Question: What part did Abel Garr play in the rescue of the Willie and Martin Handcart Companies?
Answer: Abel Weaver Garr was born 11 December 1833 in Richmond, Wayne, Indiana, the eighth of twelve children born to Fielding Garr and Paulina Turner. In 1840 Fielding Garr and his wife Paulina joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
In 1842 they moved to Nauvoo, Illinois. The story has come down through the family that Fielding Garr was one of the few men trusted with the burial of Joseph and his brother Hyrum.
Fielding also assisted in the building of the Nauvoo Temple. His wife, Paulina, died 4 November 1844. This left Fielding with eight children, the youngest but a year and a half old. He never married again, but honored his promise to his wife to bring their family safely to the Salt Lake Valley to be with the main body of the Church. Abel was almost eleven when his mother died.
In 1846 Fielding Garr and his family moved to Council Bluffs. He was fifty-two-years of age when he joined the migration West in 1847, with Abel, age thirteen, and six of his siblings (John 19, William 15, Carolina 10, Sarah 8, Mary 6 and Ben 4). They crossed the plains with an ox team in the Jedediah M. Grant - Willard Snow Company.
In 1848, Fielding settled his family on Antelope Island, in the Great Salt Lake, (The home is now part of the State Park and is open to visitors.) near Salt Lake, where he developed a successful cattle and horse ranch. Abel and his brothers were known as skillful horse riders and cattlemen. Abel helped care for his father’s cattle and also assisted in caring for the Church herds at that time. Fielding Garr died on June 15, 1855. Fielding Garr was in the truest sense a real pioneer. Stalwart and courageous when confronted with the hardships of pioneer life, and he was always kind and loving to his motherless children.
President Brigham Young then asked John T., William H., Abel W. and Benjamin F. Garr, sons of Fielding Garr, to take their stock and join with the stock belonging to the Church and locate in Cache Valley. The Garr Brothers built three log cabins, about 1 ½ mile northwest of the present center of Millville, and helped establish the Church's Elk Horn Ranch, later known as the Church Farm.
In the October 1856 General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Church President Brigham Young informed those gathered, that a group of Latter-day Saint immigrants were then stranded on the plains of Wyoming. These immigrants were with the Martin and Willie handcart companies, and the Hunt and Hodgett wagon companies. The next day, about 25 men departed from the Salt Lake Valley to find the immigrants. The development of exceptionally strong and fast horses on Antelope Island, and Abel's skill as a rider may have contributed to his being called to join the first handcart rescue group led by George D. Grant and William Kimball.
They reached Fort Bridger on October 12, 1856, where they split into two groups; a slower group heavily loaded with provisions, and a faster group with only one wagon and a few extra mounts led by William Kimball and George Grant. They took Abel Garr, Joseph Young, and Cyrus Wheelock to push ahead as conditions worsened and slowed their progress.
The rescue company found the Willie Handcart Company near South Pass. About half of the rescue group, under Captain Kimball, stayed with Willie’s Company to help them continue westward. The other half, led by Captain Grant went on to Devil's Gate, but they still hadn't found the other groups. Grant sent Abel Garr, Joseph Young, and Daniel W. Jones ahead with saddle horses and packed mules, in a final effort to locate the Martin and Hodgett companies. Both were found two days later on October 28. They had been stranded in the snow several days. The rescue party had little food, only good news.
The men got the company moving again based on the hope that food and warm blanket were close at hand. Joseph Young led this group forward, and Grant’s party met them and gave as much assistance as they could. Abel Garr and Dan Jones continued on to find the Hunt Wagon train, still two days east. After finding and getting the Hunt Company moving, they returned and helped the immigrants until they made it to Martin’s Cove.
On the morning of November 2nd, Captain Grant sent Abel Garr and Joseph A. Young to Salt Lake City with the following dispatch to President Brigham Young:
"There is not much use for me to attempt to give a description of these people; for this you will learn from your son, Joseph and from Brother Garr who are the bearers of this message. You can imagine between five and six hundred men women and children worn down by drawing carts through mud and snow fainting by the way side, children crying with cold, their limbs stiffened, their feet bleeding and some of them bare to the frost. The sight is too much for the stoutest of us. Our party is too small be of help in comparison to what is needed. I believe that not more than one third of the Martin Company will be able to walk any further...” (S .F. Kimball, Improvement Era, Vol. XVII, 1913 p.203)
Abel seldom talked about or wrote about his experience as a young man involved in the rescue. As an adult he was known for taking packages of his freshly slaughtered beef to neighbors and people in need.
Abel lived in the valley until his death on 4 March 1899 in Millville, Cache, Utah, at the age of 65. He is buried in the Millville City Cemetery.
Source: Abel Weaver Garr (1833 - 1899), A Child of the Frontier, My Great Grandfather, familysearch.org; Jenson, Andrew, Encyclopedic History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah; FamilySearch.org; FindAGrave.com