Elizabeth Whitear Sermon Camm, her husband Joseph, and their four children were members of the Martin Handcart Company - one of the last groups of pioneers in 1856. They pulled and pushed a handcart carrying all of their belongings and supplies from Nebraska to Utah. They got stuck in severe winter weather and many died. Here are some of Elizabeth's journal entries:
“One day I got into a slough, having the children in the cart, I could not get out. One after another passed me by and left me; brothers and sisters passed neither had hardly sufficient strength to get along themselves. When the last cart came along, a sister ran out of her cart and helped me out. Then of course, I could not catch up with the company so it was late and dark before I got into camp. The wolves were howling around me but they did not come too close and I got in all right.”
“At Devil’s Gate John’s feet began to freeze severely. I cannot remember the names of places. It was after wading a very wide river. The freezing commenced. We had no wood, only sagebrush. I went out and cut the sage to keep a fire all night. Covered you all with your feet to the fire and heads covered over. Then I went out and cut more sagebrush and kept the fire as well as I could. My clothes were frozen stiff like starched clothing. Well, we got through the night.”
“We had to go back to one quarter pound of flour very soon and he (her husband Joseph) failed fast under this short ration and hard strain on his bodily strength. I think he would not have died if we could have gotten food, but he was spared the trial. We went to bed about 3 o’clock, he put his arm around me and said, “I am done”, and breathed his last. We sewed him up in a quilt with his clothes on. In the early morning your father was buried with eight other men in one grave. I stood like a statue bewildered, in tears, the cold chills even now as I write. It creeps over my body and it seems I can still hear and see the wolves waiting for their bodies. As they would come down to camp before we were very far away. I again went into the harness and pulled the cart; all that could had to work to get to the wagons.”
Her nightly schedule: “When we got into camp, I would clear the snow away with a tin plate, gather my wood, get my bed clothes from the wagon. I was too weak to haul much. Then I would get my allowance of flour, then pack the children to the fire and make their bed on the ground. The tent was so frozen and the ground so hard we could not set the tent up. I think it was 2 weeks we were without a tent.”
Elizabeth had to cut off parts of her 4 year-old son, Robert's, frozen feet with her scissors until most of his feet were gone. Robert later wore leather pads on his knees and learned to walk on his knees. The Martin Handcart Co., along with Elizabeth and her 4 children, was eventually rescued.
Elizabeth later wrote: “My faith was still in my Father in Heaven. I never lost my faith in Him. It is as sweet today to trust in him and my prayers are that I may always trust Him. He is a friend that has never failed when asked. You may perhaps say 'Why not have asked Him to serve you then when you needed it?' I did and He spurred me through many trials to my family.”
What an amazing woman!