October 23, 1856. The Willie Handcart Company was camped at the base of Rocky Ridge. They had just passed a cold and miserable night in the snow. If they had slept it all it would have been because of sheer exhaustion. Starving, weak, and chilled they now faced what would be their greatest trial yet. They would have 15 miles to cover that day to get over that exposed summit to shelter at Rock Creek Hollow. Slogging through knee-deep snow and into the face of a howling northwest wind that dropped wind chill below zero and pierced them through, it would take some of the company more than 20 hours to reach Rock Creek—and some would not make it at all—their bodies lying stiff and frozen along the road.
Though the rescuers had found them, there were only six wagons that accompanied them. Only the sickest could ride. At one point Rocky Ridge climbs 700 feet in two miles. It is a steep hike under the best of conditions and they had to keep walking or die.
Archibald McPhail was given charge of the people in his tent. He made it over Rocky Ridge to Rock Creek and took inventory of his charges. As was the case with so many in their weakened state, one woman had lagged behind and was unaccounted for. Rather than stay in the relative security of the sheltered camp, Archibald felt it was his duty to go back and find her. Notwithstanding his own weakness and exhaustion he cheerfully set out to find her. Four miles back along the trail on the far side of Strawberry Creek he found her. He pleaded with her to come, but she refused to cross that icy stream. She would stay there and die.
Archibald crossed the frozen stream and picked the woman up, but as he crossed the stream, he fell through the ice and was soaked to the waist. By the time he reached camp his clothes were frozen to him and he was deeply chilled. There was no fire for him. The men in camp were too weak and exhausted to go in search of firewood. With no warm food or drink, Archibald was put to bed under a handcart. The wind blew strong through the night and overturned the handcart three times. By morning he was burning with fever.
As they broke camp and moved on Archibald was loaded in the sick wagon. He would not walk again. Finally, just outside of present-day Evanston, Wyoming, Jane McPhail sat by her husband’s side in the wagon as he quietly slipped away. A small tallow candle burned and Jane prayed the candle would last until Archibald’s mortal sufferings ended. Finally, the candle flickered out, at the same moment her husband breathed his last He was 39 years of age.
If by the grace of God we are given stewardship over someone else—I hope this story serves as a reminder—don’t forget them. Greater love hath no man than this; that he lay down his life for his friends.
Glenn Rawson is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and he resides in Blackfoot. Watch Glenn Rawson on KPVI Channel 6 at 8:30 a.m. Sundays or listen to his stories on EZ Rock 95.3 from 5 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. For more stories by Glenn Rawson visit www.glennrawson.com or https://www.facebook.com/pages/Glenn-Rawson-Stories.