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Before You Teach or Attend Gospel Doctrine 35 on the Handcart Rescue, Read This

By: Ardis E. Parshall - September 11, 2009

The Sunday School lesson for most of us this Sunday will be Lesson 35, “A Mission of Saving,” illustrated chiefly by the rescue of the Martin and Willie handcart companies in 1856.

Because the story of this rescue is so well known – yet too often so badly misunderstood and misused – there will be a tendency to turn this lesson into something that is not intended. I hope here to offer some suggestions both for teachers and listeners – teachers, because you have the responsibility to teach truth; and listeners, because while it is not your right to take over a lesson, if you’re prepared you may be able to help guide class discussion in a way that is supportive of the teacher’s efforts while still managing to correct false doctrine if in fact it is suggested by anyone in the class.

Some, knowing that the traditional handcart story is too often treacly and sentimental, will be tempted to turn the class into an hour of “let me tell you what REALLY happened here,” with a debate about whether the handcart pioneers should have been placed in their situation to begin with, and whose fault it was that they suffered so badly. That isn’t the intent of the lesson, you know. The lesson’s purpose is to inspire class members with both an appreciation for the Savior’s rescue of all of us sinners, and a desire to help rescue those in need (whether their need be spiritual or physical). Debating the merits of the handcart program, and assigning blame for the disaster, is not what your class members need.

Others will be tempted to fall back onto the familiar handcart rescue story simply because it is so familiar, and perhaps in the process plant false doctrinal ideas in the minds of class members. By this, I mean that you know all about Francis Webster (whether you remember his name or not), standing up in that long-ago Sunday School class and making his declaration about the faith of the handcart pioneers. You also know about those young men who saved all those who did survive, together with the legendary eternal blessings and physical consequences to them personally.

The tale has been so embroidered over the years that seriously false doctrine has become a part of the story.

I recommend two easily read and easily understood articles by Chad M. Orton, as preparation for this lesson. Both of these articles are faithful both to history and to the gospel. Both are online, from BYU Studies:

“Francis Webster: The Unique Story of One Handcart Pioneer’s Faith and Sacrifice”

and

“The Martin Handcart Company at the Sweetwater: Another Look”

If you’ll take the time to skim through these articles, teachers, you’ll prevent yourself from perpetuating falsehoods. And class members, you’ll be in a position to suggest, courteously and in the proper spirit, that while we have often said X, recent research by a faithful LDS Church archivist has shown that Y is true – should, that is, the lesson in your ward tend to emphasize the sentimental falsehoods that have crept into the story.

In particular, this statement from the lesson manual:

Three eighteen-year-old boys belonging to the relief party came to the rescue; and to the astonishment of all who saw, carried nearly every member of that ill-fated handcart company across the snow-bound stream. The strain was so terrible, and the exposure so great, that in later years all the boys died from the effects of it. When President Brigham Young heard of this heroic act, he wept like a child, and later declared publicly, “That act alone will ensure C. Allen Huntington, George W. Grant, and David P. Kimball an everlasting salvation in the Celestial Kingdom of God, worlds without end”

is false and problematic.

Some errors are relatively insignificant from a doctrinal standpoint (none of the boys was 18; there were far more than the three named heroes who tenderly carried the sufferers across the stream, and none of them died of their service). Other errors – that an act of physical bravery guaranteed celestial glory regardless of what the men might do in later life (including murder/manslaughter, as was the case with one rescuer) – promote seriously false doctrine. The linked articles will give you accurate history, explain how the story became distorted, and prepare you to keep your class discussion centered on gospel truth, not falsehood.

Maybe none of this will come up in your ward. Maybe your teacher will emphasize the intended point of the lesson, that we all must be ready to rescue our brothers and sisters when the need arises. I hope so.

But if not, do your ward a favor and be prepared to help your teacher teach gospel doctrine.

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88 Comments

  1. to all, I am fairly new to commenting on blogs and am fairly new to this website (which i do enjoy looking at) 3 things popped into my convert mind as i read thru these comments. 1) i was impressed that Pres. Young’s comments weren’t so much those of prophecy but rather of a hope or desire for those who acted selflessly. 2) As i have been preparing to share this lesson my mind is constantly brought to the poem about the footprints in the sand and the many comments of those who said they could not take another step but felt as if some unseen being was pushing their carts. 3)lastly and i think this ties in w/bro. parshalls comments is that many of us regardless of gender think of the prophets call to go and save those companies as something valiant and many wish they could have a chance to answer that call, but therein lies the problem- we don’t need to trek for days thru tall snow drifts to rescue someone when we all come in contact with souls that need love, hope and a chance to recognize the holy spirit.

    Comment by ron — September 14, 2009 @ 8:27 pm

  2. Welcome to Keepa, ron.

    I especially like your third point and how it supports the chief point of this lesson: We all need to be ready to rescue our brothers and sisters, and the opportunities that most of us have to do that will be just what you’ve said — love, hope, and a chance to recognize the Holy Spirit. That pretty much sums up the mission of the church itself as well as our individual parts in it (love=perfecting the Saints; hope=redeeming the dead; a chance to recognize the Holy Spirit=missionary work — with a lot of crossover in all cases). Thanks.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — September 14, 2009 @ 8:49 pm

  3. ron – Great post. Please do more.

    P.S. It is Sis. Parshall.

    And, for the record, I am Bro. Clair. In my case, the name is a Utah thing, back a generation or two.

    Comment by Clair — September 14, 2009 @ 8:53 pm

  4. Ardis, you neglected to add that you are Sister Parshall, not Brother :) Thanks for the post, and ditto to the disgust over those that are aware of how righteous they (supposedly) are.

    Comment by Jared T. — September 14, 2009 @ 8:54 pm

  5. Well, well, well — we’re just full of disclosures tonight about mixed signals and confused genders! :) What rumors will this start in the dark corners of the bloggosphere, I wonder?!

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — September 14, 2009 @ 9:13 pm

  6. Johnson [and Johnson2, and every other lying name you use to try to trespass where you are not welcome], your comment has been deleted — see comment 35.

    A catalog of the times when the church — through its magazines and lesson manuals — has perpetuated romanticized and ahistorical accounts of our past is beyond the scope of this post. Your assertion that such a thing has “never” occurred betrays your historiographical ignorance. Correcting the historical record when the erroneous “history” is about to be presented in a setting (a Sunday School classroom) where discussion easily could lead to the promulgation of false doctrine is not “an accusation of prophets speaking false doctrine.” You have no standing to accuse me of such a thing.

    And you should be ashamed of yourself for fraudulently claiming lds.org as your personal URL.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — September 20, 2009 @ 9:01 am

  7. Excellent Ardis, Thank you.

    May I highly recommend an article similar to this post entitled “Sweetwater Revisited, Sour Notes, and the Ways of Learning” By John Thomas, a religion professor at BYU-I. The article was originally presented at the May 2008 MHA meeting and was then printed in “The Religious Educator” vol. 10, # 2 (2009). Unfortunately it is not available online yet, but can be purchased from the BYU Religious Studies Center.

    Brother Thomas tells of using the Orton articles to teach his BYU religion classes and then compares reactions of various students who either accepted the truths in Orton’s articles or rejected them.

    Two interesting points from what Thomas had to say was that students who reject Orton tended to refer to Solomon Kimball as “Brother” Kimball and Chad Orton as “Mr.” Orton despite their both being LDS. He also said that those wh rejected the Orton articles often mentioned that the Kimball account must be true because they had “felt the spirit” when they heard it.

    Again Ardis Thank you, please keep up the wonderful work.

    Andrew

    Comment by Andrew Hamilton — September 21, 2009 @ 12:04 am

  8. Thanks, Andrew. We have some subtle, stinging ways of building walls, haven’t we? (me, too; I do it all the time, I don’t mean to throw that all on the people who have been offended here, or who have offended me).

    Another linguistic marker between me-and-thee found in a few comments here, but more in those deleted, is the (perhaps unconscious) mimicking of peculiar apostolic speech patterns, as if to bolster their authority or projection of the righteousness with which they denounce me: The best example is the unnatural use of “even” — “it is even what our Lord would have us know.” No one has used “supernal” yet, but can that be far behind?

    The backlash to this post was completely unexpected. Maybe I’d have been better prepared had I heard or read John Thomas’s presentation, and I intend to look it up. I’ll be teaching this lesson in my own ward next Sunday (we’re way behind, and yesterday’s stake conference threw us even further behind). I don’t intend to draw attention to the historical errors — unless someone insists on bringing them up — but I do intend to tell the story without SFKimball’s embellishments.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — September 21, 2009 @ 5:45 am

  9. I’ve just been poking around in my stats program and noticed something that may go a long way toward explaining the varying reactions to this post:

    The few people (15) who came to this post from a link at the blog wrongly denouncing me for accusing prophets of teaching false doctrine spent an average of 2:24 on site. If you were among the hundreds who came via ldsblogs.org, you spent 6:41 reading the page. If you came from the conservative aggregator NothingWavering.org, you spent 8:25 (even though presumably you had already seen it there). And if you were one of the dozens who landed here via a Google search, you spent 9:11.

    It says something when readers who come deliberately to criticize spend so little time reading a post and understanding what was really being said. On the other hand, it’s encouraging that people who came here by search engine, who could have had no preconceived condemnations planted by a disturbed blogger, invested four times as long reading the post and comments. (Nine minutes, if you don’t realize, is an astounding amount of time for someone to devote to a relatively brief blog post.)

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — September 21, 2009 @ 6:24 am

  10. RE: 58. Apostolic speech patters. We like the word “supernal.” My wife and I do a “supernal count” each conference. (When we listen for a particular word, it helps us pay attention to the talks themselves.)

    Ardis: Good luck teaching this lesson. That was our lesson yesterday. I was looking forward to it and hoped that if need be I could contribute to the conversation. But alas, my wife asked me to help out in the primary (crowd control) at the last minute. :-(

    Comment by Steve C. — September 21, 2009 @ 7:41 am

  11. Because of travel, I’ve sat through this lesson 3 times now, blech. In every case, the teacher read the story, made no commentary, and moved on. I felt conflicted about not saying anything, but since they weren’t commenting on it at all, it would be just interrupting. So I let it go.

    Comment by Ben — September 21, 2009 @ 8:35 am

  12. I’ll be teaching this lesson in my own ward next Sunday (we’re way behind, and yesterday’s stake conference threw us even further behind).

    You aren’t really behind. This year there are fewer lessons. I’ll be teaching the same lesson this week and expect to end the year on the last lesson. We are on time. That’s my story and I’m sticking with it.

    Comment by Bruce Crow — September 21, 2009 @ 8:41 am

  13. I’m also teaching this lesson on Sunday, so it must be everyone else that is going too fast.

    This post (and the two Orton articles) have really helped me prepare the lesson. I plan on telling Francis Webster’s story from the beginning, thinking not that it needs to be corrected but that it is necessary to understand his statement “Was I sorry that I chose to come by handcart? No. Neither then nor any minute of my life since.”

    On the rescue, I plan on throwing in a couple comments such as “By the way, there were more than three and they didn’t carry everyone,” just to get the truth out there, but not to dwell on since that really isn’t relevant to the overall message. (Unlike the Francis Webster story, which I think is very relevant).

    Anyway, since this thread is still alive, I just wanted to chime in and say thanks, Ardis. And I just don’t get these people that have a problem with this post.

    Comment by Joe — September 21, 2009 @ 5:04 pm

  14. Thank you, Joe. You and I plan on doing the same thing — those are the important points of the lesson. I’ll tell the story as it really happened, to the best of current understanding without in any way saying “there are problems with trivial details in the traditional account.” However, if a class member were to ask about differences between what I just said and what they have heard so often, I’ll tell the truth but say as little as possible to get the lesson back on track. I’ll go into detail only if someone (and, frankly there are three particular men in my class I’m thinking of) insists on making the one erroneous point that matters doctrinally.

    Thanks for understanding, Joe.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — September 21, 2009 @ 5:29 pm

  15. Thank you Ardis. I have not commented before but enjoy the articles here. I appreciate the clarification presented. The last lessons this year that contain many quotes and are light on scripture are much harder for me to teach for the reasons shown in the post. I do not have enough historical knowledge to feel comfortable about the quotes in the manual. I will continue to follow the posts here that have points to consider when presenting lessons. I agree that the main purpose of the lesson is to focus on the rescue aspect particularly relating it ot the atonement. Thanks again.

    Comment by Murray S — September 22, 2009 @ 4:19 pm

  16. Thanks, Murray, I appreciate that. I know it is trite to say “stick to the manuals” — at least to their outlined principles, if not to their precise wording — but chances are, if an historical event is new or not well understood by you as the teacher, it’s probably new or not well understood by your class, either. This is the only instance I’m aware of where the current manual perpetuates a romanticized, inaccurate historical tradition (although there *are* other lessons where the history has been simplified or polished up more than I really like). Even so, we have the lesson’s outlined purposes to teach — be confident there, even if you’re not sure of the historical details.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — September 22, 2009 @ 4:45 pm

  17. And of course, Ardis, you must report back here after Sunday and let us know how the lesson actually went.

    Please?

    Comment by Hunter — September 22, 2009 @ 4:51 pm

  18. Sure, Hunter, but if all goes as planned, there will be little to report. :)

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — September 22, 2009 @ 6:14 pm

  19. It is interesting how things work. Driving into work today I was listening to the last general conference; Bishop Burton had a very good introduction to the handcart issue under discussion. It will be helpful when I teach the lesson. Regarding the history, I agree about polishing, Our Heritage is very simplified. Again thank you for a great site.

    Also appreciate the little red line for misspellings.

    Comment by Murray S — September 23, 2009 @ 6:49 am

  20. […] H/T Ardis E. Parshall […]

    Pingback by GM1 Gospel Doctrine – D&C and Church History Lesson #35 [Sunday, 20 September 2009] – Addendum « Hic et Nunc — September 24, 2009 @ 3:40 pm

  21. Wow, interested stuff! Who’duh thunk it! :) I’ve heard this “history” for the longest time, and when I overheard someone in church today mention that it’s not true, I became puzzled. I mean, c’mon! It’s been quoted by President Hinkley! Great post, thank you. Gives me something to think about.

    I noticed a lot of people agree entirely about this, but are there any opposing arguments? My wife didn’t think it was true (not about this post, but about the guy I overheard in church). I’m just curious. There’s always two arguments to a piece… it’d be interesting to see someone defend the opposing view.

    Great job, again. And well organized.

    P.S. Does anyone know why they haven’t taken this out of Church materials yet????

    Comment by Jared C. Greig — September 27, 2009 @ 4:28 pm

  22. Sorry for the delay in posting your comment, Jared; your ISP is virtually identical to that of someone whose comments have to be cleared before posting.

    The interesting thing to me about those who have faulted this post is that not a single one of them has made the slightest defense of the inaccurate material itself — no attempt to explain that what Chad Orton identifies as errors are not in fact errors, and no defense of the single instance of false doctrine as being in fact true. All anyone can say in opposition is that several prophets have quoted Solomon F. Kimball’s account. I suppose historical error somehow becomes magically true if a righteous man quotes it. Dunno how that works, but that’s the only evidence given in opposition to Orton’s claims.

    The manual we’re using now is quite an old one; it predates the publication of the Orton articles– as do, by the way, all use of the problematic quotations in general conference (the incident has been referred to since then, but the problematic quotation has not been used). I don’t know what all is involved in correcting a manual, much less producing a new one, but I suspect there’s a lot more work involved than you and I know. It isn’t just a matter of the expense of reprinting all those manuals, for instance — how many languages do those manuals appear in? wouldn’t they want to correct the statement in French and Vietnamese and Finnish and Mongolian at the same time? Imagine the work of translation and coordination that would take!

    Anyway, I have reason to hope that although we will continue to hear about the rescue of the handcart pioneers, we won’t hear that particular paragraph quoted over the general conference pulpit again.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — September 27, 2009 @ 6:05 pm

  23. Ardis,

    Thanks for the great post and the great site. I’ve just encountered this place recently and I’ll be back as time permits.

    Regarding the possibility of correcting the manual, I agree that it would be too costly and time consuming for the church to fix the manual (they might as well write a new one and update it while they’re at it) but I do think they could easily make amends by publishing an addendum or by simply sending a letter to the units, offering either a revised lesson or a simply advising instructors of the error and asking them to omit it or research it further. Both would avoid the cost of reprinting and would be adequate in correcting the misconceptions.

    cheers!

    Comment by Matt — September 27, 2009 @ 10:39 pm

  24. […] on this week’s Sunday School lesson about the Martin and Willie handcart companies. The first is a discussion of the controversy. The second is Ardis talking about how she taught the lesson. The lesson went reasonably well in […]

    Pingback by Ardis on the Handcart Rescue Lesson : Mormon Metaphysics — September 28, 2009 @ 9:25 am

  25. URL could not be found to Chad Orton paper. Here’s one that works:
    http://byustudies.byu.edu/PDFLibrary/45.3Orton.pdf

    Comment by J. English — November 16, 2009 @ 7:51 pm

  26. Looks like BYU Studies has reorganized its filing system. I’ve corrected both links. Thanks, J.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — November 16, 2009 @ 7:56 pm

  27. I like this post a lot.

    Those that take issue with it amuse and baffle me.

    Comment by Orwell — January 22, 2010 @ 9:43 am

  28. Ardis, I promise you that I won’t say a word this Sunday while in your class! Besides, I have always believed that it never serves the Church’s best interests to perpetuate these highly ’embroidered’ pioneer stories. Their frank and candid accounts are sufficient to illustrate their courage and achievements. Personally, I find the unvarnished facts refreshing because it reveals their frailties and humanity. I can readily relate to that and it gives me some hope for myself.
    To all; I have sat in many Gospel Doctrine classes taught by Ardis and have thoroughly enjoyed them all. She is an astute and conscientious teacher and I have never known her to perpetuate the embroidered version of any Mormon historical incident. An outstanding example of this was her recent class on the “Long Promised Day”, a story that is close to my heart. A superb presentation to a class held in rapt attention as Ardis laid to rest one myth after another. Awesome. Keepa goin’ on with these excellent classes, you are a credit to the Faith for your devotion to historic veracity.

    Comment by Velikiye Kniaz — January 22, 2010 @ 11:01 am

  29. Velikiye: You are very fortunate to be in Ardis Gospel Doctrine class. From what I have read here on Keepa for the past few years and the discussions we have had on this site I’m sure she is excellent and it would benefit us all to have a teacher like that. In other words, I’m a bit jealous. :-)

    I also appreciate your comments about the “unvarnished” stories and seeing the pioneers as real people. I think so often we elevate their experience to unrealistic levels. What they did was important for the Church, no doubt. I do find it a bit disingeneous when Youth groups do “treks” to get the pioneer experience in order to strengthen their testimonies. Case in point, last conference a member of the stake presidency talked about a trek they did a number of years ago. Some of what they had the youth do while pulling handcarts was not historically accurate. I feel we should look at the pioneers for what they did in an unvarnished way. Thanks for your comments on this.

    Comment by Steve C. — January 22, 2010 @ 3:57 pm

  30. Steve C.; I know that the ‘treks’ are intended to strengthen testimonies, even though the youth get the sanitized version. I understand that some of the trekkers have electronic ‘withdrawals’ having to be separated from their cell phones, Ipods, etc., for the few days they’re up there in Wyoming. But the Church had to do something since the statistics indicate that we lose about 60 percent of our young men and women between the ages of 25 to 29. Evidently, the adversary is having enormous ‘missionary’ success in selling materialism, casual sex, and worldly success at any price to this age group. It has been decades since the Church has used the couplet, “Be in the world and not of the world”. But it seems that even if it made a comeback it would likely convince very few. Peer pressure and peer acceptance trumps the Church of Jesus Christ these days. I don’t know if any work has been done to assess the percentage of those who eventually return. I have met a few and one once commented, “I did two years for the Lord and ten years for the devil, so I think we’re even.” Not sure that the Almighty would see it that way.
    Having said all that, I wonder how much difference it would make in the lives of our young people if they attended Priesthood, Relief Society and Sunday School classes taught by Saints who know their material, disabuse the youth of our myths and folklore, and consistently challenge them to develop their spirituality. Ardis is one of those who are so gifted. Thankfully, she is appreciated by our ward. Whereas, I was once released because my Elder’s Quorum Priesthood lessons were “too intellectual” and made the brethren “think too much about contemporary issues”. (Not politics or social activism, just the application of Christian moral standards in, [then], 20th century life.)That was what led me into inactivity, oh, and also a Pharisee bishop who excommunicated about 2/3 of the Elders Quorum in our singles ward and nearly succeeded in making it a dying branch. So the battle for excellent teachers, (excluding myself, for the aforesaid reasons), goes on. So if you’re ever in Salt Lake, Steve, and will be here for a Sunday, just go in to the Church History Library. Ask anyone there at the desk to point out Ardis. She’ll be there, hard at work on her research. Just go on up and introduce yourself and ask her for our ward schedule and come visit. Ardis teaches every other week so you have a 50/50 changes of hitting the lights just right. We’ll look forward to seeing you there!

    Comment by Velikiye Kniaz — January 22, 2010 @ 10:34 pm

  31. Velikiye:
    I actually know Ardis (she is the one who personally invited me to this site) and I agree with all the wonderful things you say about her.

    I guess I feel sort of like you and that is throughout the Church teaching can be improved in the ways you have described. Often I feel we water-down the lessons and don’t want to challenge the students. I see this quite a bit in the Youth program in our stake (and I’m concerned now that my oldest daughter is in the Youth program). I strongly believe that we should be taught by those who, as you say, know their material, avoid folklore and myths, etc. I think sometimes we get caught up in the “warm-fuzzies, feel-goods” and avoid the intellectual issues. While I would not willingly try to shake people’s faith, I do think that teachers need to go beyond the “feel good”. I also think that it is critical in the Church to emphasize developing personal testimonies. In my opinion that is what the youth desperately need! (We all need.)

    I’m sorry to hear about your negative experience as EQ teacher and your former Bishop. I’ve had my own cross to bear in those areas. I’m glad that you’re in Ardis’ ward. It sounds like what you were needing.

    Comment by Steve C. — January 23, 2010 @ 9:36 pm

  32. I was just revisiting this post since the story is coming up again soon in the rotation. I think that it is worth noting that some women carried and pulled people across the waters too. Here are a couple of those stories:

    SARAH ANN HAIGH:

    “Sarah Ann’s faith was also evidenced in her heroic service on October 19, 1856. The Martin Company had arrived at their last crossing of the North Platte River which they had followed for hundreds of miles and crossed many times before in their journey…Sarah Ann made thirty-two trips across the swiftly running river, CARRYING SIXTEEN PEOPLE to safety on her back. She was only about five feet tall herself. The next day, between thirteen and eighteen people died, some being those who had spent their last strength carrying others across this river. Sarah told how the icicles jingled from her wet skirts and mud froze to her feet. “

    Painting depicting her heroism here

    Story here

    Sarah’s mother, Elizabeth Simpson Haigh Bradshaw, also made a heroic effort to carry her son across the river:

    “At the last crossing of the icy North Platte River on Oct. 19, 1856, the first early winter storm began. The river was swift and deep. Elizabeth, with her 6-year-old son, Richard, perched on her shoulders, was swept off her feet and downstream in the crossing. Several on the banks called out to her, “Let the boy go . . . or you will both be drowned. Save yourself . . .” She refused to give them heed and struggled on until she finally made it to the opposite side whereupon she immediately raised her right arm to the square as a witness she then bore to the waiting crowd that God had protected and saved her and her son. Elizabeth’s daughter, Sarah Ann Haigh, also carried 16 people across the river on this day, thus becoming a heroine to many.”

    Comment by andrew h — August 8, 2013 @ 12:36 am

  33. I’m a great, great grandson of David Patten Kimball, one of the three boys described as hero’s by my Uncle Solomon Kimball.

    At some point in my Mormon studies, I became aware that the stories by my great uncle Solomon were exaggerated. I think there may be a telling story by uncle Solomon in an essay found in his scarce little book, “Thrilling Experiences.” The essay points out that Edward Tullidge, a biographer of both Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, was also the original author of the Heber C. Kimball bio. Since Tullidge had been excommunicated, Solomon gathered many of his brothers to the Kimball graveyard for a meeting about the project. They decided to buy back the manuscript from Tullidge and give it to their nephew Orson F. Whitney for completion. Solomon’s involvement allowed him to work in extra materials into the back of the biography’s original edition including his own narratives of his older brother David whom he idolized. These were not included in later editions.

    Solomon reported that at the “brother’s” meeting held at the graveyard, a man began looking in on the event through the fence. Remembering the scripture “Forget not to entertain strangers,” they invited the onlooker to join the discussion. As they adjourned, the brothers began talking about the angel that attended their gathering.

    It took me a while to get past Dan Jones comments in “Forty Years Among the Indians,” about the over stated heroics by David and the other two. Jones also got his digs in on David’s father-in-law Thomas Stephen Williams whom he reported had arrived at the handcart scene with his “band of apostates.”

    Yeah, not terribly faith promoting, but loads of interesting stuff here.

    Comment by Tom Kimball — August 8, 2013 @ 11:39 am

  34. Oh, did the murder/manslaughter guy’s name start with R.T? I’m only related by marriage. . . .

    Comment by Grant — August 8, 2013 @ 2:41 pm

  35. Our ward had this lesson today. There was zero mention of the “3 young men” or Francis Webster and the bit about how none of the handcart pioneers apostatized.

    Instead the whole focus of the lesson was on service and rescuing. We discussed that we need to rescue people how they want to be rescued and not how we think they need to be rescued. The teacher even gave me the last few minutes of class to discuss the best ways to serve and rescue and I was able to discuss several ways in which we can serve those around us in a personal way and not just in institutional ways. There was also a big focus on the healing power of the atonement. All in all a very good lesson.

    Comment by andrew h — September 22, 2013 @ 2:48 pm

  36. Thanks to Andrew’s new comment, I just read back through part of this discussion. Earlier he mentioned John Thomas’s experience teaching BYU-Idaho religion students about our modern understanding of the Sweetwater Rescue, based on the Orton paper. Here’s a link to Thomas’s paper, provided by Ben S at another blog a couple of days ago:

    http://rsc.byu.edu/archived/volume-10-number-2-2009/sweetwater-revisited-sour-notes-and-ways-learning

    The Thomas paper could be important reading for anyone interested in debunking any beloved but untrue legend within the Church.

    Comment by Amy T — September 22, 2013 @ 3:34 pm

  37. Ardis, I’ll be teaching this lesson next Sunday, so I’m just now starting to think about it. I very much appreciate this reminder. I subscribe to BYU Studies and have read the articles, but that was long enough ago that I don’t have a full handle on the details and I was going to have to try to dig around for them. This post not only conveniently gives the links but summarizes the key points, which is extremely helpful to me in my preparations. I appreciate it.

    Comment by Kevin Barney — September 22, 2013 @ 6:44 pm

  38. Thanks so much for this.

    Comment by Naismith — September 23, 2013 @ 11:23 am