Francis Webster

FrancisWebsterFrancis Webster prepared to leave England with $1600 in gold coins.  He was baptized a member of the Church in 1848 when he was 18 and then left for Australia and then onto California and the Gold Rush.  He returned to England after four years for a short visit then left again for America to prospect the Calaveras River and operate a provision store. Three years later, after achieving financial success, he returned to England and married Ann Elizabeth (Betsy) Parsons.[1]

In order to make the trip to Salt Lake City comfortably, Francis secured, through a Church agent, a good wagon with camp equipment and two yoke of cattle for $500.  However, shortly after, Francis heard that Brigham Young asked the well-to-do saints in England to share with those in need.  Francis was obedient, cancelled the order for the wagon and cattle and decided to go by handcart.  In his own words he said, “I left Liverpool on board the ship Horizon paying the fare for 9 persons besides myself and Wife to Salt Lake City.  Landed at Boston on the 30 of June.  Traveled through the States to Ioway city by railroad.  I started Ioway for Salt Lake city with hand Carts on the 27 of July.”[2]

Francis traveled with his wife Betsy, Betsy’s mother and stepfather, William and Amy Parsons Middleton and the Middleton’s son John.   A daughter, Amy Elizabeth, was born at Wolf Creek on the Platte on September 27th to Francis and Betsy.  Francis suffered with dysentery and frozen feet during the journey. His daughter Amy wrote, “Father had lived for 5 days on. . .Buffalo meat without salt, when they were met by the relief train.  Father had done that so grandmother and mother could have his quarter lb. of flour.”[3]

Francis and his family survived the handcart trek and settled in Cedar City.  Since giving most of his fortune away, he arrived in Cedar City with a little clothing to his name.  He became a prominent civic, business and Church leader.  He served as mayor, city councilman, justice of the peace and representative to the territorial legislature.  He also served on the high council, president of his seventies quorum and other church positions.  Betsy was the mother to ten children, worked as a tailor and served as Relief Society president.[4]

Many years after the handcart trek, William Palmer related an inspirational incident involving Francis Webster. During a Sunday school class in Cedar City, some people were discussing the handcart tragedy and criticizing Church leaders for allowing any converts to cross the plains with no more than a handcart for supplies.  William Palmer recalled:

“An old man in the corner sat silent and listened as long as he could stand it.  Then he arose and said things that no person who heard him will ever forget.  His face was white with emotion, yet he spoke calmly, deliberately, but with great earnestness and sincerity.

“He said in substance, ‘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 every one 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 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 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.

“The speaker was Francis Webster, and when he sat down there was not a dry eye in the room.’”[5]

Even though Francis’ claim that none of the company ever apostatized is not completely accurate, it is very close.  Like Francis Webster most of those who survived the handcart trek are examples of faith in the face of adversity and strength in the commitment to God.

Francis Webster died at the age of 76 in 1906.  His wife, Betsy followed him the next year.  Their example of faithful endurance during the handcart journey and throughout their lives continues to influence and inspire.

[1] The Price We Paid at 254

[2] Tell My Story, Too at 328

[3] Ibid

[4] The Price We Paid at 422-423

[5] Ibid at 423-424