Question: Who was Erastus Rudd and what were the circumstances surrounding his death? What happened to his wife, Experience, and their family?
Answer: Erastus Rudd was born on June 23, 1787 in Chesterfield, Cheshire County, New Hampshire, the son of John and Chloe Hill Rudd. He married Experience Wheeler November 28, 1816. Experience, the child of Randall and Experience Alden Wheeler, was born on December 21, 1792, in Chesterfield County, New Hampshire.
After Erastus and Experience were married, they evidently moved to Springfield, Pennsylvania, and lived there until 1822, for at that place their first four children were born. In 1822 they moved back to Chesterfield, New Hampshire, where their other five children were born.
On November 20, 1833, Erastus was baptized a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and Experience was baptized soon after. Very soon after their conversion, the family moved to Kirtland, Ohio, to be with the Saints.
In 1834 when the Prophet Joseph Smith called for volunteers to join the ranks called Zion’s Camp, Erastus, although he was 47 years of age, became one of the first volunteers. This camp was raised to march one thousand miles to Jackson County, Missouri, for the purpose of defending the ill-treated saints at that place.
With the Prophet Joseph at the helm, Zion’s Camp took up their march. After many days of weary travel, foot sore and tired, with enemies before them and behind them, they marched on. When within the borderlands of their journey's end, misfortune befell the camp. Due to complaining and rebellion in Camp, the innocent suffered with the unfaithful, and a scourge broke upon them. This scourge was in the form of cholera, and this dread disease took the lives of many of the members of Zions Camp.
On June 26, 1834 at Rush Creek, Missouri, Erastus Rudd fell a victim to this disease and died and was buried on the banks of the creek. His name is listed on the Zion’s Camp Memorial in Zion’s Camp Mound Grove Cemetery at Independence, Jackson County, Missouri.
“Under date of June 25, 1834, Joseph Smith recorded in his journal: ‘When the cholera made its appearance [in Zion's Camp in Missouri], Elder John S. Carter was the first man who stepped forward to rebuke it, and upon this, was instantly seized, and became the first victim in the camp. He died about six o'clock in the afternoon and Seth Hitchcock died in about thirty minutes afterwards. Erastus Rudd died about the same moment...He was buried by Jesse Smith, George A. Smith and two or three others, and while burying him, Jesse Smith was attacked with the cholera.’” (Excerpt from "Family Exaltation" written by Archibald F. Bennett, published by Deseret Book Company, Salt Lake City, Utah, 1957 p. 171)
The Prophet Joseph said: "I have seen those men who died of the cholera in our camp; and the Lord knows, if I get a mansion as bright as theirs, I ask no more," said Joseph Smith of those who served in Zion's Camp. Then he wept...” (Quoted in Joseph Young Sr., History of the Organization of the Seventies (1878), 14) (History of the Church, 2:181)
What became of Erastus’ wife, Experience, and their many children? After the death of her husband, Experience married Joseph Hancock, son of Thomas Jr. and Amy Ward Hancock. Joseph had been a fellow soldier of her husband in Zion’s Camp and also a fellow sufferer with cholera, but his life was spared after severe suffering. He was eight years younger than Experience, and was the widower of Betsy Johnson Hancock, who was the mother of his five young children.
Shortly after their marriage they took their large family and gathered with the Saints in Clay County, Missouri. There near Liberty, on May 12, 1835, their first and only child was born, a daughter whom they named Amy Experience. Due to prejudice, the saints were driven from Clay County, and then from Caldwell County, Missouri. From there they moved to Montrose, Iowa, across from the city of Nauvoo. Some of Experience's children married and remained in Clay County. At Montrose they enjoyed peace and contentment for a period of nearly six years. While here, they learned that the Prophet Joseph and his brother Hyrum had been killed.
On February 1846 under the leadership of Brigham Young, the Hancock family moved on, to a spot in Iowa called Garden Grove. After a brief rest at this place, the Hancocks moved on thirty miles more to Mt. Pisgah, Iowa. After staying here for a short time, they journeyed on to Council Bluffs, Iowa. In the spring of 1847, Experience’s husband, Joseph Hancock, was called by Brigham Young to go with the first company of pioneers westward as a hunter of game for the company. Joseph accepted the call and left his wife and their children in the care of God.
During his absence Experience suffered many hardships and exposures, and many days of ill health and an aching heart. Many of their children who had married left the church, and had forsaken the fold. She tried to persuade them to join the saints and come to Zion, but was not successful, and she saw them no more in this world. Of her eight living children, two of them accepted the gospel--Erastus Jr. was baptized in 1833 and Lorenzo Dow joined the church in 1842. They both emigrated to Utah, but not before their mother had passed away.
Upon her arrival to their home in Council Bluffs, Experience found that her husband had returned from the Rocky Mountains. They finally left Council Bluffs on May 1, 1851. Soon after their arrival, they moved to Provo, Utah, and expected to make this their permanent home. Experience was ill and after a short time in Zion, she passed away in October 1851 in her fifty-ninth year. Experience was buried in Provo on College Hill, but after a few years the graves from this hill were moved to the present city cemetery.
Source: Excerpts from FamilySearch.org, Life Story of Erastus H. Rudd; Experience Wheeler Rudd Hancock 21 December 1792. (Material for this sketch was taken from the record of her daughter, Amy Hancock, records of Erastus Harper Rudd, Jr., the cemetery records of Provo City Cemetery and Church history records.)