The fruits of the "second rescue" of the handcart pioneers by members of the Riverton Wyoming Stake "have been felt on both sides of the veil."
The rescue is to ensure that the temple work for all the pioneers of the Willie and Martin handcart companies, of which more than 200 died along the trail, has been or will be done. In addition, the project includes the parents and children of the members of the two companies.Through many months of research, it was found that 4,007 ordinances had not been performed personally by the handcart pioneers or their families, or vicariously in their behalf.
In cases where it was found that temple work was needed, stake members were invited to perform the ordinances.
The "second rescue" project was explained to stake members a year ago by members of the stake presidency. (See Oct. 19, 1991, Church News.) Since then nearly 1,200 members have donated thousands of hours in family history research and in temple work.
"Those who served in this project," President Gordon B. Hinckley said at a fireside here Aug. 15, "have been blessed - every one of you. And those on the other side have been blessed as you have done for them that which they could not do for themselves."
President Hinckley, first counselor in the First Presidency, made a 12-hour journey by four-wheel-drive vehicle over many miles of the pioneer trail and dedicated three monuments, and then spoke at the fireside that evening. (See related article on this page.)
"You have done something that needed to be done - very much needed to be done," President Hinckley told the fireside-goers.
"Think of all these years that have passed - more than a century of time. There have been those on the other side who have waited after having paid the greatest price they could pay in this life, that is in forfeiting their lives for the sake of the gospel.
"The thing you have done," President Hinckley continued, ". . . represents a great and marvelous gift, given under the spirit of the Christ, who, through the Atonement, gave to us . . . the gift of eternal life.
President Hinckley thanked those who have participated in the project.
"I feel a tremendous sense of appreciation and gratitude and love for the faithful Latter-day Saints of this Church," President Hinckley told the congregation in the Riverton Wyoming Stake center. "You're the very essence of faith and strength, which becomes the backbone of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I know the Lord loves you, and I know that He smiles with favor upon you, and I know that you love the Lord and seek to do His will."
The motivating force behind the "second rescue" project has been Stake Pres. Robert Scott Lorimer, assisted by his counselors, John L. Kitchen Jr. and Kim W. McKinnon.
"This project has changed all our lives," emphasized Pres. Lorimer. "It has been the spiritual highlight of my life."
He said a few years ago the spirit of the "Willie people" began to rest upon him - and "wouldn't let us be" - a feeling he originally thought was inspiration to seek the acquisition of a site at Rock Creek where 15 members of the Willie company are buried.
However, in time the true nature of the inspiration became clear to the stake presidency - not all the temple work had been completed for the ill-fated Willie and Martin handcart companies.
Stake members, including young people over the age of 12, became involved in the project. They each were given a name of a pioneer to research and to determine what temple ordinances had yet to be completed. Using the Church's FamilySearch program at the stake's two family history libraries, it was learned that 32 percent of the temple ordinances for these handcart pioneers still needed to be done.
A total of 20,000 pages of genealogical information on the Willie and Martin handcart pioneers and their families, filling 31 looseleaf binders, has been compiled from the efforts of stake members.
The names of the pioneers, their parents and children who still needed some temple work performed were then sent to the Ogden Temple. The Riverton stake is included in the Ogden Temple District.
To date, about 2,000 of the ordinances have been performed by members of the Riverton stake. Pres. Lorimer said the stake's participation will be completed by the end of September, and any remaining ordinance work left to be done will then be available to any temple patron.
"This project has lit our stake on fire," Pres. Lorimer enthusiastically said. "The stake has become so unified because of it.
"We know these people," he declared as he spoke of the handcart pioneers. "I have a testimony of life after death. We love them. They are our friends."