MOSES THOMSON, JR.
Born: 5 Feb. 1834 Kincardine, Perth, Scotland
Died: November 1856 on the sweetwater river near Devil’s Gate
(Possibly at Martin’s Cove)
MARTIN HANDCART COMPANY – Age 22
Moses Thomson was the 5th of 8 children of Moses and Janet Steel Thomson. It appears that Moses and his two older brothers, George and Thomas Hyslop Thomson, were baptized members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but their parents and five sisters were not. George was the first of the Thomson boys to join the Church, being baptized on April 7, 1847, at the age of 17. This so enraged his brother, Thomas, that he held George by force while his mother whipped him. (The boys’ father had died two years previously in 1845.) Nevertheless, Thomas also was later baptized.*
Moses had worked in the coal mines of Scotland, along with his father, brothers, and other male relatives, as soon as he was old enough to carry a candle for the miners to see to work. He also carried a little bucket of water for them to drink. The boys were paid a small wage for this service. They assumed heavier duties in the mines by about age 15.
George was also the first of the three Thomson boys to emigrate to America with the Saints. He came in 1851 aboard the ship Ellen, paying his passage with a full year’s savings. After making his way to Council Bluffs, Iowa, he contracted with Joshua Grant to drive a freight wagon to Utah. He traveled with only 11 other men and a young woman, Joan Bee, who cooked for this company. George and Joan were later married.
George first lived in the Sessions settlement, or present-day Bountiful, Utah. He married and worked hard and saved his money again. Some of it was earned by traveling back to Council Bluffs to bring other Mormon pioneers to Utah. When he had saved enough money, he sent to Scotland for his younger brother, Moses, to come to Utah.
Moses traveled from Glasgow, Scotland, to Liverpool, England, to emigrate with the other Saints aboard the ship Horizon in May of 1856. The President of this group was Edward Martin who also became the Captain of the Handcart Company in which Moses would travel toward Utah from Iowa City, Iowa. President Martin’s two counselors aboard ship were George P. Waugh (age 68) and Jesse Haven (age 42). Elder Waugh was a native of Scotland and both men, Waugh and Haven, were returning to Utah from missions; Waugh in Scotland, and Haven in South Africa and as well as a few months in Scotland. Most of the other Saints known to be from Scotland aboard the Horizon did not continue on to Utah with the Martin Handcart Company. (Some of these family names were Queen, Miller, Dow, Camp and Cain.)
Like other strong young men in the company, Moses would have been assigned to help those less able with their handcarts. He would have also been placed on guard duty at night. These shifts would typically last several hours and took their toll on those like Moses who sacrificed much-needed rest. Fellow traveler Benjamin Platt (age 23) wrote of this:
“ . . . we had to herd at nights and pull handcarts all days and many times I have been kept up until midnight and then stood guard until morning and then started again and it was this everlasting guarding that killed the people.”
Combined with the guarding that was surely required of Moses, we also learn from George Thomson’s biography that
“Moses pushed and pulled on a handcart with a sick man in it for many days. Their rations got slimmer . . . When they got to the Sweetwater [River] near Devil’s Gate, Moses died with seven others the same night. . . . they were buried in shallow graves and covered with snow. This tragedy was a terrible blow to George and he did not get over it for years.”
*According to family accounts, Thomas Hyslop Thomson immigrated to America in 1859 or 1860 with his wife and two children. He went as far as St. Louis, Missouri, obtained work, and remained there until the Civil War broke out and he was drafted into the army. “His wife heard from him once in awhile and then his letters stopped. She never did know whether he was killed or what became of him. George corresponded with her for two or three years and then she married again and moved to Dakota and he lost track of her. Nothing was ever heard of Thomas again.” (Biography of George Thomson)
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