Excerpts From Three Strong Western Women

Mormon Religion

Like Islam, Judaism and other Christian denominations, Mormon beliefs trace their origin to the writings of Hebrew scholars in the Middle East thousands of years ago. As Mohammed took the concept of the creator God and preached doctrines to the Arabs, Joseph Smith expanded religious teachings to include God's interaction with people in North America.

Smith said that in 1823 an angel led him to golden plates buried in a stone box in Upstate New York. He told followers that he used a stone to translate the words from "Reformed Egyptian" and copied down the accounts of God's people in North America. After finishing the book, he returned the plates to the angel.

The Book of Mormon presents itself as the writings, around 400 A.D., of a man named Mormon and his son Moroni, who compiled the book from earlier works. It covers a period from 2200 B.C. to 421 A.D. and tells of two groups of people migrating to North America. The Jaredites leave the Tower of Babel around 2200 B.C. and travel to the New World on barges. Their civilization thrives for centuries but eventually dies out. A second group leaves Jerusalem shortly before the city is captured by Babylon in 586 B.C. They journey across Arabia and take a ship to North America. This latter group divides into Nephites, the followers of God, and Lamenites, ancestors to Native Americans.

Jesus visits the New World shortly after his resurrection and creates a peace, but it breaks down after a few hundred years and the Lamenites eliminate the Nephites.

Just as the Bible teaches doctrine in its accounts of Hebrew history, the Book of Mormon explains tenets of Latter-day Saint belief. Humans existed prior to birth as spirits who were children of God. Jesus was the oldest of these children of God. The child spirits were given bodies so they could experience the world and become more like God. Everyone will be resurrected into a Kingdom of God, but only the most devout will make it to the highest kingdom. Below the heaven for Mormons is one for other Christians and Jews, with others inhabiting the bottom tier.

Mormons believe that the priesthood of early Christianity died out with the martyrdom of the Apostles, and that it was only restored through angels visiting Joseph Smith. They believe there are multiple universes, each has a God who governs his own world.

As Smith went from being a publisher of an obscure book to the leader of a growing church, Mormon literature was expanded to include the Doctrine and Covenants as well as the Pearl of Great Price. When Smith was killed by a mob in Carthage, Illinois, he became a martyr like the prophets in his text.

Somewhat like the Pope, Mormon leaders are believed to have the gift of divine revelation. In 1978, black men, who had previously been excluded from the priesthood, were granted full participation in the church through a revelation received by President Spencer Kimball.


Mormons, having been repeatedly run out of substantial settlements across the Midwest, were determined to hang onto their territory in Utah. To do this, they felt they needed to rapidly increase their population by converting and bringing over Europeans, especially those from the lower classes in England and Scandinavia.

But although the missionaries were successful in converting and moving thousands across the ocean and on to the Midwest, they faced a tremendous obstacle in getting them through the untamed wilderness to Utah. Deeply in debt from the ship and railroad passage to Iowa City, the immigrants were still 1,300 miles from Salt Lake City. The usual method for moving farther west was a wagon and oxen, which cost $300, well beyond the means of most converts. Though a fund had been created to loan money to the immigrants for the trip, the cost, even without purchasing a wagon and ox team, was already so high that some immigrants were never able to pay off their debts.

The idea of using handcarts came from seeing prospectors pushing wheelbarrows through Utah in the California gold rush of 1849. So necessity and religious zeal turned an expedient for a few crazed able-bodied men seeking gold into a life-and-death struggle for thousands of people, including many women and children.

Mormon handcarts looked like baggage carts used at 19th century train stations. The box was about three feet wide and five feet long, with low sides and open at the top. They had two wheels, four and a half feet in diameter, set apart at the same distance as wagon wheels so carts could follow existing ruts on the trail. The wheels were relatively light with thin wooden spokes. But unlike a wheelbarrow, the handles extended forward. A crossbar at the end of the handles allowed the pioneers to lift and push the cart. Some had canvas tops, which made them look like miniature covered wagons.

In addition to allowing space for two people at the crossbar, others could push from the rear or even be harnessed to pull the cart. The device, which weighed 65 pounds empty, carried 17 pounds of baggage per traveler. Food and, sometimes a disabled member of the party, could increase the load to several hundred pounds. The carts, which cost only $10 to $20, were often built quickly from green lumber and broke down as they creaked toward Utah.

On June 9, 1856, the first handcart company left Iowa City with another following two days later. Each company of approximately 300 people had a couple of wagons drawn by teams to carry additional food, tents and supplies. The Mormon leaders seemed to expect miraculous results and divine protection for their enterprise. But mortality far outnumbered miracles, particularly when the steep mountain grades were covered by snow. Bitterly cold temperatures closed in on the companies if they were caught on the trail when fall turned to winter. Though church leaders had predicted the companies would travel up to 30 miles a day, they averaged only nine miles a day even when crossing the relatively flat terrain of Iowa, the easiest and first part of their long journey.

Children were herded in a single group ahead of the company while their parents toiled with the carts in the rear. Many died from starvation crossing Nebraska. Re-supply wagons sent east from Salt Lake City met the first companies near the Nebraska-Wyoming line, giving each company 1,000 pounds of flour. Another re-supply occurred a few weeks later. Finally, on Sept. 25, 1856, people from Salt Lake City, including church President Brigham Young, rode out to meet the first party of pioneers camped just a few miles north of the city. Though records are incomplete, of the first group of 272, about 33 dropped out and at least 12 died.

As immigrants continued to arrive on the East Coast, additional handcart companies were launched from Iowa City. A group from Wales had to reduce rations to a quarter-pound of flour per adult per day as they headed to Utah. That was not enough to sustain life, particularly for those doing the heavy work of pushing and pulling the carts. But those difficulties and tragedies didn't prevent the other handcart companies from heading West as the season progressed.

The hardest journey was that of the Martin Company, which started too late in the season and got trapped in the snows of Wyoming. Six to eight deaths occurred each night as rations were cut to four ounces of flour per day for an adult. One night 19 members of the party died. In all, 220 of the 575 members of the party perished on the trail, the worst disaster in the history of Western migration in the U.S.

The Martin Company left the Omaha area on Aug. 25. The first snowstorm hit them on Oct. 19, the very same day that they were in Wyoming crossing the swift current of the Platte River. They were further threatened when the re-supply wagons that were scheduled to meet them apparently gave their flour to other travelers. The progress of the handcarts slowed in the deepening snow and finally, at Red Buttes in Wyoming, they stopped, unable to move on because of cold, exhaustion, hunger and snow.

Emma Batchelor (Lee) was in the Martin company at this point, having dropped out of the Willie company when she was ordered to leave behind a brass kettle holding her belongings.

The young and strong Emma was a welcome addition to the company. She acted as a midwife for a woman who gave birth to a child and pushed her on a cart for two days as she recovered. Emma was always careful to take her shoes and stockings off before crossing a stream and dried and warmed her feet carefully before continuing. She carried a little boy over each stream, being careful to keep his feet dry.

When Brigham Young learned of the late departure of the Martin and Willie companies, he exhorted the people of Salt Lake City to immediately go to the rescue. Despite crop failures in Utah, flour was loaded into wagons and driven east to meet the unfortunate companies. The rescue parties were able to supply food, but not cure the problems of cold and exhaustion. The Willie company lost 15 members in a single day after they were "rescued." The Martin company suffered more than half of its fatalities after meeting up with the rescue party from Salt Lake City. Many survivors were maimed by the experience.

After the first brutal year, only five additional handcart companies came to Utah. Though the advance of the railroad across Missouri made the journey shorter, and rules were changed to make the trip safer, it was still a dangerous, hungry trek. The last two companies made the journey in 1860 with the loss of only one life.

Rev. E. Edgar Guenther

For some seminary graduates, the prospect of a life of poverty and hard work on a remote Indian reservation in Arizona would have evoked trepidation and fear of the unknown. For Edgar Guenther, who grew up in South Dakota gathering buffalo manure to burn for heat in the bitter winters and skinning gophers to earn money, coping with crushing adversity was just the expected undertaking of each and every day.

Guenther, born in 1885, was the son of German emigrants who had a South Dakota homestead and little other than "a horse with the heaves and a kitchen table with crooked legs." He was a promising student in grade school and was selected to attend Dr. Martin Luther College in New Ulm, as well as a Lutheran seminary.

When a letter was read asking for one of the graduates to serve as a missionary to the Apache Indians, he rushed to accept, and quickly married Minnie Knoop since he was advised not to go alone. They first stopped in Globe, Arizona, to learn from a missionary to the San Carlos Apache. The older man sent them on to the White Mountain reservation with these words of advice. "Ask for nothing. Promise nothing," because he said that the mission board would recall Guenther if he asked them for help, and the Indians would not trust him if he disappointed.

Though the White Mountain Apache Reservation was only across the Black River from the San Carlos Reservation, the Guenthers' journey to their new home was nearly 800 miles. They had to go from Globe to Deming, N.M., and then to Albuquerque before turning west again and going to Holbrook.

"After 30 miles of travel and a night under the stars with the bugs at Snowflake and a second night 30 miles later in a freezing cold 'hotel' in Showlow, on the third night they finally arrived in Whiteriver, the headquarters for the whole reservation," according to a biography published by the church. After the superintendent of the reservation failed in his efforts to discourage them, the newlyweds went on to settle into their tiny house in East Fork.

At first, they worked mainly by making camp calls, riding out to visit the Apaches where they lived. "After arriving and chatting for a while, he would find suitable place for the service," the biography says. "Minnie would set up a portable organ and begin playing. After a hymn there would be a sermon and prayers. He would give them some literature and then move on."

They built a school and attracted students by serving meals, which they paid for themselves. Minnie did the cooking in her own kitchen while Edgar borrowed horses and a wagon to collect scrap lumber to make desks. Since there were no books, they bought a typewriter and made their own.

Guenther wanted to approach Alchesay, the famous chief of the White Mountain Apaches who had served as a scout to General Crook during the Apache wars, but he knew he needed to wait until the time was right. "One day when Guenther was out by himself looking for the sick to minister to, he found Alchesay sick with the flu," the biography says. "He provided him with some bedding, medicine and had a short devotion." After that Alchesay became friends with Ivnashood Ndaezn (the tall missionary) and brought his tribe to Guenther 's church to be baptized.

In those times, many Apache infants were killed, especially if they had deformities. "One day for example he was called to an Apache camp two miles away," the Guenther biography says. "There was a debate going on about what to do with a baby born with six fingers on each hand. The grandmother said they should kill it now. Guenther instantly grabbed a knife, ran it through the flames and cut off one of his fingers on each hand. The baby's life was saved."

If twins were born, one of them was often killed because it was believed that a double birth was the result of immorality. There were also many children whose parents died in epidemics, which were constantly sweeping through the reservation. The Guenthers created an orphanage to save those children.

The reverend suffered a heart attack when he was building a church in 1945, and began to slow down a little bit when his son Arthur Alchesay Guenther became his assistant pastor. Though Edgar lived in Tucson during his final years because the lower elevation made it easier for him to breathe, he returned to Whiteriver one last time in 1961 to celebrate his 75th birthday and the 50th anniversary of his work among the Apaches. More than 1,500 people gathered to mark the occasion and honor the tall missionary. He died in Tucson two months later and was buried in the Whiteriver cemetery.

Apache Wars

Apaches fought the European invasion of what is now Arizona for 346 years, from the time of Coronado's trip across Arizona in 1540 until Geronimo finally surrendered in 1886. The reason that conflict was one of the longest in history can be attributed to the desolate nature of the Arizona landscape and how skillful the Apaches were in defending their homeland.

Since Coronado found no riches in Arizona, the Spanish never considered it worthwhile to pay for the type of military campaign that would have been necessary to conquer the remote northern frontier of their New World empire. By the late 1500s, the Spanish were settling among the Pimas and other tribes in what is now southern Arizona, but they made little progress in moving civilization north, despite centuries of effort.

Though the Spanish established forts in what is now northern Mexico, they were not much of a barrier to Apache raiders who slipped easily between them. For a time, the Spanish adopted a policy of feeding the Apaches and giving them liquor, which kept them off the warpath. The government soon ran out of money and abandoned the policy. At other times, the Spanish and Mexican governments paid a bounty for Apache scalps, hoping to exterminate their enemies.

Much of northern Arizona was left to the Apaches until the Southwest came under American control with the Mexican War in 1848. The Civil War caused the U.S. military to withdraw from the area without subduing the Apaches. After the conflict, rich mineral discoveries near Wickenburg, Prescott, Globe and areas in southern Arizona brought an influx of white settlers who called on the military for protection. The Apaches, who had formerly been able to roam freely over most of the state and into Mexico, were concentrated in the east-central mountains, which, fortunately for them, were largely without mineral wealth. The relocation of Apaches from other areas into east-central Arizona resulted in the battles of the later Apache Wars, the last major conflicts with native peoples in the United States.