Ephraim Knowlton Hanks

Trek - Ephraim Hanks Ephraim’s restless and roaming nature brought him much adventure in his lifetime.  As a teenager, he left home, worked for a while on the Erie Canal and then joined the Navy.   Eph set sail on the U.S.S. Columbus, which visited many interesting ports abroad.  A few days before the ship reached its homeport in New York, Ephraim decided not to reenlist in the Navy but to return to his home.  Arriving home, Ephraim was introduced to the Church by his brother Sidney.  Ephraim was soon baptized and left with the saints on the trek west.  He served in the Mormon Battalion and was a premier frontiersman of his day making many trips between Salt Lake City and St. Joseph, Missouri carrying the mail.[1]

The story of how Ephraim Hanks came to help the Martin company show great spiritual sensitivity, courage, and determination.  After the first rescue team left Salt Lake City, Ephraim heard a voice in the night calling him to help the handcart companies.  The next day he went to Salt Lake, where he heard a call for more rescuers.  Eph said, “When some of the brethren responded by explaining that they could get ready to start in a few days, I spoke at once saying, ‘I am ready now!’”  The next day he began the journey east with one light wagon.

Trek - Ephraim Hanks in snow
Ephrain Hanks in Snow

When Ephraim reached the South Pass, he was stopped by storms for three days.  He said, “In all my travels in the Rocky Mountains both before and afterwards, I have seen no worse.”  He stayed at South Pass with Reddick Allred, unable to move his wagon.  Then “being deeply concerned about the possible fate of the immigrants, . . . I determined to start out on horseback to meet them.”

Soon after leaving South pass, Ephraim Hanks was preparing his camp in the snow.  “I thought how comfortable a buffalo robe would be on such an occasion,” he wrote, “and also how I could 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.”  Eph then looked around and saw a buffalo within 50 yards.  He killed it with his first shot and then skinned and dressed it, ate some of the meat, and went to bed.

The next morning Ephraim Hanks killed another buffalo at Ice Springs Bench.  He loaded the meat on his horses and resumed his journey.  Later that day he finally found the Martin company.  Recalling this experience, he wrote:

“I think the sun was about an hour high in the west when I spied something in the distance that looked like a black streak in the snow.  As I got near to 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.”

Ephraim Hanks tried to lift the people’s drooping spirits.   He gave special care to those who were most sick and frozen.  On the night he met the Martin company, David Blair, the London branch president was at the point of death.  In tears his wife went to Daniel Tyler, a subcaptain, and asked him to administer to her husband.  When Daniel Tyler saw him, he said, “I cannot administer to a dead man” and asked Eph Hanks to prepare the body for burial.  Instead, Eph anointed David Blair with oil and administered to him, “command[ing] him in the name of Jesus Christ to breath and live.”  David Blair was soon much better, and his wife ran through camp expressing her joy.  Although he would die within the next two weeks, this brief respite provided a few more days with his family.

A constant flow of people sought blessing from Ephraim Hanks.  As he administered to them, he witnessed many manifestations of God’s power and love.  Describing this experience, he later wrote:

“The greater portion of my time was devoted to waiting on the sick.  ‘Come to me,’ ‘help me,’ ‘please administer to my sick wife,’ or ‘my dying child,’ were some of the requests that were being made of me almost hourly. . . . I spent days going from tent to tent administering to the sick.  Truly the Lord was with me and other of His servants who labored faithfully together with me in the day of trial and suffering.”

To those whose limbs were severely frozen, Eph Hanks provided a harder service.  He explained:

“Many of the immigrants whose extremities were frozen lost limbs, either whole or in part.  Many such I washed with water and castile soap, until the frozen parts would fall off, after which I would sever the shreds of flesh from the remaining portions of the limbs with my scissors.  Some of the emigrants lost toes, others fingers, and again others whole hands and feet; one woman . . . lost both her legs below the knees, and quite a number who survived became cripples for life.”

Eph Hanks’s son Sidney explained in more detail how his father helped those with frozen limbs:

“The next morning everyone in camp was talking about Brother Hanks, about his prayers for the sick, but even more the operations he had performed with his hunting knife.  Many of the Saints were carrying frozen limbs which were endangering their lives.  Brother Hanks amputated toes and feet. . . . First [he] anointed these folks and prayed that the amputation could be done without pain.  Then. . . he took out his great hunting knife, held it to the fire to cleanse it and took off the dying limb with its keen blade; many with tears in their eyes said they hadn’t ‘felt a thing.’”

Ephraim Hanks remained with the Martin company, serving those in need all the way to the Salt Lake Valley.[2]

Almost all of the accounts given by these belated immigrants in the Martin, Hodgett and Hunt companies mention the arrival of Ephraim Hanks.  Throughout his life, he exercised his spiritual gifts on behalf of others.  He was particularly noted for the gift of healing.  Ephraim Hanks continued to be a man of great faith serving as a patriarch in the Church.  He eventually had 3 wives and 26 children.  One of his wives, Thisbe Read, was a girl he helped to rescue in the Martin company.  Together they were the parents of 12 children.[3]

Ephraim Hanks:   “I Am Ready Now!”


[1] Tell My Story, Too at 455

[2] The Price We Paid at 282-285

[3] Tell My Story, Too at 457