In the summer of 1856, two pioneer companies set out to move west. These companies set out from Iowa City in mid to late July on foot, pulling handcarts. In late August, they left Nebraska to continue their trek in the unpopulated west. They hoped to make a journey of 900 miles before winter came. Unfortunately, winter came early that year, hitting the handcart companies hard in the middle of October, around the same time that they ran out of food. More than 200 people died between the two companies.
These courageous pioneers relied on their faith in God to get them through.
On October 4, 1856, LDS President Brigham Young heard about the pioneers still on the plains and began to formulate a plan to help get them to Salt Lake City safely. Rescuers arrived and saved many lives as they helped the handcart companies make it to Salt Lake.
One story, depicted in two of the paintings on display, is the story of James (11 years old) and Joseph (4 years old) Kirkwood. The Kirkwoods were from Glasgow, Scotland, and were with their family in the company. James was given the task to care for his younger brother as the family pulled the handcart. The company came to a stretch of land called Rocky Ridge. The 15-mile long trek over Rocky Ridge took the company 27 hours to complete. As they walked, Joseph became tired and unable to continue. James picked up his brother and fell behind the rest of the company, carrying his brother the whole way. When they caught up to the group at the campsite, James collapsed and died from exhaustion, having literally given his life for his brother.
The story behind each of the paintings here is just as touching as the story of James Kirkwood. In 2006, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints commissioned artists to paint portions of the pioneers’ journey. These paintings bring their struggling and their faith to life. We invite everyone to come in and see these paintings and read the stories of the pioneers who sacrificed everything to ‘come to Zion.’
…And should we die before our journey’s through, happy day! All is well! We then are free from toil and sorrow, too; With the just we shall dwell! But if our lives are spared again to see the Saints their rest obtain, Oh, how we’ll make this chorus swell–All is well! All is well!
“Come, Come Ye Saints” by the pioneer William Clayton