The miracle at Rocky Ridge: How Andrew Young Smith saved my 4th Great Grandfather

During the winter months of 1856, my 4th Great Grandfather Joseph Mckay found himself near death traveling in the Willie handcart company while crossing Rocky Ridge, and he collapsed on the frozen ground waiting to die. He had trekked thousands of miles from Europe, eagerly awaiting for the arrival to the Salt Lake Valley.

He, along with a group of others, left Winter Quarters Nebraska late in the season in July, much to the disapproval of a chosen few who thought it was foolish to make the journey so late. That would prove to be the case, and they were unpleasantly surprised to encounter an early winter. Their provisions were adequate for a time, but the frigid conditions made it impossible to travel ahead, and eventually their once abundant rations became meager.

When Joseph Mckay saw Rocky Ridge, his heart sank, his determination quickly deflated as he came to the realization that he most likely would freeze to death. The jagged and massive rocks that piled on top of one another seemed impossible to cross.

The wind howled, temperatures continued to drop, hope was fading as these souls (about 100 in Joseph Mckays group) huddled together, waiting to die, falling short of their destination to the place they knew as Zion.

For 48 hours they remained still, their muscles and skin stiff with frostbite. Food now gone, it seemed like all was lost. One man in their company somehow defied all reason and was able to stand up. He made the unselfish, charitable, honorable decision to start carrying the weak saints across the rocky and unforgiving terrain on his back.

One of those poor souls who he angelically carried was my 4th Great grandfather, Joseph Mckay, the man who wanted to die and begin his eternal sleep on a bed of ice and snow. That saint of a man was Andrew Young Smith, who at the time, was interested in Joseph’s daughter Jane. They would eventually marry and share a special bond with the Mckay family.

Andrew would end up carrying almost 100 people across Rocky Ridge, a feat that was so miraculous, it baffled those who witnessed it. He eventually continued that service of helping others by being a bodyguard for Brigham Young, John Taylor, and Wilford Woldruff.

Joseph and Andrew would make it to the Salt Lake valley with the Mckay family and Smith family. The effects of the winter conditions gave my ancestor severe frostbite in his hands and feet. It would take 3 years for his extremities to turn back to normal.

I am in awe of the faith and determination of those early Latter-Day Saint pioneers. Today is pioneer day and every year I look back at the different trials and tribulations of those that left their homes in Nauvoo due to persecution, only to face more challenges as they traveled thousands of miles to Utah.

From having to bury their infants, watching the love of their life slowly deteriorate due to typhoid fever, being constantly on the lookout for bears and wolves along the trail, it took everything they had to keep walking.

Bloodstained shoes and footprints marked their journey, frigid cold and extreme heat dictated their pace. Amidst all of this, the thing that kept them going was their trust in God, and a song in their heart. William Clayton wrote what is now considered the pioneer anthem: “Come, come ye Saints”. I can almost hear my forebears as they huddled together on those cold nights, raising their voices to God in song, not knowing if they would arise the next morning-

“Come, come, ye Saints, no toil nor labor fear. But with joy, wend your way.
Though hard to you this journey may appear,
Grace shall be as your day.
’Tis better far for us to strive
Our useless cares from us to drive;
Do this, and joy your hearts will swell
All is well! All is well!

Why should we mourn or think our lot is hard?
’Tis not so; all is right.
Why should we think to earn a great reward
If we now shun the fight?
Gird up your loins; fresh courage take.
Our God will never us forsake;
And soon we’ll have this tale to tell—
All is well! All is well!

We’ll find the place which God for us prepared,
Far away in the West,
Where none shall come to hurt or make afraid;
There the Saints will be blessed.
We’ll make the air with music ring,
Shout praises to our God and King;
Above the rest these words we’ll tell—
All is well! All is well!

And should we die before our journey’s through,
Happy day! All is well!
We then are free from toil and sorrow, too;
With the just we shall dwell!
But if our lives are spared again
To see the Saints their rest obtain,
Oh, how we’ll make this chorus swell
All is well! All is well!”

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