Question: An Angel woke Ephraim Knowlton Hanks, asking him if he would go help the handcart pioneers caught in the early snowstorms. Who was Ephraim K. Hanks?
Answer: Ephraim K. Hanks was born 21 March 1826 in Madison, Ohio. He enlisted as a sailor when he was sixteen years old. When he arrived home, he was introduced to the Church by his older brother, Sidney. Ephraim was soon baptized and cast his lot with the Saints in Nauvoo who were soon to become exiles. On their trek to the west, Ephraim was one who served in the Mormon Battalion. Ephraim became friends with a fellow-soldier, Arza Hinckley. As a man, Ephraim was solidly built, being six feet tall and weighing two hundred pounds.
Andrew Jensen recorded the following as told to him by Ephraim: "In the fall of 1856, I had occasion to stop once over night with Gurnsey Brown, in Draper...Being somewhat fatigued after the day's journey, I retired to rest quite early, and while I still lay wide awake in my bed I heard a voice calling me by name, and then saying: `The handcart people are in trouble and you are wanted; will you go and help them?' ...Without hesitation I answered `Yes, I will go if I am called.' I then turned around to go to sleep, but had laid only a few minutes when the voice called a second time, repeating almost the same words and then repeated a third time.
"When I got up the next morning I said to Brother Brown, `The handcart people are in trouble, and I have promised to go out and help them’...I hastened to Salt Lake City, and arrived there on the Saturday, preceding the Sunday (October 5th) on which the call was made for volunteers to go out and help the last handcart companies in...”
The next day Ephraim was one of the men in the sixteen wagons that headed out from Salt Lake, loaded with food and supplies. Some of the advance relief wagons, plodding through deep snow found the Willie handcart company on the Sweetwater River on Oct. 21st. The rescue train was then divided into two parties. About half, under Captain Kimball, remained with Willie’s Company to help them get to Salt Lake. The other half, led by Captain Grant, continued on another hundred miles eastward in bitter winter conditions in search of the Martin company.
During the next five days, Ephraim, with others in Grant’s party, traveled one hundred miles through deep snow and reached Devil’s Gate. They had been out as far as Pacific Springs without finding the handcarts and had concluded that they had gone into a camp for the winter or had perished. Arza and Ephraim asked the company to camp for a few days while they and Dan [Jones or Johnson] went on to try and find the Martin handcart company. Dan had to take one of the sick mules back to camp, so Ephraim Hanks continued on with Arza. One evening after making camp, Ephraim recorded the following:
“Now, I am a firm believer in the efficacy of prayer...But when I, after praying as I did on that lonely night in the South Pass, looked around me and spied a buffalo bull within fifty yards of my camp, my surprise was complete; I had certainly not expected so immediate an answer to my prayer....Taking deliberate aim at the animal, my first shot brought him down..it then rolled down into the very hollow where I was encamped...
Ephraim, thinking he might find more buffalo, headed out early the next morning. "Early the next morning I happened upon a herd of buffalo, and killed a nice cow...I skinned and dressed the cow; then cut up part of its meat in long strips and loaded my horses with it...” By the time Ephraim had loaded up the meat on his horses, it was getting dark. He happened to notice at some distance a light twinkle and then another. As he rode toward them, more lights came into view. He soon realized he had found the Martin handcart company. With shouts of joy the people ran toward him. He turned the meat over to Edward Martin, the captain of the company, and explained that there were two wagon loads of provisions a short distance away that he and his partner would bring to them the next day. Ephraim then hastened back to Arza. Early the next morning they went back and notified the rescue company they had found the Martin handcart company. They guided them to the camp and helped distribute the flour and quilts from the rescue wagons. Arza’s account states, “Ephraim Hanks, one of my Battalion chums, and I spent much of our time in camp in administering to the sick. Ephraim was a man of great faith.”
The handcart company then had to move on to find a sheltered place. The sick and dying were loaded into the rescue wagons, and they moved along the Sweetwater. They were to cross over the River and shelter in a depression later known as Martin’s Cove. It was November 3rd, and the River was filled with floating ice. Three eighteen-year-old boys belonging to the relief party carried nearly every member of the handcart company across the stream: C. Allen Huntington, George W. Grant, and David P. Kimball. Many of the Saints were loaded into wagons and taken to South Pass where Redick N. Allred had held a few rescue wagons instead of returning to Salt Lake. Ephraim and Arza stayed with the Martin Handcart Saints until they arrived in Salt Lake on November 30th, 1856. There were 622 people in the Martin Handcart Company, and between 135 and 150 died and many others endured frozen limbs. If Arza and Ephraim hadn’t continued on, it is very probable that many more, if not all, would have perished.
Ephraim had three wives who bore him twenty-six children. He also adopted one Native American boy and one girl. Ephraim will be remembered as one of the rescuers of the Martin Handcart Company, as a scout for Brigham Young, as a Pony Express rider who made more than 50 trips across the plains, and as a participant in the Utah War. He spent much of his time trying to bring peace between the Indians and the settlers.
Hanks was a U.S. mail carrier from 1851 to 1853 and later acted as a station master for the Pony Express, facilitating mail service on the Mormon Trail to Salt Lake through Utah's Emigration Canyon. Hanks' Station was located on the Mormon Trail in Mountain Dell, a valley between the Big Mountain and Little Mountain, also known as Big Canyon, named for the creek that still runs through that area. The historic station has been removed, but its site sits on the edge of what is now Little Dell Reservoir.
In his later years he settled near Bicknell, Wayne County, Utah, where he died at age 70, on June 9, 1896. After hearing about his death, the local Indians, one thousand strong, rimmed the ledges above his ranch in silent tribute.
Hanks died at his home on the Floral Ranch, Wayne County, Utah and was buried in the Caineville Cemetery.
Sources: Handcarts to Zion, LeRoy R. Hafen and Ann W. Hafen; Brigham’s Boys by Marlene Bateman Sullivan; FamilySearch.org; Martin Handcart Rescue, An excerpt from a history written by Joel Hinckley Bowen.