WALTERS, Archer: A Story of Commitment

handcart

Archer Walters was born to Henry and Sarah Walters on July 29, 1809 at Cambridge, England. He married Harriet Cross on August 26, 1837 at Sheffield, England. Harriet was born October 21, 1809.

Archer’s mother, Sarah, died May 5, 1811, leaving Archer motherless two and a half months shy of his second birthday. He was raised by his father.

Archer and Harriet were taught the gospel and were baptized members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day saints in 1848. Until this time they had never thought of leaving England.

When Brigham Young set forth a plan, called the Perpetual Emigrating Fund, designed to assist in bringing poorer converts to America by ship, then transporting them by train to Iowa City, the family was excited. Under this plan, at Iowa City the immigrants would be outfitted with handcarts which would carry their minimal belongings as the people, themselves, would walk pulling their handcarts to the Salt Lake Valley.

Archer had said he would give his life if he could reach the “Valley of the Mountains in the land of Zion, with my family, that they may grow up under the influence of the Gospel of Christ.”

By this time, Archer and Harriet had five children: Sarah, born November 16, 1838; Henry, born October 14, 1840; Harriet, born August 8, 1842; Martha, born September 9, 1844; and Lydia, born September 23, 1850.

With his wife and four daughters and one son, Archer left England as a PEF immigrant aboard the ship Enoch Train on April 6, 1856. The ship left from Liverpool, England and arrived safely at Boston on May 1, 1856.

From Boston the immigrants took the train to Iowa City arriving on May 12, 1856, where they were to be outfitted with handcarts. Because he was a carpenter and had a set of his own tools, Archer was immediately put to work making handcarts and building coffins for those who died in the Iowa City camp. On the 1,300 mile trek from Iowa City to Salt Lake City, Archer repaired handcarts and continued to build coffins for those who died along the trail.

The Walters family, along with the other immigrants who arrived aboard the Enoch Train traveled in the Edmund Ellsworth Company, the first of the handcart companies. The Ellsworth Company left Iowa City on June 9, 1856.

Archer kept a detailed journal of the company’s travels for most of the trek which has proven to be a rich first hand account of the first of the handcart companies, and which has often been quoted by historians of the handcart companies including Wallace Stegner. Unfortunately, Archer made his last entry in the journal on Sunday September 14, twelve days before the company arrived in the Salt Lake Valley on September 26, 1856.

His work repairing handcarts, pulling his handcart and making coffins while often going without enough to eat wore him down. After September 14, Archer was too ill to write and he had to ride in one of the supply wagons. He never recovered from his illness and died in Salt Lake City on October 14, 1856 at age 47. His wife, Harriet, and the five children all survived the journey. Harriet lived another 27 years, dying on September 30, 1883 in Salt Lake City. The five children remained faithful, steadfast members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Sarah, the oldest, became a plural wife of William Clayton, journalist of the Pioneer Company of 1847 and author of the hymn, “Come, Come Ye Saints.” She gave birth to eleven of William Clayton’s many children.

Archer Walters gave his life to reach Salt Lake City and just as he had hoped they would, his wife and children did grow under the influence of the Gospel of Christ.

For many years Archer’s handcart was on display at the Daughters of the Utah Pioneers Museum and Library in Salt Lake City as it was considered one of the best original example of an actual handcart company handcart in existence.

 

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