was so thin and frail that no one expected him to live, but he did. On the night when my grandfather had the fingers on his left hand frozen, fourteen people froze to death, and were buried in a mass grave. They built a huge bonfire to thaw the ground enough so they could dig the grave.

Members of these handcart legions passed on their personal stories to their descendants, and many have been written down and preserved by various historical organizations in Utah. The histories of these valiant groups of handcart pioneers has been memorialized in works of art, numerous historical pamphlets and booklets, etc., which are readily available, at least in the State of Utah.

This hotlink will return you to the previous page.
-- Note that two of the Overton sisters married into the Moulton family.

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Research sources are listed in the Appendix


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Navigation Bar for Part VIII - Descendants of Zachariah Harris
Ch 1 - Sarah   |   Ch 1.5 - Sarah Green   |   Ch 2 - Ancil Mancil   |   Ch 2.2 - Alfred Greenberry   |   Ch 2.4 - Rebecca Jane
Ch 2.5 - Mary Emiline   |   Ch 2.5.2 - Eliza Jane Haines   |   Ch 2.5.2.6 - Mabel J. Smith   |   Ch 2.5.5 - Zenette Haines
Ch 2.5w - Willy Handcart Co.   |   Ch 2.6 - William Ancil   |   Ch 2.6.1 - Alfred G. H.   |   Ch 2.7 - Zachariah Obadiah
Ch 2.8 - Nancy Angeline   |   Ch 3 - Elizabeth   |   Ch 4 - Benjamin   |   Ch 5 - Zachariah   |   Ch 6 - Lucinda
Ch 7 - Pendleton   |   Ch 8 - Jacob   |   Ch 9 - Susannah   |   Ch 10 - Thomas Wooten   |   Ch 11 - Henry M.

Navigation Bar for book - Descendants of Isaac Harris
Foreword   |   Contents   |   Isaac Beginnings   |   Part I - William   |   Part II - John   |   Part III - Wooten   |   Part IV - Benjamin
Part V - Elizabeth   |   Part VI - Mary   |   Part VII - Reuben   |   Part VIII - Zachariah   |   Part IX - Alexander Rhodes

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This page revised February 22, 2006


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