002O - Francis Webster's Testimony

Francis Webster
Francis Webster

"In the Midst of Thee" - volumes 1 & 2 contain 200 favorite Glenn Rawson Stories - at: History of the Saints . org

Now, I don’t usually make a habit of telling the end of the story first, but in this case it’s necessary. The story I’m about to relate has been one of the most beloved pioneer stories since it was first told by William R. Palmer in 1943 in a radio broadcast in Cedar City, Utah.

Now, by way of background to Palmer’s story: In 1856, five companies of Latter-day Saints crossed the Great Plains by handcart. Of those five companies, three passed successfully over the continent with little or no incident, but the last two, The Willie and Martin Companies, were trapped by early winter snows on the high plains of Wyoming. Over two hundred souls perished. It is a remarkable story of courage, faith, and compassion.

One of those emigrants in the Martin Company was Francis Webster. Many years later, probably just after the turn of the Twentieth Century, the following incident occurred as related by the eye-witness William Palmer.

He said, “I heard a testimony once that made me tingle to the roots of my hair. I was in an adult Sunday School class of over fifty men and women….The subject under discussion was the ill-fated handcart company that suffered so terribly in the snow in 1856. Some sharp criticism of the Church and its leaders was being indulged in for permitting any company of converts to venture across the plains with no more supplies or protection than a handcart caravan afforded.

One old man in the corner sat silent and listened as long he could stand it, then, he arose and said things that no person who heard him will ever forget. His face was white with emotion, yet he spoke calmly, deliberately, but with great earnestness and sincerity.

He said in substance, ‘I ask you to stop this criticism. You are discussing a matter you know nothing about. Cold historic facts mean nothing here for they give no proper interpretation of the questions involved. Mistake to send the handcart company out so late in the season? Yes. But I was in that company and my wife was there too….We suffered beyond anything you can imagine and many died of exposure and starvation, but did you ever hear a survivor of that company utter a word of criticism? Not one of that Company ever apostatized or left the Church; because everyone of us came through with an absolute knowledge that God lives, for we became acquainted with him in our extremities.

I have pulled my handcart when I was so weak and weary from illness and lack of food that I could hardly put one foot ahead of the other. I have looked ahead and seen a patch of sand or a hill slope and I have said, I can go only that far and there I must give up, for I cannot pull the load through it. I have gone on to that sand and when I reached it, the cart began pushing me. I have looked back many times to see who was pushing my cart but my eyes saw no one. I knew that the angels of God were there.
Was I sorry that I chose to come by handcart? No. Neither then, nor any minute of my life since. The price we paid to become acquainted with God was a privilege to pay and I am thankful that I was privileged to come in the Martin Handcart Company.’

The speaker was Francis Webster and when he sat down there was not a dry eye in the room. We were a subdued and chastened lot,” Palmer recorded.

Now what I’ve related to you is the end of the story. It’s powerful, it’s instructive, and it’s inspiring. But if you knew the beginning of the story, the beginning of the journey of Francis and Betsy Webster with the Martin Handcart Company, you would agree this story is even more meaningful.

Glenn Rawson - July 2012
Music: Til We Meet Again/I’ll Go Where You Want Me to Go (edited) - Jason Tonioli
Song: Stand for Something - Afterglow