TAIT, Elizabeth Xavier: Convert from India and Survivor of Willie Handcart Company

Elizabeth Xavier Tait (1832-1914)

Elizabeth Xavier Tait was born in Mumbai (Bombay), in 1833. Her family was part of the nobility, and she was raised in luxury and comfort. Gifted with intelligence, she entered college very young and graduated when she was 14. At age 19, she joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, having married an LDS convert from Ireland two years earlier. They lived together in India for several years. There they had three children—two boys and a girl. Eventually, her husband, William, and their son sailed to San Francisco, leaving Elizabeth behind in India due to her poor health. His goal was to reach Utah, build a house for the family, and prepare a place for them to come. He and his eldest son walked overland from California to Southern Utah and made a homestead there while he waited for his family to arrive.

Elizabeth grew anxious to be reunited with her husband and son. Sadly, during the year that Elizabeth remained behind in India, tragedy struck, and her second son died of cholera. With only her young daughter remaining, Elizabeth grew more determined than ever to be with her husband and son. Her family in India, who were not members of the Church, begged her to stay and told her it was foolish for her to go halfway around the world and live in poverty when they could care for her and her daughter if she would only let them. Notwithstanding their pleadings and insistence, she booked passage to England and then to America. Her little daughter, Mary, barely one-year-old, could not withstand the rigors of the journey, and she also died en route.

In July 1856, Elizabeth was outfitted in Iowa to cross the plains by with Captain James G. Willie, leader of the ill-fated Willie Handcart Company. The journey was long and hard. The handcarts were hard to pull. Elizabeth recalled the day the company stopped for lunch along the hot trail. She and a female companion with whom she traveled, lay down to rest in the shade of large sagebrush. They were sleeping so soundly that when the company assembled to continue the journey, they did not hear the others leave. After a while, they awoke to discover they had been left behind. Frightened, they quickly followed the tracks of the handcarts in hopes of catching up. They shouted and called, but no one was in sight. Night came, and it was dark. They heard wolves and coyotes howling and barking. They were afraid, but they kept going, silently praying that Heavenly Father would send them aid. Eventually, they came to a stream and, feeling sure the company had crossed there earlier, began to call out and scream. Soon they heard a voice from the other side of the stream. Two men from the camp had gone back to search for the two missing women. Soon they reached the camp safely and were thankful they had been rescued.

Early snows forced the members of the to struggle against horrific odds. Elizabeth, who herself had delicate health, suffered along with everyone else. She had thrown all her personal belongings away, including her clothes and valuable jewelry she had brought with her from India, all to reduce weight and ease the journey. Poorly dressed and lacking provisions, many in the company died along the trail. In Utah, the saints had heard of the plight of the Martin and Willie companies. A rescue party was organized to take relief to the struggling saints. Unbeknownst to Elizabeth, her husband, William, was amongst the rescuers, and she was overjoyed to see him again. When the rescuers arrived with food, the starving saints were so weak that they would only allow them to eat a spoonful of food so as not to make them ill from eating. Reunited with her husband, he took her to Salt Lake City, and they arrived on the 9th of November. She spent three weeks recuperating from the arduous journey before they headed south to .

Elizabeth and William spent the rest of their lives in Cedar City. In her life, she gave birth to a total of 10 children, seven of whom grew to be adults. Today she has a posterity numbering in the hundreds or possibly in the thousands. She became a widow in 1896, and for 18 long years, she was again alone. On September 7, 1914, she died, still firm in her faith.

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