Heber C. Kimball left Winter Quarters on May 29, 1848 and arrived with his company at the Elkhorn River on June 1st. Included in this wagon train was the Joel Ricks family, which included 19 year-old Thomas. On June 6th, at about 8:00 am, an alarm was sounded when the cry went out that the Indians had driven off some of the cattle. Thomas joined Howard Egan, William H. Kimball, and Noah Bartholemew as they searched for the Indians and the missing cattle. Suddenly a party of about 10 Indians fired at them. Thomas was the first hit with two balls near his kidneys and another hit his back bone. He fell from his horse and lay on the ground. William’s horse was hit, but it wasn’t killed. Howard was hit in his right arm above the wrist, and a second shot hit his horse in the neck. The three men still on horse back headed back to camp as quickly as possible. As they fled, they noticed an Indian moving towards Thomas with the intent to scalp him, but Thomas raised his arm and startled the Indian enough that he grabbed Thomas’ gun and ran.
Thomas would later testify that while laying there dying, he thought of how much his family needed his help to cross the plains. He then heard a voice clearly say, “You will not die; you will live to go to the valley of the mountains and there you will do a great work in your day and generation.”
When the three young men made it back to camp, Joel Ricks and Thomas Whittle started out in a wagon to retrieve the body of his son. When they arrived where the body was suppose to be, they were ambushed by Indians. The Indian’s guns miraculously wouldn’t fire, and their lives were spared. When they arrived back at the camp, they found Thomas already there. He had been found by some men and taken to the camp. The doctor felt it was too dangerous to remove the balls and expressed that Thomas wouldn’t live for more than a few hours. Heber C. Kimball and some other brethren laid their hands on his head. “Bro. Kimball administered to him and promised him in the name of the Lord that he should recover and live to see the Latter-day Saints become a mighty people in the midst of the Rocky Mountains.” The balls were never removed, and Thomas carried them the rest of his life. The prophecy was fulfilled. His life included exploring and settling several areas in the mountain west, eventually building a small city in southeastern Idaho with a college that bears his name—Ricks College in Rexburg, Idaho--now BYU-Idaho.. While the name of Ricks College may change, the "Spirit of Ricks" and the legacy of the man for whom it was named for so many years, will remain.
In Utah, Pioneer Day is a time to reflect on the sacrifice of so many who left their homes around the world to come to “Zion.” These were people whose testimonies drove them to follow the direction of their Church leaders and gather to Zion. Faith is the true spirit of the Pioneer. Faith in the gospel. Faith to leave their homes and often their families. Faith to come to a new land. Faith when feet were sore. Faith when a loved one died. Faith when it didn’t make sense. Faith to endure.
Today with so much negative and depressing news from around the world, it is difficult to maintain faith. With so much affecting each of our lives, it is easy to hide behind the veil of depression and fear, ready to give up. Today we wonder why prayers are not answered, why we are not happy, why our lives don’t seem to be working out, especially compared to Brother or Sister so-and-so.
I wonder if Pioneers thought the same thoughts? Did long days across Nebraska cause depression, did a snow storm in Wyoming cause fear? When a child died, did they wonder if anyone was listening to their prayers? Did a broken wagon wheel cause them to wonder why Brother so-and-so seemed to have it so easy? Did personal struggles with weakness and temptation cause them to weep and plead for deliverance?
I would imagine that many of the same questions enter the ears of the Father through prayer in this age as in times past. I would imagine the Father cries a tear now, just as he did in the mid-1800's. I believe the Father’s love for each of us, today’s pioneers, is as strong as it was for the pioneers of past yesterdays.
The song, You Don’t Have to Walk the Plains, has a message for each of us. One chorus states:
“I don’t have to walk the plains to be a pioneer.
There’s a work that still remains, and I know that’s why I’m here.
What faith began was not in vain, I’ll forge ahead and join the chain.
Then pass to my posterity this legacy left for me.” (Living the Legacy CD)
May each of us take a moment and reflect on the legacy left to each of us by those who have gone before. Then with a grateful heart, remember the love of our Father in Heaven, and continue to move forward in faith.