They were stranded.
Even though Brigham Young immediately sent help, Mary, her children, and their company didn’t arrive in the Salt Lake Valley until late November. Many died, and those who didn’t lost toes, feet, fingers, and legs. William eventually died from the effects of the experience. (For more information about the Martin Handcart Company, see James E. Faust, "Go Bring Them Home from the Plains," Liahona, Nov. 1997, 3; James E. Faust, "A Priceless Heritage," Ensign, July 2002, 2; "Remembering the Rescue," Ensign, Aug. 1997, 38; Paul H. Peterson, "They Came by Handcart," Ensign, Aug. 1997, 30.
Of all people, I think the members of the Martin Handcart Company were justified in complaining and criticizing Brigham Young and the other leaders of the Church. But they didn’t; other members of the Church did. The following is an account of one survivor of the Martin Handcart Company as he responded to criticism:
Some sharp criticism of the Church and its leaders was being indulged in for permitting any company of converts to venture across the plains with no more supplies or protection than a handcart caravan afforded.
An old man in the corner … sat silent and listened as long as he could stand it, then he arose and said things that no person who heard him will ever forget. His face was white with emotion, yet he spoke calmly, deliberately, but with great earnestness and sincerity.
In substance [he] said, "I ask you to stop this criticism. You are discussing a matter you know nothing about. Cold historic facts mean nothing here, for they give no proper interpretation of the questions involved. Mistake to send the Handcart Company out so late in the season? Yes. But I was in that company and my wife was in it and Sister Nellie Unthank whom you have cited was there, too. We suffered beyond anything you can imagine and many died of exposure and starvation, but did you ever hear a survivor of that company utter a word of criticism? …
"I have pulled my handcart when I was so weak and weary from illness and lack of food that I could hardly put one foot ahead of the other. I have looked ahead and seen a patch of sand or a hill slope and I have said, I can go only that far and there I must give up, for I cannot pull the load through it."
He continued: "I have gone on to that sand and when I reached it, the cart began pushing me. I have looked back many times to see who was pushing my cart, but my eyes saw no one. I knew then that the angels of God were there.
"Was I sorry that I chose to come by handcart? No. Neither then nor any minute of my life since. The price we paid to become acquainted with God was a privilege to pay, and I am thankful that I was privileged to come in the Martin Handcart Company." (James E. Faust, "The Refiner’s Fire," Ensign, May 1979, 53).
I have written this sketch of my life as stated for the benefit of my grandchildren and others and I also add my testimony of the divinity of this work. I know that it is the work of God and hope and trust that any of my posterity that may come in possession of this may be strengthened in their faith by it, and be worthy of such parentage for truly we suffered much for the truth's sake, but the reward of the faithful is sure.
Among all the sects which emerged in Reformation Europe, the Anabaptists were the most radical. They sought to Restore the ancient Church of Jesus Christ. They actively proselytized their neighbors, and many rejected the authority of their secular leaders. As a result, the Anabaptists suffered severe persecution. Among the most radical of the Anabaptists were those living in the city of Munster, Germany. There, one Anabaptist leader claimed to be the prophet Enoch and Munster the city of Zion. They drove all non-believers from the city, but their neighbors retaliated and slaughtered the Munster Anabaptists.