Question: George W. Grant was one of the young men who carried members of the Martin Handcart Company across the Sweetwater River. What happened to George W. Grant?
Answer: George Wilson Grant was born on December 12, 1838 in Far West, Missouri, to George D. Grant and Elizabeth Wilson. His family followed the Saints to Nauvoo. They came to Salt Lake with Brigham Young in l848. His father’s brother was Jedidiah M. Grant (who married Rachel R. Ivins), father of Heber J. Grant, seventh president of the Church.
In October 1858, George was seventeen when he left Salt Lake with his father Captain George D. Grant to find the stranded Willie and Martin handcart companies. When the rescue train found the Willie Company, 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. When they found the Martin Company, the few men of the relief party were so crowded with work they scarcely knew which way to turn.
As the people from the Martin Company slowly made their way to the Devil’s Gate fort, George saw freezing and starving women, children, and men all around him. There were about five hundred people in this group left from the six hundred and twenty-two who had started out from Iowa. Whatever needed to be done had to be done quickly as the food supply was nearly exhausted. The men chopped up some of the wood from the stockade for firewood.
After several nights at Devil’s Gate, the handcart people were told they needed to walk three more miles where there was a cove that would provide wood and shelter for them. They needed to cross the Sweetwater River to get to the cove. Although they knew the order was for their good, crossing seemed an impossible effort to most of the emigrants. The Sweetwater River was not more than two feet deep, but was around 90 to 120 feet across. Ice caked the banks and floated in the river. When they reached the river, George saw men and women weeping as they gathered around the riverbank not knowing what to do. They had lost their courage and will.
George and two of his friends, C. Allen Huntington and David P. Kimball, knew what needed to be done. They stepped into the water and offered to carry women and children across. Other men in the rescue company also helped until all the handcart people had made it across the River.
These three young men had willingly sacrificed their lives, if necessary, to take these people to safety. When President Brigham Young heard of what had been done, he wept. He later said in public, ‘That act alone will ensure C. Allen Huntington, George W. Grant, and David P. Kimball an everlasting salvation in the Celestial Kingdom of God, worlds without end.’
When George was 28 he married his sweetheart 24-year-old Lucy Curtis Spencer on January 2, 1867. Shortly after their marriage, George was called on a mission while Lucy was expecting their first child. One Sunday morning, her child was born, but by noon Lucy had passed away. She was buried on the anniversary of her wedding day. She was 25 years old.
When George learned what had happened, he returned home from his mission broken hearted. He survived Lucy only four and a half years before he died on August 5, 1872. He was 33 years old. Their only child was named Lucy after her mother and was raised by her grandmother. George, Lucy and their daughter are buried in the Salt Lake City Cemetery.
Sources: FamilySearch.org, “The Martin and Willie handcart companies & their rescuers” by C. Vinn Roos