The story of Arthur Parker is a great reminder to all of us that we are all part of the great work of the Latter-days: to rescue the sons and daughters of God. It is my prayer that I can be valiant in this cause as I do what I can in my sphere of influence as I share the gospel of Jesus Christ with others, and give of my time and talents to building the Kingdom of God on the earth today while I am here. I hope the following story inspires you as it has me!
In the late 1850s many converts from Europe were struggling to reach the Great Salt Lake Valley. Many were too poor to afford the open and the covered wagons and had to walk, pulling their meager belongings in handcarts. Some of the most touching and tragic moments in the history of the Church accompanied these handcart pioneers.
One such company was commanded by a Brother McArthur. Archer Walters, an English convert who was with the company, recorded in his diary under 2 July 1856 this sentence: “Brother Parker’s little boy, age six, was lost, and the father went back to hunt him.”
The boy, Arthur, was next to the youngest of the four children of Robert and Ann Parker. Three days earlier the company had hurriedly made camp in the face of a sudden thunderstorm. It was then that the boy was missed. The parents had thought him to be playing along the way with the other children.
Someone remembered that earlier in the day, when they had stopped, he had seen the little boy settle down to rest under the shade of some brush.
Now, most of you have little children and you know how quickly a tired little six-year-old could fall asleep on a sultry summer day and how soundly he could sleep, so that even the noise of the camp moving on might not waken him.
For two days the company remained, and all of the men searched for him. Then on July 2, with no alternative, the company was ordered west.
Robert Parker, as the diary records, went back alone to search once more for his little son. As he was leaving camp, his wife pinned a bright shawl about his shoulders with words such as these: “If you find him dead, wrap him in the shawl to bury him. If you find him alive, you could use this as a flag to signal us.”
She, with the other little children, took the handcart and struggled along with the company.
Out on the trail each night Ann Parker kept watch. At sundown on July 5, as they were watching, they saw a figure approaching from the east! Then in the rays of the setting sun she saw the glimmer of the bright red shawl.
One of the diaries records: “Ann Parker fell in a pitiful heap upon the sand, and that night, for the first time in six nights she slept.”
Under July 5, Brother Walters recorded: “Brother Parker brings into camp his little boy that had been lost. Great joy through the camp. The mother’s joy I can not describe.” 1
We do not know all of the details. A nameless woodsman-I’ve often wondered how unlikely it was that a woodsman should be there-found the little boy and described him as being sick with illness and with terror, and he cared for him until his father found him.
So here a story, commonplace in its day, ends-except for a question. In Ann Parker’s place, how would you feel toward the nameless woodsman who had saved your little son? Would there be any end to your gratitude?
To sense this is to feel something of the gratitude our Father must feel toward any of us who saves one of his children. Such gratitude is a prize dearly to be won, for the Lord has said, “If it so be that you should labor all your days in crying repentance unto this people, and bring, save it be one soul unto me, how great shall be your joy with him in the kingdom of my Father?” (D&C 18:15.) Even so, I might add, if that soul should be our own. 2
- LeRoy R. Hafen and Ann W. Hafen, Handcarts to Zion [Glendale, California: The Arthur H. Clark Co., 1960], p. 61.
- Boyd K. Packer, Memorable Stories and Parables of Boyd K. Packer [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1997], 4.