A fictionalized account of Margaretta Unwin Clark’s experience
by Heather Walker
The following is based on the story of my great-great-great grandmother, Margaretta Clark, who traveled with the Martin Handcart Company in 1856. She met her husband, Anson Call, when he saved her from freezing to death on the plains and brought her to the Salt Lake valley.
I hear the creaking of wood, the sound of muscle and bone moving forward, all stifled by snow and cold. Onward. Keep going. Keep moving. Ignore the pain. I haven’t felt my feet in a long time. I’m freezing and I feel as if I was on fire: burning, everywhere. When I lay down to sleep at night, hoping I’ll wake again, I start to forget where I’m going. Remember. Remember. I am going to join the saints and see a prophet.
The world is small and muffled in the snow. I’m not traveling anywhere even though I keep pushing frozen feet forward in frozen ground. I’m lucky because my feet are only numb—they aren’t dead and black yet. I’m lucky because I came alone. I am a part of this family of saints, but my mother, father, brothers, and sisters are resting in warm beds with a fire. Sometimes I wonder if they knew the cold, what would they think of me? Would they see the warmth I have from the gospel? I’m lucky that I don’t have a husband; I don’t have to worry about him. I have a friend who worries that her husband will freeze because he is always giving away his blankets and his clothes. She tells him he needs to keep himself warm, but he doesn’t care about himself. It’s the way it should be, isn’t it? Is it?
The words we sing are absorbed in the snow, but we sing them again and again even though we can’t sing much over a whisper. Singing is our joy. We read and recite scripture together. Our tears run courses down our cheeks, then freeze.
What do I feel when I wake up and I learn who has died? I mourn, and yet sadness is not the same because I feel that those who are dead are warm again.
We are reminded to rejoice, for we have the gospel. That is reason enough to rejoice. We can barely travel anymore. The wheels of our handcarts get caught in the snow. White, white, everywhere. But white is heaven, and sometimes when I am numb and singing, I feel like I am very close to heaven.
I think about getting married. I want children. I don’t know why I think of such things why I am here. But I do. I think about life after this cold, but I don’t know if I can make it over the mountains on my own two feet anymore. I need help, and I pray and I pray, and I receive comfort again and again. I must finish my travels so I can rest with the saints of Zion. I must keep going. I must. I must.
* * *
After a while, I don’t feel the cold. Is it warmer? I don’t know. But there is sunshine, maybe not around me, but somewhere. White is a warm color: mixed with yellow, it is the color of sunlight and the color of fire. Snow is white, but snow doesn’t seem so cold. Nothing is cold. Nothing has feeling.
Without the cold, I think, I ponder, I pray, and I feel that my life is in the hands of the Lord. I am encircled in His arms and He will carry me to my grave and to my Zion.
We don’t move, but we sit, we pray, and we hope. There is still hope out there; it is more real than my feet and my hands. My whole body has disappeared, and I am aware of hope, love, and comfort.
The Lord will rescue me. But I feel that my rescue will not be over the mountains to see a prophet. My rescue will be warmth.
* * *
I hear shouts. The hope around me flares as a fire. There is a little bit more food and meat and warmth. We are not forgotten. They are racing to help us. They are from the Lord and from the prophet. They rescue us.
But they don’t seem real to me. I have joy raging in my chest and the world is yellow-white. I want warmth again. I want escape. Someone is putting me in a wagon and I reach out and start to chew on something orange and hard because my stomach hurts so badly. It’s food, so wonderful. I forgot what food was.
As I chew I see him and he is real. He is rough, cold, and obscured by the wind and his clothes. He looks at me. He says something, asking me if I am all right. Words come out of my mouth. “I was quite cold but now I feel fine.” The world is good for I am in the Lord’s hands. I will receive warmth.
“I intend to hold on,” he says, and suddenly there is pain in my hand as he yanks out of the wagon and throws me to the snow. He is harsh and rude. It hurts and then he starts running with me. I was past feeling but now I am burning. I see his face—it is filled with concern.
I hurt, but the clarity of pain and reality comes. I am alive. I look at the man who has saved me from the frozen death. I am not meant to go to rest and warmth yet. The Lord has preserved me and He is taking me to a prophet and to the saints of God. The man who saved me makes sure I am all right. My heart burns with relief. I cry again, tears falling on to cupped and frozen hands.
I have made it across an ocean, a country, and through cold, pain, and trial. I am rescued and go towards a new life.
* * *