There's a palpable excitement that accompanies a Pioneer Handcart Trek. We felt it while waiting for our "family" to arrive. As our youth stepped off the buses, decked in their authentic pioneer costumes, the husband and I were anxious to meet our little crew. Once we were gathered and introduced, our family was allowed to familiarize ourselves with our handcart. The carts were loaded and the pulling began.
The trails we walked were forest service roads. They were rutty and rocky, but roads nonetheless. And we were grateful for roads. There was an occasional rise, but the first 3 miles was relatively easy and uneventful as we became acquainted with the rhythm of the cart.
Nearing the end of the third mile, a rider on horseback galloped up alongside us to warn us that there were hunters in the area. No sooner had we been warned than we heard a gunshot that punctuated the sounds of youth singing at the bars of their carts. We were invited to lay down our carts and move to a clearing where four men busied themselves, gutting a large buffalo.
We encouraged our family to gather around. There was a reverence in the air. A reverence for life, for the sacrifice of the great buffalo. As the other youth continued to leave the train of handcarts and stream into the clearing, gasps and exclamations dotted the air. Soon a gentleman stepped forward and began to share, in first person, the account of Ephraim Hanks as follows:
In the fall of 1856, Ephraim was staying at the home of a friend, about nineteen miles south of Salt Lake City. He had gone to bed but while he still lay wide awake in his bed, he heard a voice calling him by name and then saying, “The handcart people are in trouble and you are wanted; will you go and help them?” He turned toward the direction from which the sound had come and saw a man standing in the room. Without hesitation he answered, “Yes, I will go if I am called.” Then he turned to go to sleep, but had laid only a few minutes when the voice called a second time, repeating almost the same words as on the first occasion. His answer was the same as before. It was then repeated a third time. When Eph got up in the morning he said to his friend, “The handcart people are in trouble, and I have promised to go help them.” Then he hurried to Salt Lake and immediately left to help the immigrants.
He related the following, “The terrific storm which caused the immigrants so much suffering and loss overtook me near the South Pass, where I stopped for about three days with Reddick Allred, who had come out with provisions for the immigrants. One night as I was preparing to make a bed in the snow with the few articles that my pack animal carried for me, I thought how comfortable a buffalo robe would be on such an occasion, and also how I would relish a little buffalo meat for supper, and before lying down for the night I was instinctively led to ask the Lord to send me a buffalo. Now, I am a firm believer in the efficacy of prayer, for I have on many occasions asked the Lord for blessings which He in His mercy has bestowed upon me. But when after praying I looked around me and spied a buffalo within fifty yards of my camp, my surprise was complete; I had certainly not expected so immediate an answer to my prayer. However, I soon collected myself and was not at a loss what to do. Taking deliberate aim at the animal, my first shot brought him down; he made a few jumps only, and then rolled down into the very hollow where I was camped. I was soon busily engaged skinning my game, finishing which, I spread the hide on the snow and placed my bed upon it. I next prepared supper, eating tongue and other choice parts of the animal I had killed.
“Early the next morning I was on my way again, and soon reached what is known as the Ice Springs Bench. There I happened on a herd of buffalo and I killed one. I was impressed to do this, although I did not know why until a few hours later, but the thought occurred to my mind that the hand of the Lord was in it, as it was a rare thing to find buffalo herds around that place at this late part of the season. I skinned and dressed it, then cut up part of its meat in long strips and loaded it on my horses. Then I resumed my journey, and traveled on towards evening. I think the sun was about an hour high on the West when I spied something in the distance that looked like a black streak in the snow. As I got near it, I perceived it moved; then I was satisfied that this was the long looked for handcart company, led by Captain Edward Martin. I reached the ill-fated train just as the immigrants were camping for the night. The sight that met my gaze as I entered their camp can never be erased from my memory. The starved forms and haggard countenances of the poor sufferers, as they moved about slowly, shivering with cold, to prepare their scanty evening meal was enough to touch the stoutest heart. When they saw me coming, they hailed me with joy inexpressible, and when they further beheld the supply of fresh meat I brought into camp, their gratitude knew no bounds. Flocking around me, one would say, ‘Oh please, give me a small piece of meat.’ Another would exclaim, ‘My poor children are starving, do give me a little,’ and children with tears in their eyes would call out, ‘Give me some, give me some.’ At first I tried to wait on them and handed out the meat as they called for it; but finally I told them to help themselves. Five minutes later both my horses had been released of their extra burden- the meat was all gone, and the next few hours found the people in camp busily engaged in cooking and eating it, with thankful hearts.
“A prophecy had been made by one of the brethren that the company should feast on buffalo meat when their provisions might run short; my arrival in their camp, loaded with meat, was the beginning of the fulfillment of that prediction.”
After Ephraim arrived at camp, a woman walked by him, crying aloud. He followed her to Daniel Tyler’s wagon where she told of her husband being at the point of death. She asked Elder Tyler to come and administer to him. This good brother, tired and weary was he was, after pulling handcarts all day, had just retired for the night, and was a little reluctant in getting up, but he went with the woman. Ephraim went also and when they arrived at her tent they found the apparently lifeless form of her husband. On seeing him, Elder Tyler remarked, “I cannot administer to a dead man,” and he went back to bed. Ephraim Hanks went back to the camp and asked Elders Grant and Kimball and one or two others to help him. They warmed some water and washed the dying man from head to foot. Then Ephraim anointed him with consecrated oil over his whole body, after which they laid their hands on him and commanded him in the name of Jesus Christ to breathe and live. The effect was instantaneous. The man who was dead to all appearances immediately began to breathe, sat up in bed and began to sing a hymn. His wife, unable to control her feeling of joy and thankfulness ran through the camp exclaiming, “My husband was dead but now is alive, praise be the name of God. The man who brought the buffalo meat has healed him.”
When the account was concluded, we dispersed, without a sound and returned to our carts. I felt a tangible spirit surrounding the gathering. I teared up throughout the retelling- maybe because I have a cousin who is a descendant of Eprhraim Hanks- who is acutally named Ephraim Hanks-and this recounting connected with me on a personal level. Or maybe just because the story is amazing in and of itself and testifies of the love of God. Whatever the reason, I felt the spirit testify of the miracle of the buffalo.
And I was to feel the spirit testify of many more miracles throughout the remainder of the trek.