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Submitted by Dave Free on 18 January 2007 - 6:56pm.

Chapter 15

By the time the sun appeared on Monday the 28th of July, 1856 the five hundred and seventy six members of the Martin handcart company were strung out along a dusty trail due west of Iowa city. Though the company had been split into two groups under separate leaders, to the settlers of Iowa they looked like one large, and strange, caravan. Not that the Iowa settlers weren’t used to seeing streams of dream seekers heading west, but the nearly six hundred pioneers, one hundred and forty six handcarts, seven Chicago wagons, thirty oxen, and fifty cows made the Martin company rather unique in both size and shape.

Steve’s biggest challenge the first day of the trek was convincing himself that he was really pulling a handcart across Iowa. While he wasn’t pinching himself, he moved among the handcarts of the families and the single sisters for which he was responsible. He helped them pull or push giving others a chance to rest. The handcarts themselves were initially a pleasant surprise. If the load was balanced over the axle, there was no lifting required, just pulling. While the pulling did require effort, it was definitely easier than carrying all of the goods that the handcart ticking now supported.

About the time that Steve had convinced himself that he was pulling a handcart through Iowa; someone up the line started singing. Gradually others in the caravan joined in and began to sing. Steve came out of his thoughtless stupor with a snap. He could not believe his ears.

“You guys really sing that song?” he yelled to Samuel who was pulling next to him.

“Of course, we learned it on the Horizon, don’t you remember?”

Steve shook his head. He remembered learning it, but it wasn’t on the Horizon. It was in the primary room of the old fourth ward chapel. It brought back a flood of memories, but the cheerful spirits of the pioneers that morning were contagious and Steve couldn’t help but join in:

Ye Saints that dwell on Europe’s shores,

Prepare yourselves with many more

To leave behind your native land

For sure God’s Judgments are at hand.

Prepare to cross the stormy main

Before you do the valley gain

And with the faithful make a start

To cross the plains with your hand cart.

Some must push and some must pull

As we go marching up the hill,

As merrily on the way we go

Until we reach the valley, oh.

Steve knew the chorus well, but stumbled through the verses. Thankfully, it was a favorite of the company so he had plenty of opportunities to learn and practice. By the time they made camp the first night, he knew the first three verses cold and by the second night he had all six down.

A new song wasn’t the only thing that Steve had to his credit by the first night, he also had some pretty serious blisters on the heels of both feet and the sides of his small toes. Though he had been wearing the old fashioned, leather boots ever since his arrival on the train, working in the blacksmith shop had not required much walking. Now they were out on the trail, the short comings of the boots became very obvious. After both tents were set up and the others were getting their bedding in place, Steve found a spot on a log, sat down and slowly unlaced each boot. The wind that had been blowing dust in his face all day now felt good as it cut through the sweat of the bulky wool socks. Slowly he peeled them off to reveal the damage.

The blisters on both heels had popped and the loose skin was torn away. Some of the dark lint from the socks was stuck in the moist surface of the red, inflamed skin. Steve grimaced as he lifted first his left foot and then his right foot on to his opposite knee to get a closer look. The blisters on the side of his feet had not popped, but looked like they would burst at any moment.

“Elder, with all the walking you did in England, I’d not have thought you would have blisters.”

Steve looked up to see Annie standing next to him. Too tired to start another argument about whether or not he had actually been in England, he shrugged and replied,

“New boots. I wish I had the pair I left in my closet at home--breathable uppers, light as a feather, high-tech all the way. These old things are going to kill me.”

“I thought you said they were new?” Annie asked, confused by most of what Steve had just said. Steve just smiled.

“Sorry, they are new to me, but after wearing them today they feel very old. So what about you, did you get any blisters on the first day?”

“No, no of course not. I’ve walked many miles in these shoes and I’m sure I will walk many more before the Lord sees fit to bless me with a new pair. Elder, those really look painful.” She produced a hanky from the sleeve of her blouse, bent over and started to wipe the lint out of the blister on the foot that was resting on Steve’s knee. “Do they hurt?”

“Hello! They hurt like monsters! Don’t do that!” Steve tried to pull his foot away but Annie held it firmly.

“You’ve got to get it clean Elder or you’ll lose your foot!”

“OK! OK! Just go easy please!” Steve grimaced and leaned back while Annie worked over the blisters of both feet. When she was done, she handed Steve the handkerchief she had been using.

“You’ll be needing bandages, you can use this.”

“Thanks. I was just wondering what I would do without band-aids.”

“Elder?”

“Yes?” Steve looked up at Annie sensing the serious tone in her voice.

“I’ve been thinking about your claims of being from the future and all the strange words that you use.” She hesitated for a few moments, but Steve remained silent.

“Were those things you said in the woods the other day really true? Does the church really grow to have twelve million members--I’m not saying I believe you came from the future, but are they true?”

Steve smiled and didn’t respond immediately; carefully considering how to phrase his response.

“It’s true Annie. I’m sorry that it is confusing for you. It’s confusing for me too, but it is true. In the year 2006 there are--or will be--over twelve million members of the Church. I live--or at least lived--then.”

Annie now took a seat next to Steve on the log. “Well if you really live in two thousand...”

“Six” Steve had to remind her.

“Yes, 2006. If you really live then--and I’m not saying I believe you did, or do, then what are you doing here now and how did you get here?”

Steve sighed, “Are you sure you want to talk about this? Last time we did, you refused to talk to me for two weeks.”

Annie smiled a weak smile. “Yes, I’m sure. I’m not going to get mad this time.”

“Well the answer to your question is: I don’t know. I don’t know how I got here and I don’t know why I’m here. O’Malley thinks I might be here to help the company survive the trip to Utah. But it seems to me, if God wanted somebody to do that, he could have found some one that had made the trip before. Anyway, all I know is that I’m here and every time I try to leave I feel dark and empty inside. On the other hand, when I’m sticking around I feel ok.”

“Interesting.” was all Annie replied.

“No, interesting is a show about nature on The Discovery channel. This isn’t interesting--it’s a nightmare.”

Just then Samuel came around the side of the tent toward them. “Elder, there you are! Captain Martin is looking for you. He’s called a meeting for all the tent captains over by his tent.”

Steve slowly rose to his feet, picking up his boots and socks as he stood. His muscles felt fine. He guessed they’d only covered seven to eight miles that day, but the blisters made all of his moves very measured and careful.

“Thanks Sammy. Where’s his tent?”

“Up the trail on this side.” Samuel pointed Steve the right direction.

“Thanks.” Steve replied and then called, “See you later Annie” over his shoulder as he walked away.

“What? Oh! Yes, goodbye.” Annie seemed to be lost in her thoughts and hardly noticed Steve was leaving.

Steve found the other tent captains gathering next to what he assumed must be Captain Martin’s tent. He recognized most of the other captains and was familiar with a few but didn’t know any of them very well. O’Malley was now part of the other half of the company being lead by Jesse Haven so he wasn’t there. Steve shook hands with a few of the brethren, but then waited on the outskirts of the group until the captain came out of his tent and called them to order.

“Brethren, thanks for coming. There are a few matters of business we need to take care of and then you can get back to your tents and your dinners. Men, I learned one important thing marching with the battalion to Mexico: we must be organized and disciplined.”

The captain cleared his throat and looked around at his tent captains for emphasis before continuing. “First, we walked eight miles today. As you all know, we are late in the season. We’re going to need to go much further than that in the future. In fact, we need to be doing twenty to twenty-five miles a day. In order to do that, we need to be up with the sun every morning. Elder Steve, will you please have John come see me when we’re done here so that I can give him the times I’d like the bugle calls?”

The captain hesitated just long enough for Steve to nod his head then continued, “Organize your tents brethren. Taking down and putting up tents should take just a few minutes, not an hour. It will come with practice, but time is short. We must make every effort to do things faster.

“Now, with regards to food. The rations are as follows. Each day each person should get a pound of flour. On a weekly basis provide them each with three ounces of sugar and one half pound of bacon. You might be tempted to give out more brethren, but remember we have a long trip ahead of us and we must be wise stewards over what the Lord has given us. You can collect the rations for your tents before each meal from one of the wagons.

“That is all. Thank you for your good efforts. The Lord is with us, but he will not do for us what we can do for ourselves. Does anyone have questions or anything to report?”

One tent captain noted that a few of his handcarts were in need of some minor repairs and asked who, if anyone, had the skills to repair them. Captain Martin urged him to repair what he could and take those he couldn’t repair to a carpenter who was a member of the company. No one else had questions, so the group split up and headed back to their respective tents.

By Tuesday morning, Monday’s breeze had become a stiff cross wind. The canvas of the tents fluttered and snapped as the pioneers took them down and tried to fold them up. The bugle sounded just before sunrise as Captain Martin had ordered, but breaking camp was not something that the pioneers had much practice at--yet. It was 9:30 by the time they were on the trail again.

Steve’s feet refused to go back into the socks and boots, so he tossed them into the back of the cart he was sharing with John and Margaret and set out with bare feet. Every summer that he could remember, he and his brother and sisters had shed their shoes as soon as school was out. They then competed to see whose feet could take the “mail run” first. Since their mail box was in the gravel at the edge of the road, getting to it required walking on gravel. Until the soles of their feet became hardened by going barefoot for a few weeks, it was almost impossible to do without shoes. Steve was usually the winner so he felt confident his feet could take it. He had also seen several children of the company without shoes the day before, so he figured it was safe.

As it turned out, his feet were the least of his problems that day. As soon as the caravan started rolling, the dust became almost unbearable. The trail they walked on was like a river of fine dust. The hundreds of feet, wheels, and hooves lifted the dust into the wind which then swirled it endlessly around the pioneers. As they passed areas where fields had been cleared for farming but not yet planted, the dust storm grew even thicker. At times, Steve could not see the cart in front of him, though it was only two or three yards distant.

To make matters worse, the breeze was not cool, but grew brutally hot as the day progressed. Sweat quickly became streaks of mud as the flying dust combined with perspiration. The conversation and singing of the day before were avoided. An open mouth at the wrong moment could lead to a very gritty mouthful of dust.

Despite the hardships, by the time Captain Martin called the company to a halt at 1:00 pm the company had made nearly twelve miles. Setting up camp in the wind and dust was yet another challenge. Steve helped get the family tent up first then he and Samuel helped the sisters finalize their setup. After getting the dust-caked belongings off the carts and into the tents, he collapsed in his little corner of the family tent. A good amount of dust blew in through the door flaps and the floor was dust, but Steve was grateful for the relative relief of the tent. He laid his head on his bag and was almost instantly asleep.

A growling stomach woke him several hours later. The tent was dark and Steve could hear the regular breathing of the others in the tent. He had no idea what time it was, but he was very hungry and knew he wouldn’t get any sleep until he got something to eat or at least something to drink. Digging through his bag he located his tin plate, cup, and spoon. Then, as quietly as possible, he got up and made his way to the flaps of the tent.

Stepping outside, he saw several camp fires still burning and a few pioneers moving about. The wind had stopped and the sky was filled with millions of stars. The cooking fire used by his tent was long since cold, but he found a tin cup full of flour and a few pieces of bacon carefully covered with a cloth which he assumed must be his ration. Rather than trying to light a fire of his own (Steve hadn’t quite mastered flint and steel fire lighting) he picked up his rations and headed to the sisters’ tent which still had a fire burning.

There were two sisters sitting by the fire as Steve entered the circle of light.

“Mind if I borrow your microwave?” He said motioning towards the fire. The sisters looked up at him a little surprised. Lydia smiled when she saw it was Steve.

“Why no Elder, please go right ahead. Have you missed your supper?”

“Yeah, I fell asleep as soon as the tents were up and just woke up. I’m starving. So I raided the fridge and found some cold pizza. Thought I’d pop it in your microwave for a few seconds and warm it up. Speaking of microwaves, doesn’t microwave popcorn sound good right now? Any popcorn for that matter. Do you have popcorn in this century sisters?”

Lydia and Elizabeth both stared at Steve with weak smiles on their faces. Neither was sure what he had just said nor how to reply. Steve had grown to enjoy being different but he didn’t leave them squirming too long.

“Well, if we don’t have popcorn, how about water? Is there some water somewhere near here?”

“Uh, yes. Yes, of course we have water Elder.” Elizabeth was the first to regain her composure and reply to Steve.

“Right here Elder!” Lydia stood and directed Steve to a wooden bucket hanging from the side of a near by cart.

“Thanks sisters, I need just enough to mix with my flour here. Is there any trick to mixing this stuff up?”

“Stuff, Elder?” Lydia had regained her composure and retaken her seat next to Elizabeth.

“The flour, do I just mix the water with it or am I supposed to add something else?”

“The flour is self rising Elder. But, here let me do it for you.” Lydia stood to take the cup of flour and water from Steve.

“No, that’s ok sit down, sit down. I’m an Eagle Scout. You’d be amazed at what I can cook. Every Saturday morning my family has pancakes for breakfast. Who do you think cooks ‘em?” Steve pointed at himself with his spoon which now had gobs of wet flour stuck to it. “Blueberry pancakes are my speciality!”

“I saw some along the creek while I was fetching water this afternoon.” Steve, Lydia and Elizabeth all turned in surprise toward the flap of the tent from which the last comment came. Annie made her way from the tent door to the log where the other sisters were sitting.

“You saw some of my pancakes while you were getting water?” Steve asked incredulously.

“Not your pancakes--blueberries! I saw some blueberries while I was fetching the water.”

“Really? Are they far? Do you think we could find them in the dark? Does anyone have a flashlight?” The thought of some fresh blueberries in his otherwise drab biscuits got Steve excited.

“Slow down Elder, slow down.” Annie was growing used to Steve’s nonsensical words and was no longer intimidated as the other sisters were.

“What is a ‘flashlight’?” she asked.

“Oh sorry. It’s a light you hold in your hand. It uses batteries so you don’t have to plug it in. Mostly we use ‘em for camping or when the power goes out or something like that.”

“Oh, you mean a torch! We can make our own torch.” Annie bent over and picked up a good size stick from the fire. “Come along Elder, I’ll show you the blueberries. Sisters would you please mind the Elder’s bacon and flour until we return?” Elizabeth and Lydia nodded politely but kept stealing concerned glances at Steve.

As soon as they were out of hearing distance Annie reprimanded Steve.

“Elder, you really mustn’t talk such nonsense in front of the others. They’ll think you’re not ‘whole.”

“Not whole? Oh, you mean they’ll think I’m crazy or bonkers or looney tunes?” Steve replied with a laugh.

“There you go again, Elder. It is a wonder that I continue to think you are whole.”

“But you do don’t you? And you know why? Because deep inside you know I really did come from the future. That’s why!” They were out of the tent city now and heading back down the main trail toward the last crossing of the creek.

Annie thought for several moments before replying. “Elder, I know you are different. Maybe you are ‘crazy’ as you say. It would sure explain a lot of things. But you are right, something inside tells me that is not true. Maybe you really are from the future.”

Steve was ready to hug Annie on the spot. Somebody in this crazy dream finally believed him! But Annie kept right on walking and talking and didn’t leave him any time for a celebration.

“I’ve been thinking a lot since we talked yesterday Elder. I also think brother O’Malley is right. I think God sent you here to help us.” Steve’s enthusiasm of a moment earlier was now crushed. It was one thing to have someone believe he had come from the future. It was quite another to have them believing that he was some kind of messenger from God.

“Well you’re getting closer Annie. I am from the future, but I’m not on any kind of mission from God.”

Annie stopped walking for a minute and held the torch up high so she could look into Steve’s eyes. What she saw must have sufficed, because she turned and kept walking toward the creek.

“The berries aren’t far Elder, we turn off the main trail here.” She lead the way and held the torch out in front of her, talking while she walked.

“Yesterday, you said if the Lord wanted somebody to help the company to Utah, he surely could have found a person that had made the trip before. When you said that, it occurred to me that both Enoch and Moses felt inadequate for their callings.”

Steve tried to interrupt but Annie kept right on talking.

“Even Joseph Smith probably could have said, ‘If the Lord wanted someone to lead his church he could have found a minister.”

“Now wait just a doggone minute!” Steve stopped walking and raised his voice, but Annie kept right on walking and since she had the only light, Steve was obliged to keep up.

“So,” Annie continued, “it is clear that the Lord uses a different measuring stick than we do. It is also clear that he could overlook even all of your obvious deficiencies if he wanted to call you.”

“Gee thanks!” Steve said, but Annie continued without interruption.

“What really bothered me was you insisting that you had come from the future. It just didn’t seem possible.”

“Tell me about it!” Steve muttered to himself, having given up on actually carrying on a dialog with Annie.

“Here we are Elder, the blueberries.” They had come upon a row of thick foliage. Steve could hear the creek running now and could just see the tops of willows behind the low bushes to which Annie was pointing. She stuck what was left of the torch almost directly into the bushes.

“They are very difficult to see in the dark. You’ll have to feel them with your hands Elder.”

Steve stepped closer to the bushes, being very cautious with his bare feet in the dark, and began searching for berries. She was right, they were difficult to see but he figured it was worth the effort. Annie continued her discourse holding the torch with one hand and feeling into the bushes for berries with the other.

“I now think it is possible, Elder.”

“Yeah, look! I’ve already got a handful!” Steve held out his hand full of scrawny little wild blueberries.

“Not to find blueberries! I think it is possible that you could be here from the future! This afternoon I was reading in the book of Alma. In talking about the resurrection he tells his son that time is only ‘measured unto men’ and that ‘all is as one day with God.”

Annie now paused and put down the torch which had burned out. She waited for Steve’s appreciation of her discovery. Steve wasn’t so impressed.

“That’s all very interesting, Annie. Do you have something we can put these berries in? My hands are full.”

“Elder, don’t you understand what I’m saying? To God there is no future or past, it is all one day. So just like he sent messengers from the past to Joseph Smith, he could send a messenger from the future to us!”

Steve now stopped picking berries and turned to look at Annie with his two hands cupped full of blueberries. She stacked the berries she had picked onto Steve’s already full hands then she produced a handkerchief from her skirt pocket. She laid it out flat over her cupped hands and Steve dumped the stack of berries from his hands in to it. Once his hands were empty he began to talk.

“Listen, Annie, I can’t tell you how glad I am that you finally believe I came from the future, because it’s the truth. But, I don’t like all this talk about being a messenger from God because I’m not. A messenger has to get sent by somebody and usually has a message to deliver. I don’t have a message and nobody sent me! I’m just here, that’s all!”

“How can you say that Elder?” Annie asked with a very serious tone to her voice and then added “Come along, we better get back to camp.

Steve had now taken the corners of the handkerchief together and was holding the little bundle of berries. They started back the way they had come on the same trail with Annie leading and talking.

“I don’t understand how you can say that no one sent you Elder. You told me yesterday that every time you try to leave us you feel dark and empty inside, but when you decide to stay you feel peaceful. To me, that is every bit as much a message from God as the burning bush was to Moses.”

Steve had to think about that one and walked on for a few minutes in silence. As they reached the main trail he responded.

“I can’t deny what you just said. I do feel better when I am working and ‘staying’ than when I’m thinking about going. I never recognized the spirit before, but that may be what it is.” A tingle went down Steve’s spine as he said the last words. “Even so--I’m no messenger from God.”

“How can you be so sure Elder?” Giving up was not one of Annie’s natural traits.

“I’m just sure, that’s all. If I were a messenger, wouldn’t I know what message I’m supposed to deliver?”

“Maybe you are supposed to discover your message.”

“Right. I can hear Moroni talking to Joseph Smith now. ‘Hi, I’m a heavenly messenger. My name is Moroni, but I’ve got to figure out what it is I’m supposed to be telling you. Could you hang on just a minute?” Steve paused a moment and then added sarcastically, “I don’t think so.”

They were now making their way through the first tents of the tent city. Only a few campfires still burned. Annie was quiet for a while as she thought about what Steve had said. Steve worried he may have offended her with his last comment and wasn’t comfortable with the silence. He stopped walking and held her arm so that she had to stop and look at him.

“Look I’m sorry. I’m really glad that you believe me and I don’t want you mad at me again. How about we just agree that I’m from the future and that I’m supposed to be here and leave it at that for now?”

Annie was quiet for a few long moments. Twice she looked like she was about to speak but thought better of it. Finally she smiled at Steve and replied, “Yes that will be fine for now Elder.”

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