Joseph A. Young

Joseph A. YoungJoseph Angell Young was Brigham Young’s oldest son.  He served a four-year mission to Great Britain.  He returned from his mission on October 4, 1856, with Franklin Richards.  At the time that they returned, the saints were still celebrating the entry of the first three handcart companies into the Salt Lake Valley.[1] The handcart companies made the journey more quickly than wagons and with no more deaths than a typical wagon company.  But, the mood was more subdued when Franklin Richards reported that two large handcart companies and two wagon companies were still on the trail.  Brigham Young convened a meeting to assess what needed to be done to resupply the companies.  On the morning of October 5, his tone changed and, rather than discussing resupply of the companies, he issued an urgent call to save the handcart pioneers that were still on the trail.  At the time he issued the call, the weather was still warm on the trail, as emigration leaders had anticipated.[2]

Despite having returned from his mission only three days earlier, Joseph A. Young answered the prophet’s call.  When the rescue team departed, they anticipated that the Willie company would be somewhere between 113 and 169 miles from Salt Lake City.  In fact, they were 270 miles away, and the Martin company was 100 miles behind the Willie company.  On October 14, the rescue team reached Black’s Fork.  With no sign of the Willie company, George Grant assigned Joseph Young to lead an express team of four rescuers to find the companies and inform them that help was on the way.

On the morning of October 19, a large winter storm blasted everyone on the trail.  The express team reached the Willie company mid-day during a break in the storm near Ice Slough.  The prior day, George Cunningham had dreamed of the their arrival.  “I dreamed a dream that morning [that the arrival of the rescue team] had come. . . .  I thought I saw two men coming toward us on horseback. They were riding very swiftly and soon came up to us. . . .  They were dressed in blue soldier overcoats and had Spanish saddles on their horses. . . .  They seemed to rejoice and be exceedingly glad that they had come to our relief and saved us. . . .  And to our great pleasure every word was literally fulfilled.”[3] The rescue team was met with shouts of joy.  Just hours earlier, they had issued the last ration of flour.[4]

Tears of joy streamed down Joseph Young’s face as he saw the Willie company in such desperate conditions.  Emily Hill, whom he knew in England, asked him, “Why do you cry, Brother Young?”  He replied, “Oh, you look so starved, and the provisions are miles away.”  He felt in his pocket and found an onion and gave it to her and said, “Eat this.”[5] After comforting the saints, he and the other members of the express team rode on to find the Martin company and encourage them as well.

The express team needed only three days to reach Devil’s Gate, 45 miles after they left the Willie company.  They stayed there, as George Grant had instructed them to do.  Franklin Richards had estimated that they would find the Martin company there, but there was no sign of them.  When Captain Grant arrived at Devil’s Gate he was disheartened that there was no word of the Martin, Hunt and Hodgett companies.[6]  He sent Joseph Young and two others on another express mission and told them not to return until the companies were found.[7]  The express rescuers rode at full gallop whenever the trail permitted, traveling 50 miles on October 28.  As they approached a bend in the Platte River, they saw a “white man’s shoe track” and put their animals to the utmost speed, coming upon the Martin company camp at Red Bluff.  As they entered camp, despair thawed into hope.[8]  William Binder recorded, “It is impossible to describe the joy and gratitude that filled every heart upon the arrival of such messengers of salvation.”[9]

After finding the Martin and Hodgett companies, Joseph and his express team continued east 10 more miles until they found the Hunt company near the last crossing of the Platte.  They got the company going and rode hard the next day to report to Captain Grant.  After reporting, they went back east to help the saints to Devil’s Gate for regrouping and shelter.

On November 3, George Grant decided to send express riders to inform Brigham Young of the situation.  Joseph carried a letter that read, “Our company is too small to help much, it is only a drop in the bucket, as it were, in comparison to what is needed.  I think that not over one-third of br. Martin’s company is able to walk.”[10]  On the return journey, Joseph Young was able to turn back towards the handcart companies many of the rescuers who had given up.  His express team made the 327 mile journey to Salt Lake City in 10 days, arriving on November 13.

After reporting back, Joseph Young began breaking the road at Big Mountain through waist deep snow.  The last of the two wagon companies arrived in Salt Lake City on December 15.[11]


[1] Follow Me To Zion at 218.

[2] Id.

[3] Tell My Story, Too at 517.

[4] Follow Me To Zion at 225.

[5] Tell my Story, Too at 517; Follow Me to Zion at 222-225.

[6] Tell My Story, Too at 517.

[7] Id. at 517-18.

[8] The Price We Paid at 340.

[9] Id.

[10] Tell My Story, Too at 519.

[11] Id.