Latter-day Saint Life

Elder Rasband shares a surprising pioneer love story


As Latter-day Saints prepare to celebrate the 175th anniversary of Pioneer Day on July 24th this year, LDS Living recognizes that in addition to the sacrifices of the early pioneers, there are many modern-day pioneers across the globe who have build the Church in their nations or in their families. This story originally ran in 2018 but is being republished as a way to celebrate the story of a true pioneers.

He was a rescuer sent by Brigham Young from Utah. She was a member of the Willie handcart company. It’s an unusual setting for a love story, but this story has lasted through generations.

On Pioneer Day in 2016, Elder Ronald A. Rasband took to Facebook and shared the story of how his great-grandmother and great-grandfather met, recounting one family’s inspiring story of faith and perseverance. In the July 2018 Ensign, Elder Rasband again shared his family story, adding details and a powerful testimony:

“On July 24 we celebrate Pioneer Day, and we express gratitude for the many pioneers who gave everything to build up the Salt Lake Valley and many other communities in the western United States. We also express gratitude for Latter-day Saint pioneers throughout the world who have blazed—and are blazing—a gospel path for others to follow.

“What moved them on? What pushed them forward? The answer is a testimony of the Lord Jesus Christ. As a great-grandson of pioneers, I add my witness and testimony that their struggles were not in vain. What they felt, I feel. What they knew, I know and bear record of.”

In his original post, Elder Rasband wrote:

Today I would like to share a very personal pioneer story. This story has taught me that out of tremendous adversity can come great blessings.

My great-grandmother Sarah Elizabeth Moulton was born in rural England in 1837. Early in her childhood, her parents were baptized. For years, their family scrimped and saved bits of money in a fruit jar hoping to immigrate to America. In 1856, with the help of the Perpetual Emigrating Fund, the growing family of nine had barely enough money to make the journey. Their mother, pregnant at the time, received a blessing that promised her that every member of her family would make it to Utah safely.

The Moulton family was assigned to the Willie handcart company and began their journey in one covered and one open handcart. But supplies for the 1,300-mile journey quickly diminished. At one point, the family of ten had only barley bread and one apple for every three persons.

One morning in early October, they awoke to 18 inches of deep snow. The company struggled along to the Sweetwater River in Wyoming and decided they could make it no further. The Saints, my great-grandmother included, waited in starvation, cold, and misery for help from Salt Lake City.

My great-grandfather John Bennett Hawkins was one of the 27 young men who answered the call from President Brigham Young to help. On October 21, 1856, the rescuers reached the frozen and starving pioneers. This was the first meeting of my great-grandparents.

The Willie handcart company made it to Salt Lake City on November 9, 1856. True to their mother’s blessing, not a single member of the Moulton family perished in the journey.

Having endured excruciating hardship, Sarah was filled with gratitude and appreciation for her family’s rescue. These feelings soon blossomed into romance for Sarah and John, and they were married later that year. They were blessed with three sons and seven daughters.

We may not starve or walk across frozen plains, but we each face trials suited to our circumstances. Our trials may shake us to our core. May we come to understand, as my great-grandparents did, that out of tremendous adversity can come great blessings and eternal happiness.

Read the full story in the Ensign here.

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