Pioneer: Francis Webster
(SUP Reader’s Theater, 03 January 2022)
My name is Francis Webster, I was born on the 8th day of February 1830, In the Parish of Wymondham, County of Norfolk, England. As a young boy my health was poor, and my parents had but little hope of my living to be a man. My education was limited, and I had only been taught to read. In March of the year 1848, I first heard the Elders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I heard them preach a few times and decided they had the true gospel, according to the scriptures and my own ideas of truth. I was baptized into the Church on the 17th of April, 1848. Being very ignorant, and knowing but little about my duties as a son of God, I started as an immigrant to Australia. I continued my wanderings and started for San Francisco. On my journey I visited New Zealand, Tahiti and the Sandwich Islands, staying several days at each place. I worked in the mines for a few years and then closed up my affairs and started for home with $1,500 of gold dust, having been absent from England of four years. I found that I had lost my standing with the Saints through going to Australia then to California without the counsel of the Church, yet I often visited their meetings and always found them very interesting to me. I renewed my acquaintance with the Saints and was rebaptized. I was married on the 5th day of December, 1855, to Miss Ann Elizabeth Parsons.
Enjoying a degree of prosperity for a young man of my age, I determined to journey to Utah as comfortably as possible. I secured through an agent, a good wagon with camp equipment and two yoke of cattle for $500. However, shortly after, I learned that Brigham Young had asked the well-to-do Saints in England to share with those in need. Following the prophet’s counsel, I cancelled the order for the wagon and cattle and decided to go to Utah by handcart. I left Liverpool on board the ship Horizon paying the expenses to Salt Lake City for nine persons besides myself and wife.
I Arrived in Boston on June 30th, 1856, and then traveled by railroad to Iowa City. I joined the Martin Handcart Company, and we left Iowa for Salt Lake City on the 27th of July. I traveled with my wife Betsy, Betsy’s mother and her step-father William and Amy Parsons Middleton, and the Middleton’s son John. Our daughter Amy Elizabeth was born at Wolf Creek on the Platte on September 27th. I had diarrhea all the way from Iowa City to Florence so bad that I sat down on the road and was administered to by the Elders, and then got up and pulled my hand cart with renewed vigor. My own feet were badly frozen on the journey. Before the relief train arrived, I lived five days on buffalo meat without salt so my wife and her mother could have the quarter pound of flour allotted to me.
I arrived in Salt Lake City on the 30th day of November, 1856. On the 2nd day of December, with my feet badly frozen, I stared with the brethren for Cedar City. I paid my tithing on the little clothing I brought with me and signed the Articles of Consecration 5 days after my arrival in Cedar City.
My time in Cedar City was good to me. I became a prominent civic, business, and Church leader. I served as mayor, member of the city council, justice of the peace, and representative in the territorial legislature. I was instrumental with other community leaders in Cedar City being selected as the location for the Branch Normal School. I served on the high council, president of the Seventies quorum and other Church positions. My wife Betsy was the mother of ten children and worked as a tailor and served as Relief Society president.
In the twilight of my life, I was sitting quietly in the corner of a Sunday School class where some people were discussing the handcart tragedy and criticizing Church leaders for allowing converts to cross the plains so late in the year with only a handcart and a few supplies. I quietly arose, and with my face white from emotion I spoke calmly but deliberately so all could hear:
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. Was it a mistake to send the handcart company out so late in the season? Yes. But I was in that company and my wife was in it and Sister Nellie Unthank whom you have cited 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 the 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 then 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.