Joseph B. Elder, Age 21
Joseph Elder joined the church in 1855 in the Midwest. The next year, in 1856, he was ordained to the Melchezidek Priesthood, and wrote in his journal that night, a testament of the type of man he was:
“I am willing to receive all the honor that God is willing to bestow on me through His Holy Priesthood … I am determined by the help of God to perform every duty and bear every burden that God through his Holy Priesthood is willing to lay on my shoulders . . . and through His grace I shall be able to perform all that he may require at my hands.”1
Joseph Elder fulfilled these words with honor and dignity in his service to the Willie Company. He was asked to leave the college that he was attending and help with the immigration to Zion. He sold what he had and left his family.
“I bade adieu to my sisters and mother and oh, how my heart did almost break to leave them… But God had use for me in other places and I must go.”2
He spent the summer of 1856 in Missouri and Nebraska gathering, purchasing and helping the handcart companies as they left for Zion. At the end of summer he was to accompany the missionaries returning from Europe to the Salt Lake Valley, but on short notice was asked to accompany the Willie Company, driving an extra supply wagon and to help hunt and supply food on the trail. On the day they pulled out, Joseph wrote:
“Got all together and rolled out … It was quite an interesting sight to see the carts… and to see the people in such good faith although the Plains had never been crossed by handcarts. Yet they believed they could accomplish it.”3
Along the trail, Joseph performed every task asked of him. When a storm caused a stampede and many of the oxen and cattle were lost, Joseph was asked to stay behind and look for the animals. Few were found, but they did meet up with President Richards and the other missionaries returning from Europe on the trail to Salt Lake. Joseph was suppose to leave the Willie Company at this time and travel with President Richards, but was asked again to change his plans and stay with the handcart company, which he did willingly. Joseph “showed a simple, understated willingness to serve at any time, in any place, and in any way his leaders felt he was needed.”4
The Willie Company proceeded but then the weather turned bad. Animals became scarce for hunting and severe snow storms arrived. Not knowing if help was coming, the company moved forward in the storm. On Oct. 18 Joseph was driving the forward wagon:
“It was severe for the people was weak . . . I determined to keep ahead until I overtook the carts anyhow but by the time we caught up with the carts the clouds dispersed and the sun shone out and as we looked ahead, Lo and behold, we saw a wagon coming . . . Such a shout as was raised in camp I never before heard. It came from the hearts of faithful Saints who felt that their lives was in the hands of their God. But what made them shout? For we had met wagons before, no, but it was that the Spirit of the Lord bore testimony that they were Saviors coming to their relief and it truly was.“5
The wagon was an express team, which told them of a rescue team behind. The Express team left the next morning in search of the Martin Company. Captain Willie decided that circumstances were so desperate that the company would camp and he would go search for the relief wagons, and hurry them along. He took the ever-willing Joseph Elder with him and as they left “for the West, many heart was lifted in prayer for their success and speedy return.”6
Hoping the relief wagons were only 12 miles away, they left without food for themselves or the horses. But after traveling 27 miles, including climbing Rocky Ridge, in awful snow, wind and cold, they did not find the company. Finally, near nightfall, they saw a marker on the trail, placed by Harvey Cluff, which lead them to Captain Grant and the relief company, who had gone off the trail the previous day to seek protection from the storm. Without the sign, Joseph and Captain Willie would have missed the relief team, which would have delayed the wagons from reaching the desperate Handcart Company even more.
Though help had arrived, the Willie Company needed to keep moving towards Zion. The second day after the relief company arrived, the Willie company crossed Rocky Ridge .
“That was an awful day. Many can never forget the scenes they witnessed that day . . . It was very late before we all got into camp. Oh, how my heart did quake and shudder at the awful scenes which surrounded me. The next morning we buried 13. . . We rested on day and then again pursued our journey. The health of the camp gradually increased and the people revived as we moved toward Zion . . . the camp gradually grew more cheerful. . . Though it snowed and blew the storms in the mountains, yet still we was able to pursue our journey. Though we suffered a great deal, yet the Saints endured it well.”7
Joseph Elder made it to the Salt Lake Valley on November 9. But his service was not over. Just two weeks later President Brigham Young issued a call for volunteers to go help the last company, and Joseph volunteered to go.
“We pursued our journey though the snow was 2 feet deep . . . We went to work . . .It was hard looking sight to see so many old and young men and women so far in the snow . . . We reached the city again . . . I returned home feeling first rate glad that I had gone.”8
Joseph Elder consecrated all that he had to the Kingdom of God. “I had imparted freely of all that I had, both money, property, time and talent to the emigration, and that every word and action proved that I was determined to do the will of God and do all that I was able to help build up the kingdom of God in these last days.”9
Joseph continued his service to the Lord by serving several missions. His legacy of service and duty continues with his posterity, who have served as missionaries at Martin’s Cove.
1 – “Tell my Story, Too”, pg 38
2 – “Tell my Story, Too”, pg 38
3- “Tell my Story, Too”, pg 39
4- “The Price We Paid”, pg 100
5 – “Tell my Story, Too”, pg 40
6- “The Price We Paid”, pg 135
7 – “Tell my Story, Too”, pg 40
8 – “Tell my Story, Too”, pg 40-41
9- “The Price We Paid”, pg 100