The McPhail Family

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(This is an excerpt from Follow Me to Zion , by Andrew D. Olsen and Jolene S. Allphin.)

By October, flour rations were reduced and winter storms began, making the journey extremely difficult for the Willie company. On October 23 they crossed Rocky Ridge, traveling nearly 16 miles in a blizzard, and arrived at Rock Creek Hollow late at night. They were cold, damp, and exhausted, but Archibald McPhail still had duties to perform. Besides attending to the welfare of his family, he found that one of the women in his group was missing.

It was a cold, lonely walk as Archibald returned to seek the lost one. He eventually found her freezing, fearful, and without hope. She had reached a creek that she was afraid to cross because the ice might break and she would fall in. She reasoned that she was dying anyway and did not want to die with wet clothing frozen to her body.

Archibald called for her to come across the ice to him, but no amount of coaxing would change her mind. He finally went to her, gathered her up, and started back across the creek. Their combined weight broke the ice. Archibald was soaked in the frigid water, but the rescued woman was safe and dry.

After trudging almost four miles through wind and cold, they stumbled into the camp, where “few tents were pitched.” Archibald was met by his loving teenage daughter, who helped him under a handcart, covered it with a half-frozen tent, and then kept a vigil by his side the rest of the night. Three times the wind blew the tent cover off the rude shelter. Three times Henrietta replaced it and brushed the snow from her father’s face.

Thirteen members of the company died from the trek over Rocky Ridge and were buried the next morning. Archibald was still clinging to life when the company left this camp on October 25.

On November 5, Archibald was being carried in a wagon while Jane walked behind, probably taking turns with Henrietta in carrying little Jane. That was a difficult day for the Willie company. They traveled 23 miles and crossed Yellow Creek, jolting Archibald at every turn.

Jane did not sleep in a tent that night but watched and waited in the wagon with Archibald, gently cradling his head in her lap. Jane knew that her husband was dying, and she could not bear the thought of him dying in the dark, so she held a small tallow candle near his head. Her desire was to look on his loving face to the last. She prayed that the flicker of the little candle would stay with them until Archibald passed away. “Her prayer was answered, for the light of the candle and the life of her husband went out at the same time.” The Willie company journal for November 6 recorded: “Archibald McPhail, from Greenock, Argyleshire, Scotland, died about 2 A.M., aged 40 years. Much snow on the ground this morning & still more falling.”

Archibald McPhail died when he was only three days from reaching his goal of Zion. To the end of the journey, he had given his all in the service of his family and others. His wife, daughter, and adopted daughter arrived safely in the Salt Lake Valley on November 9, 1856. (Andrew D. Olsen and Jolene S. Allphin, Follow Me to Zion [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2013], 180–82).

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