Music and the Spoken Word

Walk On – Sunday, July 20, 2014

The sometimes tragic experiences of the early American pioneers are more than just interesting history lessons. Though they took place over a century and a half ago, they can serve as an inspiration to us today. Such is the case with the story of James and Sarah Ferguson McDonald.

James and Sarah were Irish immigrants with dreams of making a new home and building a better life for their family in the American West. In the spring of 1850, they started across the vast American plains as members of a large wagon train of pioneers with similar dreams.

Tragedy struck the family soon after they began. James contracted the dreaded disease cholera and died within 24 hours. He was buried in the trackless prairie on the banks of the Platte River. That evening, Sarah settled the children into their beds and then, with an aching heart and tired feet, went down to the river to wash off the dust of a terrible day. As she put her bare feet into the cool water, Sarah felt “the strong current of the river, and the thought came to her, in her grief, of how easy it would be to slide into the water,” sink into the depths, and join her dear husband in death.[1] But just then one of her young children called out to her, and she knew she had to carry on for them. She dried her feet, put on her shoes, and went back to the wagon.

The next day, Sarah paused one last time at the grave of her husband. Then, looking west, she and her children walked on.

Sarah eventually established her family in the Rocky Mountains. She lived a long and productive life, and her posterity—which now number in the thousands—are grateful for the faith, hope, and perseverance of their pioneer grandmother.

The courageous example of Sarah Ferguson McDonald and many, many others like her inspires us all, especially when our hearts ache, our feet are tired, or we face a fearful future. Even then, we can remember inspiring examples from the past and walk on.

- Don Staheli
[1] “Important Events in the History of the James McDonald Family, 1841–1850,” Church History Library,