Sunday, July 1, 2012

The Handcart Song

Abram Evans (1807-1856)

My Fourth Great Grandfather

me --> Ruth Rasmussen Buchanan --> Arthur Price Rasmussen --> Mary Jane Olsen --> Sally Ann Barton Olsen --> Jane Evans Barton --> Abram Evans

When I was a young girl in Primary every July we sang songs to honor the pioneers who came to Utah.  One song was "The Handcart Song."

When pioneers moved to the West
With courage strong they met the test.
They pushed their handcarts all day long,
And as they pushed they sang this song 

For some must push and some must pull
As we go marching up the hill;
So merrily on our way we go
Until we reach the Valley-o.
The Handcart Song, Primary Children's Songbook p.220

This song never made much sense to me.  I didn't even know what a handcart looked like.  Why were some pushing and others pulling?  Wouldn't that make them stay in one place?  Did they really sing the same song we were singing?  I didn't realize that they actually had a different song that they sang also known as the "Handcart Song."

When I think of my European ancestors joining the LDS church and moving west, I think of people living in poor conditions and grateful for the opportunity for a better life, like my Scottish ancestor, Charles Miller or my husband's ancestor, Maria Pack.  But recently I came across the story of my Welsh ancestors who have a different story.

Abram Evans was born in Merthyr Tydfil, Wales in 1807.  

I've never been to Wales, but it looks like it's just as beautiful as it is in my imagination.

Abram was educated and good at shorthand.  When he was very young he apprenticed in the stove mould trade.

When he was 25 he married, Mary Davies, who was 20.  Mary was educated as well and fluent in both English and Welsh.

When they were introduced to the Mormon religion, they took to it right away and they and their children were baptized.  They remained in Wales and often hosted and entertained missionaries.  Mary was their interpreter.  Abram served as the Branch Clerk for 14 years.  

As soon as they joined the Church they felt the Spirit of Elijah and began collecting the records of their ancestors.  They visited churches in their native land and gathered many records.  Once they had gathered the valuable information they felt compelled to go to America.

By this time the Evans owned several homes that they rented and had a business as well. All of this brought in a good income. But their desire to travel to America was so strong, they didn't wait to settle their affairs and just walked away from the properties bringing with them only the cash they had on hand.

They boarded the S. Curling bound for Boston, MA. 

When they arrived in Boston May 23, 1856, they were told that once they got to Florence, Nebraska, they would be traveling using handcarts.  So many people were traveling to Utah, that they didn't have wagons for everyone and the handcarts were working out well for travelers.  But they were much smaller than wagons. 

This meant that the Evans were going to have to put their excess luggage including their genealogical records in storage in Boston and send for it later.

It took some time to get the handcarts lined up, but finally the Evans were assigned to a company, the Bunker Company.  Chances are, you've never heard of this handcart company.  But you probably have heard of two other companies that left about a month later,  the Willie and Martin Handcart Companies. 

Even though they weren't assigned to those fateful handcart companies, they weren't free from tragedy.

Abram Evans was a large robust man, about 200 pounds.  On the journey he became sick with a serious illness.  He could no longer withstand the journey.  So the family put all of their luggage in one handcart, and Abram laid down in the other.  The women pulled the handcart with the luggage, the men pulled their father.  

After many miles, the captain, Edward Bunker, let them put their father in a wagon in exchange for 200 lbs. worth of supplies in the second handcart.  But even the wagon ride didn't help Abram recover.

Finally just 150 miles from their destination at Green River, Wyoming, Abram succumbed and he died.  He was buried in the shade of a clump of trees near the Old Green River crossing.  He was 49 years old. 

They arrived in Salt Lake City six days later.

All of their possessions left behind in Boston were burned in a fire before they could send for them, including the genealogical records.  They never returned to Wales to sell their properties. 

Ye saints who dwell on Europe's shore 
Prepare yourselves for many more, 
To leave behind your native land, 
For sure God's judgments are at hand. 
For you must cross the raging main 
Before the promised land you gain 
And with the faithful make a start 
To cross the plains with your handcart.

For some must push and some must pull
As we go marching up the hill;
So merrily on our way we go
Until we reach the Valley-o.

The Handcart Song, sung by the Bunker Handcart Company

That Primary song will never be the same.


  1. Help! the picture above, of the handcart family - who painted it, do you know? Thank you. I really want to try to find it somewhere, but I can't find anywhere else on the internet that has a picture of it or says who painted it.
    Heidi [flewddurflam[at]hotmail]

    1. This might get you one step closer to your answer.