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Peter Howard McBride

Question: How old was Peter Howard McBride when he crossed the plains in the Martin Handcart Company with his parents?

Answer: When Peter Howard McBride was born on May 3, 1850, in Rothesay, Bute, Scotland, his father, Robert, was 46 and his mother, Margaret (Howard), was 35. Peter was but a little over three years old when the family moved to England.

In 1837, seven young men from America arrived in Preston, England. Two of them were Apostles–Heber Kimball and Orson Hyde. The others were Elders and fellow missionaries, including Joseph Fielding, and Willard Richards. Divine inspiration had led them to this place where a Reverend Fielding had recently led his congregation away from the mainline churches. Studying the Bible closely in search of the true Gospel, they believed the true Church had been lost. One of the missionaries, Joseph Fielding, was a brother to the minister, who gave them ready acceptance to the Sunday meetings being held at Vauxhall Chapel.

Robert and Margaret McBride had been inclined toward the teachings of Reverend Fielding and they were soon converted to the teachings of this new Church. Robert was baptized a member of the Church by Orson Hyde on August 1,1837 at the River Ribble, and Margaret soon followed. At a meeting held August 6, twenty-nine persons were confirmed and a branch of the Church organized. However, it took Robert and Margaret several years before they were able to immigrate to America with the help of the Perpetual Emigration Fund. In 1856, they went across the ocean in the ship Horizon and ended up in the Martin Handcart Company.

Peter was six years of age when the family started out for Utah in the Martin Handcart Company. He walked all the way except for the distance covered after the rescue parties arrived to assist them. His father died in October 1856 in Wyoming. Peter gives credit to his sister Janetta and his brother Heber for their efforts, especially after his father died. He states: “My sister Janetta, the oldest, was 16 years, and my brother Heber was 13. My mother had been sick for many days and Janetta took care of her and the other children (Enos 8 and Margaret 3). I have seen Janetta carrying water from the river, her shoes completely gone, actually leaving bloody tracks in the snow.’

At the upper crossing of the Platte River much suffering and loss of life occurred. Peter tells the story of how he himself crossed: “A man by the name of Cyrus Wheelock was riding a horse. He was returning from an eastern state’s mission. He carried a lot of children over and helped pull the carts across by tying them to a rope attached to the saddle-horn. One time he had three little boys on his horse, one in front and two behind. I was the last boy left on that side of the river. He said to get on behind the two and cling on. We crossed the river alright, then as the horse lunged up the steep bank I fell off into the river. I thought I would drown but I managed to grab onto the horse’s tail and come out all right.’

Peter further tells of the company’s not having any food to eat for days and of the joy and thankfulness when the relief wagons were finally sighted. Peter’s brother Heber wrote about the men who came with the relief wagons, “The men were very kind to us, I mean those that came from the Valley, for my sister and I had nothing to do but try and keep my 2 little brothers, baby sister, and ourselves from freezing. There were 2 men who took a great deal of pains looking after us and caring for mother, as she was so sick she could hardly help herself. One man’s name was Thomas Ricks and the other was Linton, I never knew what his given name was.’

After the family finally arrived at its destination and had found a welcome haven among the Saints in Ogden City, Peter’s life began to revolve around schooling and such work as a young boy could perform. Peter and Evan Stephan, as young boys, were given the job of herding the milk cows for the town. After their days work, Peter and Evan would go to the Stephan home where an old organ sat stored in a granary, so old and shabby that Evan’s mother would not have it in her parlor, though it played very well. They would take turns pumping and playing the keys.

In later years Evan Stephan was sent to Europe to study. He later became the director of the Salt Lake Choir and played the pipe organ in the Salt Lake Tabernacle. As for Peter, his only opportunity was to join local groups whenever the chance came his way. He never missed an opportunity to get hold of a musical instrument and master it.

When he grew to be a man, Peter met young Ruth Burns. Peter and Ruth were married, February 2,1874. (Ruth Burns was the younger sister of Elizabeth Burns, who married Peter’s brother, Heber). They began life together in the town of Eden, Utah. Freighting was the main source of their living, although Peter did some farming.

In 1876, President Brigham Young asked Peter to go to Arizona. This decision was a hard one, but eventually they found themselves in a pleasant little town called Forestdale, Arizona Territory. Here a ward was organized and about twenty families settled. They took up land and started building homes, only to learn that the Forest Service would not allow them title to the land, as it lay on the U.S. Indian Reserve. They were here the greater part of three years.

In the spring of 1879, these pioneers packed up their belongings, leaving the homes they had begun, asking only that the Lord would direct them to a place of safety. After a long, hard and dangerous trip, they landed in the little town of Smithville on the banks of the Gila River in the Gila Valley, Arizona. They built sheds of cottonwood limbs over their wagon boxes. Again they set to the task of building homes, adobe and log structures, of clearing and digging ditches. Peter was called by Brigham Young from church headquarters and given the mission of caring for the singing and music in the area. Peter married Laura Lewis, a second wife, November 1, 1882.

Peter had filed on 160 acres of land on the banks of the Gila River. He built a good adobe house on this spot. With the exception of a year or so spent in Corallites, Old Mexico, where he had to go with other saints to avoid arrest because of government interference with the plural marriage plan, Peter spent the rest of his life on this farm in the Gila Valley. Peter served in the bishopric there for twenty years.

In the two families a total of twenty-two children were born, fourteen by his first wife, Ruth Burns, and eight by the second wife, Laura Lewis. Of this number twelve survived infancy, six from each family. Peter died August 19, 1934, at the home of his son, Howard, in Glenbar, Graham County, Arizona, at age eighty-four, and is buried in the Pima Cemetery.

Source:, “Peter Howard McBride Bio;’ I walked to Zion, True Stories of Young Pioneers on the Mormon Trail, by Susan Arrington Madsen, p. 43;

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