The Handcart Song

We don’t sing the original lyrics anymore, likely because they are too Europe-centric, but they’re still way cool:

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.

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

As on the road the carts are pulled 
‘Twould very much surprise the world 
To see the old and feeble dame 
Thus lend a hand to pull the same. 
And maidens fair will dance and sing, 
Young men more happy than a king, 
And children will laugh and play 
Their strength increasing day by day.

And long before the Valley’s gained, 
We will be met upon the plain 
With music sweet and friends so dear 
And fresh supplies our hearts 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 in our handcart.

When you get there among the rest, 
Obedient be and you’ll be blessed 
And in God’s chambers be shut in 
While judgments cleanse the earth from sin, 
For we do know it will be so, 
God’s servants spoke it long ago, 
We say it is high time to 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 our way we go 
Until we reach the Valley-o.



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About Ivan Wolfe

Ivan Wolfe teaches rhetoric at Arizona State University. He has a PhD in English from the University of Texas - Austin, and a BA and MA in English (with minors in Classical Greek, Music, and Philosophy) from BYU. He has several credits on various Christmas albums aimed at the LDS market, several essays in Open Court's Popular Culture and Philosophy series, and various book reviews in academic and popular venues. He also competes in Scottish Highland Games and mud run/obstacle course races, and he can deadlit over double his bodyweight (his last PR was over 500 pounds). He is currently married to Lisa Renee Wolfe. He has six kids and four stepkids.

4 thoughts on “The Handcart Song

  1. We don’t sing that version. We sing this version in the Primary Children’s Song Book:

    “When pioneers moved to the West,
    With courage strong they met the test.
    They pushed their handcarts all day long,
    And as they pushed they sang this song:
    For some must push and some must pull,
    As we go marching up the hill;
    So merrily on our way we go
    Until we reach the Valley-o.

    Push and pull
    As we go up the hill;
    So on our way
    Until we reach the Valley-o.”

    But I will say this, no matter where you are from or what your story is, we all must acknowledge the sacrifice of the saints that made the trek west. Their sacrifice laid the ground work for many of the things we have today in the Church.

  2. Do we know who wrote the words and when they were published?

    My family has been watching Season 3 of Victoria, where the European unrest of 1848 is a major plot point, and I know that both the French and Germans had movements at that time where folks were coming to America (initially Texas).

    I’m imaging the words couldn’t have been written before 1855, but it captures the disaster/war/turmoil zeitgeist of that decade.

  3. The text was written by John Daniel Thompson McAllister, and it appears he would have written the text in 1855 or early in 1856. He was part of the express company that brought news of the late companies, then part of the rescue group in the fall of 1856, so I suspect he wrote the lyrics before it was known the Willie, Martin, Hodgett, and Hunt companies were at risk.

  4. John D. T. McAllister was born in Lewes, Delaware, and the family later moved to Philadelphia. He joined the Church in 1844 at age 17. On one of his missions east in 1860-1861, he converted the rest of the family, including his brother Richard, my great-great-great-grandfather.

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