Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » Before You Teach or Attend Gospel Doctrine 35 on the Handcart Rescue, Read This

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”


“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.



  1. A welcome and thoughtful post, Ardis. Thank you.

    Comment by J. Stapley — September 11, 2009 @ 3:11 pm

  2. SO how do you propose bringing this up without undermining the the teacher?

    Comment by Matt W. — September 11, 2009 @ 3:15 pm

  3. Thanks, J. I had been meaning for weeks to do a post on this, outlining the traditional errors and the historical truth to make it easier than reading the linked articles — although they really are quickly read and easily understood — but time crept up on me. I’ll be teaching this lesson, but not until next week.

    Another Keepa post that could be helpful to teachers (as if there weren’t already too much material in the lesson manual to cover in one session!) is this talk by Charles H. Hart, with the same theme of going out to rescue our brethren, using stories other than the handcart companies.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — September 11, 2009 @ 3:17 pm

  4. Matt, I wouldn’t bring any of it up unless the teacher or another class member did first. But in that case, I might say something like, “I’ve always wondered how that worked, since it seemed contrary to the gospel to promise salvation under those circumstances. But just this week I learned that the church has discovered — since the Sunday School manual was published — that …” and state the truth.

    Both of the linked articles go to great effort to avoid offense in correcting people — including Pres. Hinckley — who have taught the traditional account. Maybe Orton’s wording in those sections would suggest other ways you could bring it up that would be more natural to you.

    And if it’s a minor detail, something purely historical rather than doctrinal, or even if it’s a doctrinal matter that is said very quickly and the discussion goes on to something else without dwelling on the inaccuracy, I’d probably not bother to say anything at all. It wouldn’t be worth derailing the teacher’s planned lesson.

    I’m only suggesting you be prepared if one of the serious errors becomes THE focus of the lesson. Then you’ll have something to contribute.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — September 11, 2009 @ 3:26 pm

  5. I helped co-teach this lesson 4 years ago the last time we studied D&C .Hurricane Kartina had just happened and that weeks Church News was full of of stories about the Church’s participation in the relief effort. I made the comparison with the efforts to rescue the Handcart Companies and the Katirna Relief efforts ,in both cases Church members dropped what they were doing and went to the assistance of their brothers and sisters in need. In Katrina most of the people who were helped were not church members.
    While teachers may not want to use this particular example it is a theme that could be developed.

    Comment by John Willis — September 11, 2009 @ 4:42 pm

  6. Wow, Ardis – I was just minutes away from posting something very similar over at Mike Parker’s post at the FAIR blog, when I saw your post pop up.

    Not only is the “ensuring celestial salvation” quote part of the lesson manual, but also the emotional turning point of the video that the lesson manual recommends be shown.

    The quote has gained some traction by the fact that it has been quoted verbatim by both Presidents Hinckley and Faust in general conference.

    It is is attributed to Hafen’s _Handcarts to Zion_, but the Solomon Kimball quote from the 1908 Improvement Era reads:

    “When President Brigham Young heard of this heroic act, he wept like a child, and declared that this act alone would immortalize them. Their names are George W. Grant, C. Allen Huntington, and David P. Kimball.”

    Comment by Reed Russell — September 11, 2009 @ 4:52 pm

  7. Oo, that’s good, John. You remind me of another story we’ve talked about, sending relief supplies to Europe after World War II.

    Discussing the handcart rescue as one of a series of Mormon historical rescues would be one way to keep the focus on the main idea stated in the lesson. I’d still discuss the handcarts, because it’s what the lesson recommends and because all church members ought to be familiar with the event, but for classes that are already very familiar with the story and don’t need to go into the nitty gritty, bringing up Katrina and other such events would emphasize the pattern over the specific illustration.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — September 11, 2009 @ 4:55 pm

  8. You have the historiography right, Reed — the story has been transmitted from Solomon Kimball to LeRoy Hafen to President Hinckley, with a lot of stops in between.

    It could be tricky to correct a tale with such a pedigree — but Chad Orton does a good job of that by theorizing how the story became so badly garbled rather than baldly stating “they got it wrong.” Everybody saves face, which is why I recommend those articles so enthusiastically.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — September 11, 2009 @ 4:59 pm

  9. Thank you Ardis- this is valuable information to share (tactfully, with any luck!).

    Comment by Tracy M — September 11, 2009 @ 5:24 pm

  10. Thanks for sharing these links, Ardis. I just got called to be a sub in GD so will be keeping this in mind.

    Comment by m&m — September 12, 2009 @ 12:34 am

  11. Monson, Hinckley, and Faust all taught “seriously false doctrine” in general conference. Wow.

    Comment by R. Gary — September 12, 2009 @ 2:38 am

  12. The quotation contains an element of false doctrine along with several elements of false history, regardless of who has quoted it or where or how many times. Perhaps the doctrine would be true if the history underlying it were true, but the history is false.

    In any case, these men were quoting a man who misquoted Brigham Young. No amount of repetition, no matter by whom, will make the false quotation a true one.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — September 12, 2009 @ 7:39 am

  13. I had shared the positive aspects of Brother Webster’s story with the teacher. And she wants me to bring that up in class.

    Sacrifice, obedience, and dedication are Brother and Sister Webster’s story.

    Brother Webster had hit it big in the California Gold Rush. He returned home to England and married. When they planned to gather to Zion, they could have travelled in style, making things a little more comfortable for the pregnant Sister Webster. Instead they used their money so that several others could travel too. Rather than driving a large, more comfortable wagon, Brother Webster instead pulled a handcart and the pregnant Sister Webster walked so that the money saved could be used to help others gather with the saints. Imagine Sister Webster walking while several months pregnant. She delivered a child on the way. At one point, a fellow traveller had gotten sick and Brother Webster had allowed the man to ride on the handcart as Brother Webster pulled it.

    Comment by Floyd the Wonderdog — September 12, 2009 @ 7:45 am

  14. That is all true, Floyd, thanks for bringing it up. The faith and sacrifice of Francis and Betsy Webster and others like them — if indeed there were any others quite like them — are the reason we remember the handcart story and honor those who traveled that way.

    The danger in pointing out an error in a familiar story (in this case, an error that has nothing at all to do with the Websters’ faithful legacy) is that the tendency of human pride, the fact that we know something that others may not, may lead us to derail a Sunday School lesson in the vanity of announcing the error. I hope I haven’t given an excuse to anyone to do that. The entire spotlight in this lesson should remain on the sacrifices of Saints like the Websters, and those who came to their rescue at the end of that terrible trek.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — September 12, 2009 @ 7:55 am

  15. Last time I taught this lesson, Ardis, I included some material about the temple ordinances that were done on behalf of those pioneers who died, as recounted in Susan Arrington Madsen’s “The Second Rescue”.

    Comment by Alison — September 12, 2009 @ 9:35 am

  16. I can see that working in very nicely, Alison — it’s a form of rescuing we could all be working on for our kindred, and it links this event to the very recent Sunday School lessons on temple ordinances.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — September 12, 2009 @ 9:42 am

  17. is it time for this lesson again, already? where has the past four years gone?!

    Comment by Anne (U.K) — September 12, 2009 @ 1:05 pm

  18. “Wherefore, the course of the Lord is one eternal round.”

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — September 12, 2009 @ 1:22 pm

  19. You’re right that this story has been told one too many times. Next time I hear it, I’ll be able to help guide the discussion the right direction.

    Comment by Michelle Glauser — September 12, 2009 @ 1:50 pm

  20. “that an act of physical bravery guaranteed celestial glory regardless of what the men might do in later life”

    Calling it only an act of physical bravery is limiting the scope of the meaning of the crossing. What the boys did was an act of charity under very difficult conditions–carrying people across a frozen body of water who had already suffered so much exposure that wading through seemed like too much to bear. Charity is a celestial quality and the greater the sacrifice, the greater the charity.

    Hut it is true that later acts were could not be ignored.

    Comment by Michaela Stephens — September 12, 2009 @ 2:38 pm

  21. Short answer, stick to the principles being taught in the approved materials.

    Long answer (I apologize in advance for the length), I have taught Church History in seminary and Gospel Doctrine many years (including this year). I have avidly studied Church History in detail for 30+ years.

    I read Brother Orton’s articles (which are overly long but nicely detailed) and re-read President Hinckley’s talks where he mentions the incident (twice in Oct. 1981, Apr. 1997, Oct. 2006…although he only quotes Kimball in ’81), Thomas S. Monson (Apr. 1990), James E. Faust (Oct. 1992), and Lesson 35.

    Sorry, but I do not see false doctrine being taught. Yes, Solomon Kimball’s quote is an oversimplified account and, as is often the case with such things, has lead to improper conclusions by some (perhaps many). Even so, it is an account given by a faithful member to the best of his recollection.

    BUT any misunderstanding is the result of not paying attention to the context of the remarks and a lack of understanding of how many of our church historical records came to be.

    It is also a matter of starting in the wrong place, which in this case is, “That’s false doctrine.” If you start in the right place, all the times these men taught the doctrine correctly, then you ask youself the question of what they were really trying to say.

    The Orton articles did not change my perception of the incidents nor did they lead me to believe that Young, Hinckley, Monson or Faust were teaching false doctrine. Sure, by quoting it they lend some amount of endorsement, but a little effort on our part goes a long way to understanding it properly.

    Lastly, apply the “SO WHAT?” test. Were there only three young men? Were they 17, 18, 22 years old? Did they carry all of them or some of then across the river? Did they die as a direct result of the exposure (no matter how many years later) or was that an opinion? Did they fail to endure to the end and lose the promise of Eternal Life?

    So what?

    Comment by Steve Chidester — September 13, 2009 @ 5:48 am

  22. Some details in response to Steve Chidester:

    “SO WHAT?” — For purposes of the principles expected to be taught in this lesson, none of the errors in Solomon F. Kimball’s quotation matter in the slightest. I said so in the original post (“Some errors are relatively insignificant”) and in following comments (“And if it’s a minor detail … I’d probably not bother to say anything at all”). Teachers and class members very often do stray from the principles expected to be taught, though.

    I have not said that Presidents Monson, Hinckley and Faust have taught false doctrine. That you, a total stranger to Keepa, would word your comment in such a way suggests that you have come here through the link posted yesterday by a filthy and lying creature. Shame on you. You should keep more honest company.

    What I wrote is this:

    One paragraph in the oft-quoted Solomon F. Kimball account of the handcart rescue contains a number of historical errors, and one error that is problematic because of its doctrinal implications. It matters not at all how many times that paragraph is quoted, nor by whom — the errors are errors.

    I have sat through more than one discussion of the handcart rescue where a teacher or class member has zeroed in on that false and problematic statement, and where class discussion turned to martyrdom, and how glorious it would be to have an opportunity like that of those “three young boys” to earn the celestial kingdom by giving their lives like that, without having to bother with the year-in, year-out process of learning and repenting and striving to do better. I have heard people speculate that the 9/11 first responders likewise earned celestial exaltation for their actions. I have heard one particularly overwrought discussion about how American servicemen KIAs (but apparently not the soldiers of other countries?) are all enshrined in the celestial kingdom because they died in service to their country, never mind how impure the lives of some of them may have been right up to the night before battle. All of those discussions depended on Solomon F. Kimball’s doctrinally unsound paragraph for their base.

    It is to provide readers with the legitimate truth of the handcart rescue, and to arm them with facts to steer class discussions away from false speculations and back to the point outlined in the lesson manual — and for that narrow purpose alone — that this post is written.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — September 13, 2009 @ 7:59 am

  23. To complain that a journal article is “overly long” is a standard anti-intellectual technique. Steve, thanks for showing your true colors up front.

    Ardis: you mistakenly assume that Sunday School hour has anything to do with the teaching and seeking after truth. It is mostly about reinforcing our myths and ideologies. So, please stop messing with our myths (plus, from the posts at his blog, I am not sure if R. Gary can handle this much excitement).

    This is why people like Leonard Arrington were deemed dangerous. He produced faithful scholarship but the history he told was not always consistent with the popular myths spread in Seminary or Sunday School. So, Ardis, you are in great company. Keep up to good work.

    Comment by Chris H. — September 13, 2009 @ 10:02 am

  24. Steve:
    I concur with Ardis. I DO see a false doctrine being taught. And the fact that the article was published by BYU studies shows the Church has no problem learning the facts, but some individuals in the church have a problem accepting the truth, “Wherever it may come from”. That’s not my style of Mormonism (the Brain-off kind). Good luck with it.
    Don’t mess with our Ardis.

    Comment by psychochemiker — September 13, 2009 @ 11:13 am

  25. This has been an interesting post and discussion. I’ve enjoyed it quite a bit. I also have enjoyed the accompanying articles. To be honest, handcart pioneers are not my interest or forte.

    That said, I hope no one objects to my request. In the Church today, there is this perception of the Mormon pioneers which this post, in part, addresses. We have the perception that they all pulled handcarts and suffered along the way. While this certainly is true of some, it’s not true of all. It also seems that some LDS think that because they descend from handcart pioneers, that they are somehow better Mormons. (I hope and believe that is a relatively small group.) My point is that we hold the handcart pioneers in great esteem. This gets me to my request/question. Was this always the case? I get the impression from the Orton articles that the Willy-Martin episode was early on looked at as a tragedy or a blunder. Why else would anyone in Francis Webster’s Sunday School class be critical? And, if I’m not mistaking, after the W-M episode, didn’t Brigham Young discontinue handcart companies? I also get the impression from Orton that in later years, the Church began to see the event not as a mistake or blunder but rather as a testimony of the pioneers’ faith. I ask this just trying to understand the historiography. I hope I don’t sound snarky or sarcastic. I just don’t know much about this period and would be interested in knowing how the Church viewed things then as opposed to now.

    Also, getting back to BY’s statement about the blessings the young men would receive; I wonder how much influence the “Reformation” that was going on at the time influenced his comments?

    Comment by Steve C. — September 13, 2009 @ 2:03 pm

  26. Ardis— Don’t let R. Gary and the people at NDBF get to you. Their minds are made up and don’t want to be confused with facts.

    I remember the statement of the great English Economist John Maynard Keynes when economists of the time had difficulties understanding and dealing with the Great Depression he responded

    “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do ,Sir ? “

    Comment by John Willis — September 13, 2009 @ 2:31 pm

  27. The easiest of those qustions to answer, Steve,is the one with the least emotion attached to it: There were five more handcart companies (two in 1857, two in 1858, and one in 1859) after the Martin and Willie companies. None of those companies, like the three first companies of 1856, had significant deaths (about 30 total for the “other” eight companies), although of course they were all extraordinarily taxing physically.

    I agree with you that there is a social perception among some that the wagon pioneers were okay, but the handcart pioneers were better, and members of the Martin and Willie companies were the best, as far as “royal” ancestors go. I made a joke about that to David Roberts while he was working on his handcart book, which he incorporated into the text — I hope, but am not sure, that anyone who reads it there realizes that I was describing a perception that I don’t agree with: I suppose those that went in the first, say, five years of overland migration may have been the bravest in one sense, because there was very little hope of relief or guarantee of survival through the winter once they reached Utah, while those who came later did at least find a community to greet them — but even that, I think, is stretching things. Everybody who made the trip faced tremendous hardship and risked everything, regardless of when or how they came. Even migration by train after 1869, as I’ve written in a few posts, was no piece of cake.

    I don’t know when or how the image of the handcarts came to dominate our collective memory of the migration. It wasn’t that way in the early days — it wasn’t until about the time of the 50th anniversary of the first handcart travel that those who traveled that way began to publish their experiences.

    The 20th century Pioneer Day civic celebrations in Salt Lake City started out with the corporate name “Covered Wagon Days” suggesting that in the ’20s and ’30s and ’40s, the wagon image predominated. The “reenactment” of 1947, with fake whitetops added to automobiles, suggests that the wagon image predominated then, too (since historical accuracy was hardly a strong point of that tour, I don’t think the absence of handcarts in 1847 would have stopped the 1947 reenactors had handcarts held any special prestige). Even the Pioneer Day parades — formal and informal — of my ’60s youth featured wagons only, whitetops added to little red wagons, for instance, with a total absence of handcarts (there were no little kids pulling carts or wheelbarrows in neighborhood parades).

    I don’t think the worship of the handcart pioneers began in our generation — I think that’s been a nagging trait of the DUP for many years before this — but I suspect that the popularity of handcart treks in our generation is what is behind the worst of our handcart mania.

    You ask other questions that I can’t even speculate on. Let’s see if anybody else has ideas.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — September 13, 2009 @ 2:41 pm

  28. Thanks, John, and others, for your support. Most of you have been readers of Keepa long enough to have no doubt whatsoever that I would never have in mind the ugly things that those twisted creatures have warped isolated phrases of my writing into seeming to say. That I have your trust — that you keep coming back to read more — means a lot to me.

    Steve, one more thing — I don’t have any reason to believe that Brigham Young blessed those young men with anything beyond his appreciation and the expectation that the Saints would never forget what they had done. I think the report of anything further is Solomon F. Kimball’s dramatic embroidery, and is not grounded in fact.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — September 13, 2009 @ 2:48 pm

  29. Ardis:
    Thanks for your comments on my questions. I would also welcome any other comments and clarification on my questions from other Keepaninies. :-)

    I am a bit surprised that the association between handcarts and the whole pioneering experience is a recent occurrence.

    I do know that a number of German refugees after World War II pulled handcarts across Prussia in the dead of winter and compared their experience to the 1856 pioneers. That said, I don’t think they attached the handcart-mania as you describe it to their experience.

    Comment by Steve C. — September 13, 2009 @ 3:50 pm

  30. I wish I had not read this post before our Sunday School class today. I found its suggestion that we go armed to intervene in the lesson to be intrusive (and not characteristic of this blog). I tried not to enter the classroom with that thought first in my mind, but couldn’t help it.

    Fortunately, the teacher shared a spiritual feeling she had while standing at river’s edge in Nauvoo that I had also experienced. At that point, the other thoughts fled and I settled in to partake of whatever else she shared of her testimony and experience regarding the pioneers. I wasn’t disappointed. It was a good lesson.

    My thanks for posting the two articles, which I read. However, I hope it will be a long while before I am told again what to say in class.

    Comment by Clair — September 13, 2009 @ 5:18 pm

  31. Wow, Clair. Are your thoughts that easily influenced by Ardis? Just because a blogger, even the wonderful Ardis, argues that you should do or say something, doesn’t mean that you must do it. Please try reading some Socrates or John Stuart Mill. However, before you do, you do not need to believe or follow any of it. Agency: try it.

    To be honest, if more people took Ardis’ posts and comments as marching orders, I might be happy with it (except when she disagrees with me, of course).

    Comment by Chris H. — September 13, 2009 @ 5:47 pm

  32. “listeners … it is not your right to take over a lesson”

    “you may be able to help guide class discussion in a way that is supportive of the teacher’s efforts”

    “a debate … isn’t the intent of the lesson, you know”

    “Debating the merits of the handcart program, and assigning blame for the disaster, is not what your class members need”

    “you’ll be in a position to suggest, courteously and in the proper spirit”

    “be prepared to help your teacher”

    Those are all quotations from the original post. Other very similar statements are included in my responses to commenters.

    I don’t know how much clearer I could have been in supporting the lesson manual’s stated purpose, the duty of class members to support the teacher and his/her planned discussion, and doctrinal purity.

    The post was framed so as not to stray into the liberal territory of parts of the bloggernacle that have in the past scoffed and mocked the manuals and told bloggernaclers how much smarter they are than the teacher, how badly the church tries to mislead its members by sanitizing history, yada yada yada. Yet it isn’t the liberal end of the bloggernacle that is damning me — it’s the conservative end, the end where I usually find myself. It is baffling.

    Clair, I had no intention of “telling you what to say in class” in this or any other post. I don’t know whether I’m more puzzled by that statement or by your need to chastise me for your mistaken interpretation of my suggestions.

    I’m sorry you were upset. You couldn’t possibly be more upset than I am by your reaction, though.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — September 13, 2009 @ 6:17 pm

  33. Adris,

    The content of your post was insightful and the tone was appropriate.

    Give yourself a pat on the back.

    Comment by L-d Sus — September 13, 2009 @ 6:33 pm

  34. I appreciate your posts. But I have learned the hard way that whatever comes out of the mouth of God’s servant when he is speaking to the Church in the name of Christ, it is even what our Lord would have us know. Can history be skewed? Do people have different perceptions? Of course. But the fact that, even after all these years, the story remains (as quoted by recent Presidents) should be a testimony unto you of the truthfulness of the message… not necessarily the history.

    Comment by S-Dog — September 13, 2009 @ 8:05 pm

  35. Folks, I’ve grown weary of people who have never, ever, even once bothered to comment on a Keepa post before today either taking me to task or spouting un-Mormon nonsense to prove how bluer than blue, truer than true they are.

    This post is now closed to comments except from regular Keepa participants. If I don’t know your name, I’ll delete your remarks. If you want to blather on about how righteous you are and how wicked I am, then you can damn well support Keepa with ordinary comments for a while before you exercise that privilege.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — September 13, 2009 @ 8:36 pm

  36. Ardis,

    Didn’t you know: It is not whether a story really happened that makes it true, but whether it gets repeated a lot. Who needs history or social science? By this standard, we can get all the truth we need from the emails forwarded to us by our relatives.

    At least, now you do not have to spend so much time doing research. Welcome to the dark-side.

    Comment by Chris H. — September 13, 2009 @ 9:21 pm

  37. Ardis, I am sorry that my comment upset you. Please delete it. I was troubled by the post, but I meant to explain my thoughts in a constructive way, and not with any personal judgment.

    Comment by Clair — September 13, 2009 @ 9:55 pm

  38. I taught this lesson today and did not use the “three teen story.” Didn’t need to – there’s so much great handcart history, with or without it..

    I greatly appreciate the suggestion of closing with the story of the “second rescue.” It fits in beautifully with the intent of the lesson. There’s a good write-up on it in David Roberts’ _Devil’s Gate_.

    Comment by Reed Russell — September 13, 2009 @ 11:16 pm

  39. Clair, you’re the one critical voice in this whole discussion who has a right to speak your mind — you’re a valued, long-term reader of Keepa who has supported me with your contributions to many other discussions. I’m upset that I let you down by giving you the wrong idea with my intent for this post — but if that’s how you felt, then *you* have earned the right to say so.

    Please forgive this post and keep participating.

    (Thanks, too, to others who have either understood what I was trying to do here, or who have been defensive on my behalf for other reasons, whether or not I’ve directly acknowledged your comments.)

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — September 14, 2009 @ 12:08 am

  40. Thanks for the links to the articles. We haven’t had this lesson yet so I expect they will make for timely background reading.

    Comment by Peter LLC — September 14, 2009 @ 6:40 am

  41. I think if anything this post illustrates the need for the proper historical context of a given quote. Orton helps put the BY quote into this perspective. Otherwise, it can be misinterpreted.

    Thanks for the post.

    Comment by Steve C. — September 14, 2009 @ 9:03 am

  42. I note that Chad Orton’s article on the Sweetwater rescue is referenced in the publication of apostle Quentin L. Cook’s April 2008 General Conference address (footnote 5). Apparently neither that apostle nor the Ensign/Liahona editorial staff felt that Orton’s discussion of the false doctrine implied by the Solomon F. Kimball quote was a reflection on the prophetic honor of Presidents Hinckley, Monson, and Faust.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — September 14, 2009 @ 9:58 am

  43. “When President Brigham Young heard of this heroic act, he wept like a child, and declared that this act alone would immortalize them.”

    Can’t we simply understand Brother Brigham’s statement to mean “perpetuate their memory”–their (and others’) sacrifices for their brothers and sisters in the Martin and Willey Companies have made their names known to several generations of church members–the same way as, say, Michael Jordan’s name is “immortal” among basketball fans?

    On the other hand, nobody remembers the name of my ancestors who traveled in the Martin Company, despite the fact that the group consisted of two widows, a bunch of young women, and one boy, and they all survived. Not only are they not known to the church generally, but the story didn’t make it down even to their granddaughter, my grandmother.

    But, of course, now that I know it, we’ve all become special.

    Comment by Mark B. — September 14, 2009 @ 10:28 am

  44. We could understand it that way, Mark B., and that’s very likely much closer to what Brigham Young actually said and actually meant.

    The unedited quotation that appears in the Sunday School lesson manual, though, is quite different:

    “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.'”

    I always knew you were special, Mark, even before learning of your royal ancestry. :)

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — September 14, 2009 @ 10:49 am

  45. Regarding Ardis’ comment 42 — Now THAT would be a great way to introduce the points mentioned in the OP. “You know, there’s this really fascinating article that is cited by Elder Cook in one of his recent General Conference addresses about …”

    For some in Gospel Doctrine class, using the magic words “General Conference” and “cited by [member of Q12]” would do the trick!

    (By the way, I mostly missed all the controversy in this post over the weekend. The only thing I could add is a repetition of psychochemiker’s comment 24: “Don’t mess with our Ardis.”)

    Comment by Hunter — September 14, 2009 @ 11:39 am

  46. Hunter: You’re right. In Gos Doc class if someone says, “according to (you name the historian), yada, yada, yada.” It carries very little weight. But if you say, “Elder so-and-so said ____ in General Conference,” that carries all the weight in the world. That’s not to say that General Authorities are off base (I hope no one takes it that way.) So if you can find a conference talk where the speaker is accurate, you’re in great shape.

    Mark B: As I’ve read the BY quotations I tend to favor the “immortal” quote. To me that is more consistant with gospel doctrine. Nevertheless, both quotes were committed to print many years after the event.

    Comment by Steve C. — September 14, 2009 @ 12:26 pm

  47. Ardis,

    Thanks for the links to Orton’s articles. I had some prior acquaintance with some of the problems of these stories as told, but the links filled in a lot of blanks for me. I’m especially grateful to learn about the Webster’s giving up their wagon and team so that others could have handcarts. To me, that is an equal to any of the stories of the rescue. Due to stake conference, I think we have this lesson next week, and I am going to forward Orton’s Webster article to our gospel doctrine teacher.

    Comment by kevinf — September 14, 2009 @ 1:54 pm

  48. I’m especially grateful to learn about the Webster’s giving up their wagon and team so that others could have handcarts. To me, that is an equal to any of the stories of the rescue.

    Isn’t it, though? Talk about living the law of consecration!

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — September 14, 2009 @ 2:26 pm

  49. “. . . there are no contemporary records of this statement . . .” (Orton, p. 9).

    This quote from Orton’s Sweetwater rescue article seems key. To me Orton is saying in a very kind and inoffensive way, that there is no evidence of Brigham Young making the “saved in the celestial kingdom” statement in the official record. I realize that Brigham Young said things privately to people, but when and where was Solomon Kimball to have heard Brigham Young say what he suggests that Brigham Young said? What is the provenance for this quote? With so much of Young’s speeches, letters, and discourses recorded and electronically searchable, it is striking to me that Orton could find “no contemporary records of this statement.” For me that automatically moves the quote into the realm of folk legend and I see the legend process at work in its evolution and transmutation over time. It is at least one step removed from Young in its being recorded. If Solomon Kimball was there when Young supposedly said it, how long after did Solomon write it down? How subject to the vagaries of memory is it? Orton does a great job of tracing its evolution over time and in essence tracing its evolution as a folk legend that directly contradicts verifiable things that Young did say about enduring to the end.

    As one poster asked, “So What?”

    Well, so what. Why did President Packer care so much when an e-mail twice circulated, attributed to him, about the youth of today serving as generals in the war in heaven? So what? Let it go President Packer, it gives us all a good feeling and the message is positive. President Packer chose not to let it go. Twice he had an official directive circulated. This one from the Church News, April 28, 2001:

    We continue to receive reports of the distribution of a quote attributed to me which begins, ‘The youth of the Church today were generals in the war in heaven,’ and ends with the statement that when they return to heaven ‘all in attendance will bow in your presence.’
    I did not make that statement. I do not believe that statement.
    The statement, on occasion, has been attributed to others of the First Presidency and the Twelve. None of the Brethren made that statement.
    President Packer has sent a letter to mission presidents requesting their help in clarifying this matter among missionaries and members, and has had posted on some Internet sites carrying the statement a notice that he did not make this declaration.

    Brigham Young is not around to clear up quotes being attributed to him, but serious scholars such as Orton and Parshall are. I for one am grateful. Too often we cling to folk legends and lore more carefully than we do to scripture and to Jesus.

    I teach this lesson this Sunday and look forward to a stimulating discussion with the class.

    Comment by Paul Reeve — September 14, 2009 @ 2:50 pm

  50. Ardis, I have nothing to contribute, but I really appreciate your post. I read both those articles and found them much more inspiring than shortened and inaccurate versions I was familiar with. Francis Webster is quite the man.

    Comment by Martin — September 14, 2009 @ 7:34 pm

  51. 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

  52. 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

  53. 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

  54. 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

  55. 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

  56. 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 as your personal URL.

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

  57. 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.


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

  58. 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

  59. 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, you spent 6:41 reading the page. If you came from the conservative aggregator, 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

  60. 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

  61. 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

  62. 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

  63. 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

  64. 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

  65. 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

  66. 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

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


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

  68. 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

  69. 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

  70. […] 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

  71. 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

  72. 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

  73. 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.


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

  74. […] 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

  75. URL could not be found to Chad Orton paper. Here’s one that works:

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

  76. 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

  77. 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

  78. 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

  79. 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

  80. 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

  81. 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

  82. 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’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

  83. 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

  84. 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

  85. 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

  86. 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:

    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

  87. 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

  88. Thanks so much for this.

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