The Real Handcart Song

July 24, 2005 | 21 comments
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My Pioneer Day wish for the day: let’s not forget the song as the pioneers themselves actually sang it:

Ye Saints who dwell on Europe’s shore
Prepare yourselves for many more
To leave behind your native land
For sure God’s judgments are at hand–

For you must cross the raging main
Before the promised land you gain
And with the faithful make a start
To cross the plains with your handcart!

For some must push and some must pull
As we go marching up the hill
So merrily on the way we go
Until we reach the valley-o!

And long before the valley’s gained
We will be met upon the plains
With music sweet and friends so dear
And fresh supplies our heart to cheer–

And then with music and with song
How cheerfully we’ll march along
And thank the day we made a start
To cross the plains with our handcart!

For some must push and some must pull
As we go marching up the hill
So merrily on the way we go
Until we reach the valley-o!

And a personal note of thanks to all those noble Danes and other Scandinavians who, seeking Zion, made the trek across the ocean and settled in Ephraim, Monroe, and other Sanpete County towns, and proceded to mostly marry one other for the next five generations. I wouldn’t have my dear half-Danish wife, Melissa Madsen Fox, otherwise.

21 Responses to The Real Handcart Song

  1. Silus Grok on July 24, 2005 at 7:13 pm

    My Hjort ancestors from Denmark settled in that area!

  2. costanza on July 24, 2005 at 7:29 pm

    A tip of the hat to some of my pioneer ancestors: James Steele, Thomas Grover, Levi Stewart, C.J. Owens, Austin Hammer (killed at Haun’s Mill) and Charles Taysom.
    Thanks!

  3. Lisa B. on July 24, 2005 at 8:31 pm

    Here are two more stanzas. I think they go between the ones above:

    The lands that boast of modern light
    We know are all as dark as night
    Where poor men toil and want for bread,
    Where peasant hosts are blindly led.

    These lands that boast of liberty
    You ne’er again would wish to see
    When you from Europe make a start
    To cross the plains with your handcart.

    (chorus)

  4. Sarah on July 24, 2005 at 11:19 pm

    I heard that song in Primary today for the very first time.

  5. A. Greenwood on July 24, 2005 at 11:40 pm

    Blessed, honored Pioneers!

  6. Bret on July 25, 2005 at 3:25 am

    I sung a REALLY cool, touching version of that (with ALL those verses, no less!) at an LDS composer’s competition (it won it’s category). I really regret not keeping the music!
    Oh, and bless those wonderful pioneers who came to the Bear Lake area and then later emigrated to Alberta:)

  7. Ann on July 25, 2005 at 11:32 am

    Our YW/YM have been assigned to sing a Pioneer song in Sacrament meeting (here in England). I don’t think all the verses would go down well. Oh hum! Back to toiling for bread in this dark as night land.

  8. john fowles on July 25, 2005 at 3:20 pm

    I add my thanks to yours to my own Danish and English ancestors who left everything behind to heed the call to gather to Zion, and who did not regret it, and whose descendants do not regret it, and who knew that Joseph Smith was a true prophet of God, and who came because they specifically wanted to live in a religiously homogeneous Zion of their own choosing and creation.

  9. john fowles on July 25, 2005 at 3:35 pm

    (which no longer exists as a geographical fact anymore).

  10. Ivan Wolfe on July 25, 2005 at 4:57 pm

    Nothing like the original verses. Apparently too Eurocentric for the modern songbook (just kidding).

    There are a lot of cool pioneer songs I wish were in the kids songbook. I have several (out of print) collections of pioneer songs (including the great “Recreational Songs” and “Let’s Sing MIA” songbooks put out by the church way back when). I wish the church still put out stuff like that, but oh, well.

    Are there any in-print, recent collections of pioneer songs anyone is aware of? Or a good web resource?

  11. Ivan Wolfe on July 25, 2005 at 5:02 pm

    Hit the send button too quickly -

    one of my best experiences at BYU was as a research assistant for Professor Jill T. Rudy. For one assignemnet, I had to listen to the nearly every Mormon folk song database in the BYU Folklore archives (she had them all put on CD format, but the library didn’t give her track numbers, so I had to list all the times for each song on each CD – all 25 of ‘em).

    There were even a few different melodies for the Handcart song. One was quite mornful, IIRC.

  12. Jim F. on July 25, 2005 at 5:06 pm

    Ann (#7), Britain in the 19th century was a far different place for the lower class–from which almost all of the converts came–than it is today. The same was true of Scandinavia, and continental Europe.

  13. Wilfried on July 25, 2005 at 5:44 pm

    But, Ann, at least we are still living Pioneers, here on the Old Continent. That also deserves a hat tip on this day.

  14. Nate Oman on July 25, 2005 at 6:20 pm

    Ann: I think that it was Blake — no Anglophobe he — who spoke of England’s “dark Satanic mills.”

    Bring me my bow of burning gold:
    Bring me my arrows of desire:
    Bring me my spear: O clouds unfold!
    Bring me my chariot of fire.

    With the post-Deseret notion of gathering, you can now sing about not only the “dark Satanic mills” from whence the English converts fled, but can add a Mormon meaning to the last verse of Jerusalem:

    I will not cease from mental fight,
    Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand
    Till we have built Jerusalem
    In England’s green and pleasant land.

  15. Nate Oman on July 25, 2005 at 6:28 pm

    BTW, I want “Jerusalem” in the next hymn book.

  16. A. Greenwood on July 25, 2005 at 6:52 pm

    And I thank my ancestors who muddled their way in and out and in of the Church, in and out of Arizona, and in and too quickly out of life.

  17. Mark Butler on July 25, 2005 at 9:25 pm

    I echo Nate’s sentiment. I first heard the music to “Jerusalem” from its appearance toward the end of _Chariots of Fire_. Here’s the full text:

    And did those feet in ancient time
    Walk upon England’s mountains green?
    And was the Holy Lamb of God
    On England’s pleasant pastures seen?
    And did the countenance divine
    Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
    And was Jerusalem builded here
    Among these dark satanic mills?

    Bring me my bow of burning gold!
    Bring me my arrows of desire!
    Bring me my spear! O clouds, unfold!
    Bring me my chariot of fire!
    I will not cease from mental fight,
    Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand,
    Till we have built Jerusalem
    In England’s green and pleasant land.

    The legend referred to (that of Christ visiting southwest England in his youth) may have no solid backing, but a post-resurrection visit is also a reasonable possibility in LDS theology.

  18. Mark B. on July 25, 2005 at 10:41 pm

    Like Butch or the Kid: “Who is that guy?”

    Yeah, I know, it was plural in the movie, but there’s only one here.

  19. Mark N. on July 26, 2005 at 1:39 am

    John Fowles: (which no longer exists as a geographical fact anymore)

    Yes, they sure did get sold a bill of goods on that one, didn’t they? ;-)

  20. Ann on July 26, 2005 at 1:59 pm

    Jim (#12) – Yes, my comment was meant tongue in cheek. I’m aware of the lot of the working classes during the Victorian era. Though it was my impression that they left England primarily “to go to Zion” and for the blessings of the Temple, rather than to escape oppression. Thought it wouldn’t have come amiss that they saw the USA as “the land of opportunity” as well.

    It’s interesting meanwhile to think that the longest established unit of the church is in England – Preston I believe. I think there’s a plaque to that effect in the meetinghouse there.

    Count me as one who wishes we had Blake’s Jerusalem in the hymnbook. All schoolchildren of my age sang and knew it as a favourite hymn. I still can’t sing it without tears. I believe quite a few English missions sing (or used to sing it) regularly to inspire the missionaries.

    I’ve reminded our youth when they sing about the Pioneers they need to remember that many of them were English, and we can share in the pride of a pioneer heritage. Wilfried – I also remind them that they are very much Pioneers in the way they live the gospel, being few amongst so many. There’s another verse in another pioneer song in the Childrens Song Book which we’re going to sing – “You don’t have to push a handcart to be a pioneer”. I’m very proud of my YW pioneers – it isn’t easy for them.

  21. Andrew Evans on July 29, 2005 at 11:47 am

    My great-great-great-grandfather wrote this song while crossing the plains, then settled in St. George.