Set in Stone, Fixed in Glass
by Nelson B. Wadsworth
“From Handcarts to Cameras”
[p.49] Another pioneer photographer was working on the frontier. He arrived in Utah one to two years before Marsena Cannon, but he probably did not take up the camera until wet plate photography was in full sway. His name was Edward Martin, and he came across the plains from Nauvoo, Illinois, with the first Mormon wagon trains in 1846. While the Latter-day Saints were still on the plains in Iowa, he was recruited into the Mormon Battalion and served first as a corporal and then as a sergeant in the army unit that marched more than 1,500 miles to San Diego during the war with Mexico. He participated in one of the longest military marches in history but made no pictures.1
Martin was from Preston, Lancashire, England, and probably was among the early English converts to the Mormon church who joined in droves in 1839-40. At that point the majority of the twelve apostles was in Great Britain on missions preaching to entire congregations of working class people, including those in Preston, a heavily-industrialized textile community of 60,000. After embracing the Mormon faith, Martin and his family made their way to Nauvoo in 1841 aboard the Sheffield and were living in the frontier city in 1846 when the Latter-day Saints evacuated and headed west in ox-drawn wagons.2
[p.51] In 1849 Martin described his experiences in the Mormon Battalion to his friend John Melling and to his mother: “We were from the 15th of February, 1846, until the 20th of June in traveling from Nauvoo to Council Bluffs, a distance of about 350 miles. By this time a good many of the company were out of provisions and it was considered best for the camp to stop and get more provisions. We were then about 100 miles from any market whilst we were encamped at Council Bluffs. The United States sent a messenger after us with a requisition for 500 men to march to California…Here, we were all out of doors with our families and whilst in this situation we were called to leave our families and enlist into the United States service. We accordingly left our families in this situation committing them into the hands of God for support and preservation.”
The Mormon Battalion marched to Fort Leavenworth and from there on to Santa Fe. “It was very hot weather,” Martin wrote, “and we suffered much from want of water. We traveled on every day until the 11th day of October, 1846, when we arrived at Santa Fe, a Spanish settlement a distance of 1,000 miles from [p.52] Fort Leavenworth, making it 1,100 miles where we left our families and 1,530 miles from Nauvoo, all proceeded on foot.”3
Eventually Martin along with other members of the battalion made his way to the frontier Mormon settlement in Utah. He discovered his family was still at Council Bluffs and so continued east to join his wife and children, noting wryly in his letter that all told he had walked a grand total of 6,120 miles since he had left Nauvoo in February 1846.
Sometime around 1849 he got his family to Utah but was called on a mission to England three years later. Between his arrival in England and 1856, he served as president of the Glasgow Conference, presiding over twenty branches in Scotland and 1,329 members.4
As Martin prepared to return home at the conclusion of his mission in 1856, he was called by the church to head up a company of emigrants about to participate in a bold new scheme to bring converts to the Utah territory. Up to that time church emigration from Europe had followed a route from New Orleans up the Mississippi and Missouri rivers and then by ox-teams across the plains to Great Salt Lake City. Brigham Young and his counselors knew that many emigrants in Europe who wanted to make the trek could not afford the cost of the journey. In 1856 the First Presidency informed Franklin D. Richards in Liverpool of a plan for the emigrants to take the northern route through New York and Chicago and to gather in Iowa City for the trek across the plains. Iowa City was the western terminus of the Rock Island Railroad.
The presidency continued: “There they will be provided with handcarts on which to haul their provisions and clothing. We will send experienced men to that point with instructions to aid them in every way possible; and let the Saints who intend to emigrate to Utah the coming season understand that they are expected to walk, and draw their carts across the plains. Sufficient teams will be furnished to haul the aged, infirm and those who are unable to walk. A few good cows will be sent along to furnish milk, and some beef cattle for the people to kill along the road. Now have them gird up their loins and come while the way [p.54] is open.”5
The church’s instructions were published in the Millennial Star and sent throughout Latter-day Saint congregations in Europe. News of the cheap, affordable way to migrate to Utah spread quickly, and that spring the sailing ships Thornton and Horizon embarked for America with 764 and 856 Mormon converts. These converts arrived in Iowa City in late June and early July.
Meanwhile men who had been filling missions in Europe for the church had been called to preside over or to assist the handcart companies on the trip to Utah.6 These men were among the stalwarts of the Mormon church, most of [p.56] them living through the “refiner’s fire” of Kirtland and Nauvoo and the dangers of several wagon treks across the plains. Martin was named captain of a handcart company, consisting of 575 emigrants, 146 carts, seven wagons, 30 oxen, and 50 head of livestock including some milk cows. At the time of his call, Martin was thirty-seven years old.7 A daguerreotype portrait of these handcart missionaries of 1856 was taken in England at the end of 1855 when the group met in Liverpool to plan for the impending migration.8
Problems beset the handcart companies from the outset. Chauncey Webb, who was appointed to supervise the construction of the wooden carts, was unable to purchase suitable, kiln-dried lumber and had to settle for green pine—which would eventually result in disastrous shrinkage on the dry plains. The carts literally fell apart in the rough terrain. Because of delays the emigrants did not depart until late July. Because of this, as well as Indian problems and the early [p.57] onset of winter, the handcart companies were caught in the mountains of Wyoming late fall. They were exhausted, short on food and supplies, stranded in deep snow, suffering from exposure to the harsh elements, and miles short of their destination.
Wagon trains on their way to Great Salt Lake and the remainder of the returning missionaries from Europe, who had left Iowa City after getting all of the handcart companies on their way, discovered the plight of the emigrant groups. They were scattered in disarray between Fort Bridger and Devil’s Gate in the middle of severe blizzards and freezing temperatures. News of their condition and a plea for help was dispatched to Brigham Young. The missionaries feared all in the handcart companies might die.
Joseph Warren Wadsworth, a teamster and farmer from Uintah, East Weber County, was among the volunteers sent out to rescue the last handcart company in October. In a life sketch dictated to a stenographer in 1925 at the age of 94, he described his experience: “This was the saddest sight I have ever seen; the memory of it haunts me still. Most of the company had either feet or hands or both frozen. Little children with their limbs frozen were a sight to make one’s heart ache. The next morning I was called upon to bury two children who died from hunger and cold during the night. We buried them on the mountain side in a large cedar grove. We started on our return next morning through snow knee-deep and bitter cold weather; but we had good teams and plenty to eat, and could get plenty of wood to keep us warm when we camped. We got along fairly well until we reached East Canyon, where we buried two more little children and one old man. We were having a very hard time getting through the canyon, as the snow there was almost waist-deep and crusted hard. We built large fires to melt the snow, in order to dig the graves. After reaching the Divide, we met a relief company, who had been sent to meet us. They had cleaned the snow off, and pitched tents, and had large piles of wood for fires, which they lit as soon as they saw us. Believe me, that was the most welcome sight I have ever seen, as we drove over the bluff and saw the fires and heard the calls of the men [p.58] …We reached Salt Lake City late in the afternoon of the next day. Brigham Young commended us on our return and said that but for our timely help and assistance, not one of the company would ever have lived to see the Salt Lake Valley.”9
Among other heroes were young missionaries returning home from Europe, who had helped the handcart companies get underway. These included Joseph Angell Young, eldest son of Brigham Young, and William Henry Kimball, son of Mormon apostle Heber C. Kimball. On their way home from Iowa City, they discovered the plight of the handcart companies and hurried to Great Salt Lake City to organize the rescue parties. After only one day there, the young men—most of them in their twenties—started back with wagons loaded with provisions. Despite heavy snow storms and unbelievable hardships, the battery of volunteers reached the stranded handcart companies near South Pass on 17 November. With the help of the missionaries and the volunteers, the survivors of the handcart companies reached Salt Lake by the end of November. The Martin Company, the last one in and the worst off, arrived on 30 November.
[p.59] Only 413 of the 575 original members of the Martin Company made it to Utah. The remaining 162 perished during the arduous, four-month journey and were buried in hastily-dug graves along the trail, most of them in Wyoming.10 Solomon Kimball, a younger son of Heber C. Kimball, described the aftermath: “Probably no greater act of heroism was ever recorded in the annals of history than that performed by the 27 young men who, on the morning of Oct. 7, 1856, went from the city of the Great Salt Lake to the relief of the 1,550 belated emigrants, who were caught in the early snows of a severe winter, hundreds of miles from human habitation, without food and without shelter. By their indefatigable labors these brave mountain boys were instruments in the hands of the Lord in saving 1,300 of that number. Had it not been for their heroic efforts, not enough emigrants would have been left to tell the dreadful tale.”11
After arriving back in Utah, Edward Martin recovered from the harrowing experiences of the handcart migration and set about to establish himself in business in the frontier community. He apparently opened his first store in 1865 [p.60] with John Olsen, a Danish emigrant, as “chief of the photographic Dept.” Martin probably learned the art of photography from his partner Olsen or from Marsena Cannon, who was at the zenith of his career. Just before 1860 ambrotypes replaced daguerreotypes as the popular, commercial form of photography. Since ambrotypes were actually a form of wet-plate photography, it was a simple transition to tintypes and albumen prints.
Martin concentrated on portrait-making with ambrotypes and cartes de viste at the top of the list. Local archives today are replete with examples of Martin’s portraiture, and the Daughetrs of the Utah Pioneers Museum in Salt Lake City has a collection of his views of the pioneer Mormon settlement. They are cartes de viste of downtown Salt Lake City taken in the mid- to late 1860s from the top of the tabernacle as well as portraits of Mormon leaders and ordinary citizens.
The pioneer photographer’s gallery was located on the west side of East [p.62] Temple Street between First and Second streets. It was a thriving business when the first city directory was published in 1867, but the “photograph gallery” was only a portion of the trade. “Edward Martin Photograph Gallery, also dealer in fruit, confectionery and groceries,” said his advertisement in gazetteers for Salt Lake City, Provo, Springville, and Ogden. His residence was listed at the same address.12
Two other photography firms were in business in Salt Lake City that same year—Savage & Ottinger located a block north on the same side of the street and Sutterley Bros. on the east side of East Temple just across the street. The galleries of all three photographers were located within a stone’s throw of each other, which no doubt made competition for views and portraiture intense.
Just how long Martin remained in business is a matter of conjecture. His advertising vanishes from the city directories in the early 1870s and today there [p.64] is little left of his photographic legacy, save a handful of small albumen portraits and a few rare, faded, panoramic views of Salt Lake City.13 But perhaps somewhere beneath the dust of more than a century, “Photography by Martin” remains to be discovered.
Martin photographed the temple during the early stages of its construction, but he was not on hand for the laying of the capstone. He died on 16 August 1882 at his home in the 14th Ward, ten years before the completion of the temple. The Deseret News obituary, printed on page one, described his achievements in the Mormon Battalion and his achievements in the missionary field and with the handcart company, but it made no mention of his photographic legacy.14
2. B. H. Roberts, ed., History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Period I (Salt Lake City: Deseret News Press, 1949), 4:296, lists Martin as clerk and historian for the 7 February 1841 departure of the Sheffield from Liverpool to New Orleans.
4. Report of the Glasgow Conference to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 3 July 1853, Utah Historical Society, Salt Lake City. Martin is listed as president to preside over the church in Glasgow.
8. In 1913 when Solomon H. Kimball wrote his in-depth story on the handcart companies for the Improvement Era, the original daguerreotype was in possession of Major Richard W. Young, a descendant of Joseph A. Young. Since then I have been unable to locate it and have instead photocopied the halftone from the Era article.
13. Edward L. Sloan, ed., Gazetteer of Utah and Salt Lake City for 1874 (Salt Lake Herald Publishing Co., 1874). Martin is not listed among the photographers of Salt Lake City this year, but he is listed in “Room, 4 Groesbeck’s Block” in the residential portion of the directory. He would have been about fifty-five years old.