Emily Hill Mills Woodmansee Poem of the Handcart Rescue

Woodmansee, Emily Hill, "Hunger and Cold [poem]," in "The Poetry of Emily Hill Woodmansee," comp. Myrlon Bentley Abegg [1986], 167-70.



From ocean to ocean seems naught but a span,
Now lightning and steam are the servants of man,
Now the way is prepared, and the paths are made straight
Some hardly will credit 'tis truth I relate.

"The way is cast up" e'en the railroad foretold
By Isaiah, the bard, and the prophet of old.
The Saints from all nations can speedily come
"As doves to the windows" to Zion their home.

A trip o'er the plains but a pleasure appears
Compared to the journey in earlier years,
*Twenty-five years ago, 'twas no trifle to make
A pilgrimage hither, such time did it take.

Such loads of provisions, for comfort and use,
Must a company carry, or lives they would lose.
For lack of the blessings, that fate has decreed,
Are essential to life and humanity's need.

The month of July, truth compels me to state
Our journey commenced, but alas, 'twas too late
From experience we learn 'tis no question of doubt
And from wisdom thus gained is reform brought about.

Our woes were a lesson of prudence and reason;
Folks have started in time since that terrible season.

Men, women and children, the large and the small
Our company numbered five hundred in all.
To each hundred a captain, to care for our good
Which they did to their utmost, as well as they could.

With food and etceteras our wagons were loaded
And death from sheer hunger was never foreboded,
At least not by many, our courage was strong
And progress we made—all our marches were long.
We footed it bravely and cheerfully too
Expecting e'er winter our task to get through.

Oh! little we knew of our troubles in store,
Of the wilderness vast, that we had to pass o'er.
And sometimes I think the provisions most wise
That troubles ahead are oft hid from our eyes
Unless our foreknowledge the evil could cure
'Tis best not to know all we have to endure.

Each day (save the Sabbath) we journeyed with care
Looking out for the redmen who lurked in their lair
Folks not of our party, who with us had been
The Indians had murdered, their graves we had seen.

For fear lest our camp should be swiftly surprised
None are ever less brave who are watchful and wise
We all of us watched and kept closely together
And all things went well, in the fine autumn weather.

By circumstance man is controlled, as a rule,
And surely our camp was adversity's tool.
For just when our hopes and our prospects were bright
They were suddenly shattered and buried in night.

One morn in September (I think it occurred)
We sighted bison, a wild, snorting herd.
Huge, terrible creatures, they rushed by our train,
And a monster or two, opportunely were slain.
This incident truly was novel and frightful
But the meat thus obtained was a relish delightful.

That night we'd a storm, I shall never forget,
We were drenched through and through and the tents were all wet.
Unloosed from their stakes by the storm in its might
That roused us to action to better our plight
And hold to the tents with the grasp of despair
No joke, I can tell you, for those who were there.
Imagine us kneeling all night in the mud
Expecting our roof to come down with a thud!
Like Trojans we worked till the tempest was o'er
And left us bedraggled, as never before.

But shortly we found there was something to rue
Besides the annoyance of being wet through
The half of our cattle, that sorely we needed,
Had gone off in fright—in short, had stampeded!
There was no one to blame, but alas and alack,
The men sought in vain for our animals' track;
The four footed fugitives never came back.

At length came the climax—how well I remember
That cold, dismal night in the month of November.
Faint and fasting, we camped by a hard frozen stream
Here nothing we had, but of plenty could dream.

Our rations eked out with discretion and care,
Had utterly vanished, "the cupboard was bare."
Not a morsel to eat could we anywhere see,
Cold, weary and hungry and helpless were we.

Our woes were pathetic and everywhere round
Every inch of the prairie was snow covered ground,
Shut off from the world as in ocean's mid waves,
The desolate plains offer nothing but graves.
Death seemed but a question of limited time,
Yet the faith of these faint ones was truly sublime!
On the brink of the tomb few succumbed to despair,
Our trust was in God, and our strength was in prayer.

Oh, whence came those shouts in the still, starry night,
That thrilled us and filled us with hope and delight?
The cheers of new comers, a jubilant sound
Of triumph and joy over precious ones found.
Life, Life was the treasure held out to our view,
By the "Boys from the Valley," so brave and so true,
The "Boys from the Valley," sent out by their chief,
Brought clothing and food and abundant relief.

O'er mountainous steeps, over drearisome plains
They sought us, and found us, thank God for their pains!

Hurrah! and hurrah! from the feeble and strong.
Hurrah! and hurrah! loud the echoes prolong.
They were saviors, these men whom we hardly had seen,
Yet it seemed that for ages, acquainted we'd been.
When Fate introduces Compassion to Need,
Friendships quickly are founded and ripen with speed.
Weatherworn were our friends, but like kings in disguise
Their souls' native grandeur shone out of their eyes.

Oh, soft were their hearts who with courage like steel,
left their homes in the Valley our sorrow to heal.

And soon as they sensed our deplorable plight,
Like children they weeped, 'twas a pitiful sight!
What e'er was combustible quickly they found
And speedily kindled, gleamed brightly around.
And nourishing food was prepared in a trice,
Oh, never were dainties more tempting and nice!
For helpful and kind, as a woman or Saint,
These men cheered the feeble, the frozen and faint.
God bless them for heroes, the tender and bold,
Who rescued our remnant from hunger and cold.

To flatter is servile and none should descend
To fawn on their nearest, their very best friend.
But my heart would be cold and unfeeling my muse
If honor to courage, my song should refuse.
The soul that's ungrateful deserves not our trust
And the praise of my heroes is nothing but just.

No shirks were these men; in a moment they took
Their lives in their hands, nor delay would they brook.
At the call of their leader, to sympathy true,
They rushed to our rescue, what more could they do?
By humanity moved, for fraternity's sake
They deemed it no hardship in winter to take.
Over mountainous heights, through the fast falling snow,
Relief unto others, to lessen their woe.
Could spirits ignoble this sacrifice make,
The shelter of home and its pleasures forsake
To succor the stranger, to danger defy,
To wander, to suffer, perchance e'en to die?
They will reap their reward 'twill be better than gold,
Who snatched us from death, e'en from hunger and cold.

The work of the camp did these willing ones share,
The sick to the wagons they carried with care,
Some too feeble to rally (be truthful my lay)
They laid down to rest by the wearisome way.
In peace let them sleep, they will waken no more
To hunger and cold, for their sorrows are o'er.
In peace let them sleep, they were honest and true,
(Not with strength of mine own, did I come safely through).
As the victor the vanquished is often times brave
And tears, if not laurels, should honor their grave.
This tribute I cannot, I will not withhold
From the faithful who perished of hunger and cold.

And a tribute of thanks I most willingly pay
To the kind hearted Saints of that primitive day,
all the folks of Salt Lake (Salt Lake City, I mean)
Gave a general ovation and welcomed us in.
Their hearts and their houses were opened to grief,
To the weary and worn, 'twas a blessed relief.
Such genuine kindness our spirits consoled
For all we had suffered from hunger and cold.

Ups and downs are our fate; for the best 'tis I ween,
Some woes we forget as though ne'er they had been,
But while memory her hold of my being retains
I'll remember the lesson I learned on the plains.
If fortune withholds what I deem would be good,
I try to be thankful for shelter and food.
If disposed e'er to murmur, the wish is controlled,
When I think of that season of hunger and cold. *Written in 1881