I first became really interested in compiling a full social history/biography of Levi Savage when the movie 17 Miracles came out a couple of years ago with Levi Savage as one of the stars. The true story culminates in Martin’s Cove (Wyoming), where pioneers pulling handcarts from Nebraska to Utah got stuck in heavy snow and had to wait for rescue from Salt Lake City. Many people died, but the amount of faith people had is incredible.
My parents were there recently. My mom is descended from Levi Savage, who survived, and my dad is descended from the sister of Rhoda Oakey. Rhoda survived Martin’s Cove, but was the last person of the group to die prior to entering Salt Lake. I asked my parents to guest blog about their feelings about visiting the site where their ancestors had been, knowing the dire circumstances that they were in and what the outcome was.
Picture of my mom and dad in Idaho:
Here are my mom’s thoughts:
As we walked around and saw the dry, dusty land, the cactus, the rolling hills and mountains, I wondered how anyone could walk from Iowa to Utah and survive, even in the best of conditions. The wind was blowing, but not nearly as bad as it usually does. How did the pioneers have the strength to walk all day, hunt food, set up tents, make fires and try to cook every night? I thought about the women who lost their husbands because the men gave their meager rations to their wives and children. Now the children were freezing and crying for food and there was none. What were the thoughts of Levi Savage as he saw the people dying and wondered if he would be able to see his own son again? As the snow became deeper and the temperature dropped, how many people wanted to just lie down and die, but kept fighting to live so they could take care of their friends and family? What about the youth who suddenly became adults as their parents became ill or died and the teenagers were caring for their whole family and pulling their parents in their handcarts. ( I think I may have wanted to quit, lie down and die about this time).
The Donner Party had some of the same problems, but the endings are entirely different. The Mormon pioneers were rescued by other church members who trudged for weeks in heavy snow looking for them, bringing them supplies and helping them get back to Utah. The real story of the Handcart pioneers is not how many people died, but the much larger number of people who were saved. I think Levi Savage was very pleased to see how the people worked together to get to Utah, even though I’m sure there were many different opinions and the people were not perfect. I think the example of caring for others is the most important story of Martin’s Cove. We could feel the peace there.
From my dad:
As I went from painting to painting depicting the misery, the suffering, the winter cold, the burying of loved ones, I could not help but feel of the enduring faith these pioneers had, their belief in a higher power than themselves that carried them on. To know that I had ancestors that endured the trials and tribulations made it even more special and gives me courage to carry on despite my small challenges compared to theirs.