John Stucki and the Piece of Meat
If you can imagine, nearly all of our pioneer fathers walked across the plains. Very few rode in a wagon. It would have been difficult enough to walk over a thousand miles, but to couple that with pulling a loaded handcart made it that much more strenuous. It has been estimated that those handcart pioneers burned upwards of 4000 calories a day, and that, often on a diet scarcely sufficient to sustain life. If there is one thing that is common to the handcart pioneer experience—they were hungry. There was never enough to eat, and if Brother Brigham had not sent out wagonloads of food, more than one company would have perished on the plains.
The Samuel Stucki family left Florence, Nebraska on July 6, 1860. Soon after they started out they were put on half rations—that is, only half enough food to keep the average person healthy—and they were pulling heavy-laden handcarts on hot summer days.
Nine-year old John describes that his father, Samuel, gave the greater portion of his half ration to his wife who was trying to keep her strength while pulling the handcart and nursing a baby. Soon she was too weak to pull the cart and Samuel struggled on alone, pulling the loaded cart and his three youngest children. It wasn’t long before Mother could not keep up with the company and father was so starved and weakened that he could not go on.
Behind the cart was John, pushing and wishing that he could just sit down and rest. “I will never forget,” he said, “how hungry I was all the time.”
Then one day, some buffalo were seen nearby. The men of camp went out and soon, the delicious meat was divided among the camp. The Stucki family was given a small piece of meat. That was in the forepart of the week and Father put it in the back of the cart, and said they would save it for a nice Sunday dinner.
But for John that raw meat was so close and smelled so good. “I could not resist,” he said, “but had to cut off a piece or two each half day. Although I was afraid of getting a severe whipping after cutting a little the first few times, I could not resist taking a little each half day. I would chew it so long it got perfectly tasteless.”
The family traveled on and then came Sunday. “When Father went to get the meat on Sunday noon he asked me if I had been cutting off some of the meat. I said “yes,” that I was so hungry that I could not let it alone. Then, instead of giving me the severe scolding and whipping, he did not say a word, but started to wipe the tears from his eyes.”
Hafen and Hafen, Handcarts to Zion, p. 189-190
Artwork by Michael Bedard