History 17B Historical Figure Paper What does a blacksmith’s apprentice, a seaman, a scout, a soldier, a pioneer, a wild-west mail carrier, a healer and a patriarch all have in common? They are all positions held by Ephraim Hanks. He was a wild-west renaissance man. It seemed as though there was little that Ephraim could not or did not do during his lifetime. The west during the 1800’s hyperbole was reality. Men were eight feet tall and ate trees. Heroes were ten feet tall and ate rocks. Literary license was how every story was told and the romanticized deeds of the well-known were merely the honesty of heir times.
As stories passed from one person to the next embellishment was as important as any of the details. Any person studying history must simply accept the stories passed down at face value. Much of what is written about Ephraim Knowlton Hanks falls into this category. Ephraim Hanks was born on March 21st 1826 in Madison, Ohio. Ephraim Hanks was the eighth of twelve children born to his parents Benjamin and Martha from 1812-1832. His father was a blacksmith and a tool maker. His mother devoted all of her time to raising the twelve children on the family farm.
Ephraim was somewhat of rebel rouser in his youth and was constantly stirring up trouble. His parents were firm protestant Christians who had no issue with taking the rod to a disobedient child. Ephraim certainly received his fair share of whippings as a boy. His petulance was only made worse by the fact that young Ephraim was not too keen on religion. He did nearly everything he could to avoid having to go to church. He was able to find one silver lining about the Sabbath. Any time he was caught misbehaving on the Lord’s Day, when he would normally get the belt, his father would refrain on account of it being the Sabbath.
His Sunday beatings were always postponed till Monday. This did nothing to improve his loathing of Sundays. At the very young age of sixteen Ephraim Joined the United States Navvy and sailed aboard the U. S. man o’ war Columbus. In the short time that he was in the military he traveled much of the world, including spots in Europe and Africa. He returned home in late 1844 to his home in Ohio only to find that his father had died. Ephraim had enough older siblings to keep the family farm running even in the absence of his father.
Ephraim’s brother Sidney had also returned to assist with the family esponsibilities after the death of his father. Sidney had Joined the Mormon Church which caused plenty of friction between Sidney and his mother. She even went so far as to invite a couple of local preachers over to talk some sense into Sidney. Ephraim who had never been one for religion deigned to stay out of the fray until one of the visits by the preachers. During the after-dinner conversation which centered on religion one of the preachers laid a particularly hostile insult at Sidney.
Ephraim responded by rising and dismissing them from the home. In no uncertain terms he et the preachers know that no one would insult his brother in their home as long as he had a say in it. Sidney was grateful for his brother’s protective nature and shared the story of his conversion to the Mormon faith with his brother Ephraim. It was a heartfelt testimony of a miraculous healing. Something in Sidneys story moved Ephraim and he began to read the book his brother had given him, The Book of Mormon. His mother could barely stand one Mormon let alone two and both brothers were quickly banished from the family farm.
Ephraim began the next chapter of his life as he headed west in search of the Mormon Church leaders. When Ephraim caught up with the Mormon Church leaders he met Brigham Young. The tale goes that Brigham was at a social event with Ephraim and called him over. Ephraim was a little more than stunned that the Mormon prophet even knew who he was. Then Brigham asked him to do something strange. He was told to shave his beard (it was common for men of this time period to have beards). Ephraim was puzzled but complied immediately.
After dutifully shaving his beard and grooming his handsome mustache he returned to the party. Brigham immediately summoned Ephraim over and asked him why he did not shave his mustache. Ephraim understood and returned to shave his entire face, a look which was typically only seen on prepubescent males. Brigham was heard to have said to the other brethren, “now there’s a man I can trust”. By 1847 Ephraim had volunteered for the Mormon Battalion. He worked mostly as a scout. In the early 1850’s Ephraim was transporting mail from the Great Lakes states to the far west.
He rode alone and did so no matter the season and no matter the weather. He was a fearless example ofa true frontiersman. Up to this point he had not seen much action as a soldier. In the winter of 1856 Brigham Young asked for volunteers to go nd rescue the Willie-Martin handcart company which was struggling across the plains and suffering heavy loss of life due to starvation, disease and death from exposure. This adventure became one of the defining moments of the life of Ephraim Hanks and the experience propelled him into legend.
Ephraim departed hundreds of miles behind the handcart company not knowing how far the company had advanced or what the exact state of company might be when he caught up to them, if he caught up to them. His small group had a wagon full of supplies and food along with some horses to expedite the Journey. But they were in a race against time. Early October snows were taking their toll on the diminishing Martin-Willie company who was now almost completely out of food and many of its members were without shoes. Unfortunately these were not uncommon circumstances for pioneers crossing the plains.
After a couple of weeks of pushing hard, the snows became heavier and some of the members of the rescuing group began to talk about going back. Ephraim told them they were welcome to make their own choice but that unless he received word from the prophet (Brigham Young) he would continue on with his mission. This was not the last of the problems for the rescue group. Shortly thereafter the wagon hauling all the supplies broke down. Ephraim loaded all he could on the horse team from the wagon and carried as much of the supplies as he could forward.
Within Just a few days Ephraim came across a couple of riders coming from the opposite direction. They had dropped off the meager supplies that they had and were continuing on in search of the rescue party. They informed Ephraim that the handcart company was only a couple of days ahead of him. Ephraim sent them on to catch up with those of the original rescue group who headed back east after the wagon broke. The trouble for the handcart company as not simply one of food and supplies but also of manpower and health. The young healthy rescuers could provide assistance and aid with vigorous strong able bodies.
The nearby location of the company was Joyous news but the report also brought some ill-omens too. The handcarters were completely bereft of food. Though Ephraim had taken all he could when the wagon broke down he had to leave many of the basic raw food items behind (like cornmeal, flour and most of the meat). The legend says that Ephraim, knowing the direness or the situation, knelt in prayer and asked God for meat to feed Handcart Company. Within minutes of his prayer he came a across a lone buffalo struggling through a deep snow drift.
This was an extremely rare occurrence to find a solo buffalo in this area at this time of year. To Ephraim Hanks this was a miracle directly from God. Ephraim shot the buffalo and butchered it taking as much of the meat as possible to feed the handcart company when he arrived. Before sundown the following day he caught up with the Martin- Willie company. Droves of emaciated starving pioneers swarmed Ephraim and his few horses. He stood in shock and gratitude and handed cold buffalo steaks to the embers who wept with gratefulness and commenced to eat without making any effort to cook the meat.
Later it was relayed to Ephraim that one of the leaders of the company had prophesied only a few days earlier that the Lord would send them an angel would feed them with buffalo meat. It is hard for most of us to imagine the kind of living horror show that many of the pioneers endured on the trek westward. People boiled shoes for soup. People lost toes, fingers and ears to the cold. Many wore only rags on their feet because their shoes had long ago worn through. Over the course of the next several days Ephraim pent most of his time engaged in a grisly work.
He dug graves and buried the dead, he nursed the starving and amputated frostbitten limbs that had turned black from the severe cold. Those of faith say that Ephraim raised a widows dead husband and healed the dead black feet of an English immigrant who was an accomplished dancer. At the Martin-Willie handcart reunion even 50 years later the members spoke of a dance the Englishman did after being healed as the moment which gave the pioneers the hope they needed to finish their voyage. After the rescue of the Martin-Willie company Ephraim went back to delivering the ail overland for a few years.
During this time he took on the responsibility of being a stationmaster for a Pony Express station along the route westward. He used his outpost to facilitate Mormon pioneers moving from east to west across the plains. But this was not the end of the fantastic adventures of Ephraim Hanks. In the late 1850’s Ephraim was called to fight in the Echo Canyon Wars. He was promoted to the rank of captain and served with distinction and honor. The tall tales of Hanks did not subside either. One of the stories goes that some of the soldiers fighting on his side were captured. Ephraim was tasked with leading a rescue operation.
When he arrived at the location where the prisoners were being held he was not satisfied with Just freeing the prisoners. He insisted on, and succeeded in rescuing not only the soldiers but also their horses and even the mules! It seemed as though there was not anything that Ephraim Hanks could not do. Later in the 1860’s he was recalled to Salt Lake City and fought in the Blackhawk Wars. In between, he began his life as a businessman. By the 1860’s the eastern half of the county was gearing up for the Civil War. Ephraim was in his forties and his life was slowing down.
His “slowing down” would be high adventure for most of us. He bought a trading post and began to run his own business. He prospered and his venture was only interrupted by his call to serve in the Mormon Battalion in the Blackhawk wars. It seemed as though Ephraim was an unmitigated success at anything he did. Throughout his life he always felt his primary responsibility was to God. He unflinchingly served the Mormon Church over the course of his life. Ephraim’s last years were filled with stories of him serving as a patriarch and enown healer among the Mormons of the Utah valley.
Even in his old age church members would send riders dozens of miles to have Ephraim come and bless their sick or injured family members. One of the last accounts of him had him riding hard to reach a farmhouse where he had been summoned to bless a man’s sick wife. When he arrived he was informed by a dour husband that he was too late and his wife had passed. Ephraim asked them to clear the house and proceeded to bless the woman. As he exited to leave the home he told the husband that his wife was awake and wanted to speak with him. When the man went in his wife was alive and conscious.
He asked her what Mr. Hanks had said. Her reply was that he had told her that she would live to have seven daughters who would stand together as witnesses of the Gospel. The woman did in fact have seven daughters who were at one time all in the leadership of the Relief Society of the Mormon Church. He continued his service right up till his death Just shy of his 70th birthday. To this day Ephraim Hanks is one of the inspiring fgures of the Mormon pioneer migration west. His contributions helped make the western United States what it has become today.
References “Sweetwater Rescue: The Willie And Martin Handcart Story. ” Publishers Weekly 253. 34 (2006): 50. Academic search premier. web. 4 Dec. 2013. Fleek, Sherman. “The Mormon Trail Played An Integral Role In The Westward.. ” Wild West 10. 1 (1997): 20. Academic Search Premier. Web. 4 Dec. 2013. Hill, Brian J. “Reflections On An Outdoor Recreation Experience. ” Parks & Recreation 33. 8 (1998): 58. Academic Search Premier. Web. 4 Dec. 2013. http://handcart. byu. edu/Sources/LeviSavage. aspx http://wiki. hanksplace. net/index. php/Ephraim_Hanks,_LDS_Biographical_Encyclopedia