A Fortunate Horseback Ride

Over 5,000 people had their lives changed because of the man who made a 100-mile horseback ride to hear the restored message.

This article originally appeared in the Jan/Feb 1978 issue of Pioneer Magazine, and reprinted in the Summer 2001 issue.

By E, Kay Kirkham

Dan and Martha Thomas were living in Callway County, Kentucky in 1835 with a small family They were content with their lives, they had a home and some acreage. Dan had heard about a young missionary who was preaching a restored gospel and he decided to take the 100 mile horseback ride necessary to hear him. The missionary was Wilford Woodruff, who was then a priest in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Dan became convened to the restored message and took it home to his wife. Both became converts and were baptized by Wilford Woodruff

The Saints were active and responsive to the leadership of the Church from whom the call had come to go to Far West, Missouri, and gather there with the other Saints. This was not easy for Dan to do because his father was a Revolutionary War veteran, 84 years of age, and they would have to leave him in Kentucky His mother was 78 years old at that time also. They sold their home, received a little cash, and made other preparations for the forthcoming journey.

During the journey Martha became severely ill with sun stroke. She said her head was about to hurst. She had heard about the gift of healing from the elders of the Church and called them in to administer to her. She was healed immediately. Whereas before she was on the bed sick and unable to do anything, she got out of bed and went about her household duties, washed clothes for the children, prepared meals, and put the family on the road again. So it was that they passed through the midwest and settled in the eastern part of Far West, Missouri, where Dan and his brother were to take up about 160 acres of government land. They were there over one season, had tilled some 30 acres of land, raised corn and other grains, and had wild bee hives to provide honey.

About this time the mob action started to harass the members of the Church and one evening the sky to the east was lighted up. Neighbors then told Martha that the mob was burning the homes of the Saints and wives and children were being forced out into the open. It seemed as though the whole earth was on fire. She turned to her oldest son Morgan and told him to hitch the wagon.

“Mother,” he said, “where are we going?” She replied, “Well, we are not staying here another night.” It was then that they started to throw things pell mell into the high wagon, Martha told Morgan that she had a large kettle of beef bones stewing with broth and it was after they had loaded other things into the wagon that they put this large kettle aboard. Morgan started to put the children in the wagon. The way he was going about it Martha had to call after him, “Don’t put the children into the kettle with the bones!” They all had a good laugh out of it and then went on into Far West.

Dan had to leave his family and act as a security guard elsewhere with the Church. He was subsequently taken prisoner with about 50 other men, two of whom were the Prophet Joseph Smith and his brother, Hyrum. While they were in the prison. Martha became concerned whether they were being given food or not. She approached the guard, at what seemed to have been an open type of encirclement where the guard was standing over them. She told the guard that the men had not been given anything to eat and she wanted to go to her home and get the food but she was afraid that a member of the mob would shoot her.

The lieutenant told her that he would arrange it with a pass so that she could go to her home for food. This made Martha’s dander stand on end and turning to the officer she said,

“My father-in-law was a plantation owner with many slaves and we have given our slaves permission to leave our land with written passes. Rather than have you give me a pass to go to my own home for my own food, I would eat dead dog, I think!”

A nearby captain said, “Lieutenant, there’s grit for you.” So it was that she was able to get food for the men in the prison.

The harassment of the Saints was such that Joseph Smith said that there would be no relief for them, no safety, until all of the Saints would leave Missouri. They then made preparations to go north and east from Far West to the area of Quincy, Illinois. This was about 200 miles by the road or about 150 miles in a direct line. They left Far West in February of 1839.

In her own wagon they had four out of five children that did not have shoes. She said that it was a grievous sight for a mother to bear to see her children crying at night with their feet cracked and bleeding. Later on she was able to get material and knit socks for them and swab their feet with axle grease to take the place of shoes.

So it was that they arrived in upper Missouri, across the river from Quincy. At the time there was a storm, the worst that they had had in years. It was so cold that it was necessary to take an axe and break chunks from the loaves of cornbread that they had to eat. The children had to gnaw on these pieces of cornbread.

It was in this place that Martha was confined in childbirth, for she was in the last days of her pregnancy for her sixth child. The men cut forked limbs from the nearby trees, placed them in the ground with the fork uppermost, placed other limbs across the forks, laced the improvised frame with rope and made her a bed. Then the men cut poles for the four corners of her small room and placed quilts on three sides with an open fire on the fourth side. She said that a queen never had a better bed.

While they were at Nauvoo they helped in the construction of the temple. Also, their son Morgan was a stone cutter. Later on, at Florence, he died of stone cutter’s consumption.

It was at Nauvoo that the Saints were concerned about the protection that they were not able to get from the government. A question came up about the Constitution. Martha relates that Joseph Smith made this quote, “Those men who now sit in judgement will pick the laws of the Constitution until it will be in shreds. They will raise the cry, ‘Our Constitution is crumbling to pieces and it will fail’.  No, we will sustain it.”

Then turning to the west he said, “Far in the West, beyond the Rocky Mountains, in the valleys hid up like a nest of kittens in the grass, we will raise the flag and support the Constitution. Many will go there and some will die on the way.”

The family journal reports that they crossed the great plains, more or less, without incident. They just had a few stampedes caused by the Indians.

They left Nauvoo, according to the journal, in February 1846, “ourselves, eight children, one cow and one sheep. We reached the valley in 14th of October, 1849, family the same, two cows, nine sheep, two pigs, $15 in debt, which we soon paid off”

That is the story of Daniel Stillwell Thomas and , pioneers to Lehi, Utah. They were parents of eleven children, nine of whom gave them 87 grandchildren. We can estimate that not less than 5,000 people had their lives changed because of this couple who joined the Church in 1836 and the husband who made a 100 mile horseback ride to hear the restored message of a latter-day gospel.

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