I just finished watching a T.C. Christensen film entitled “Ephraim’s Rescue” and decided to make Ephraim Knowlton Hanks my VIP for this week. “Ephraim’s Rescue is a true story about the heroic rescue of Mormon handcart companies during the winter of 1856. It is an emotional, powerful, and inspiring story.
Ephraim Hanks was born on March 21, 1826, in Madison, Lake County, Ohio, the son of Benjamin Hanks and Martha Knowlton, his second wife. Ephraim lived sort of a wild life as a teenager and left home at age 16. He worked for a while on the Erie Canal and then spent three years in the United States Navy. Through a chance encounter with a “man in a gray tweed suit” Ephraim decided to return home. He discovered upon his arrival that his father had passed away and his only brother Sidney had jointed The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Ephraim set off to rescue his brother from the dreaded “Mormons” and ended up becoming a member of the Church in 1845.
Hanks was among the followers of Brigham Young hen the Mormon Pioneers left Nauvoo, Illinois, for their trek west to the Rocky Mountains. A short time later the United States Army came to the main body of the Mormon camp to meet with Brigham Young and to seek recruits. Hanks joined Company B of the Mormon Battalion as a private and marched with them to San Diego. The Battalion marched from the Midwest, south through Arizona, and ended up in the San Diego, California, area where they were released. Battalion members then went east to rejoin the Mormons in the Salt Lake Valley.
In 1856 Hanks was instrumental in the rescue of the Martin handcart company. He was a humble and prayerful man. As the result of a sincere prayer, he arrived at the camp with “impossible-to-find buffalo meat” and literally saved the lives of many of the pioneers. He also had an incredible ability to heal many of them. Later he led scouting expeditions with a militia company during the Utah War in 1857 and 1858.
Ephraim Hanks was “one of the first on the scene during the rescue of the 1856 Martin handcart company.” He “provided buffalo meat to the starving party.” In fact, he “killed many buffalo” and stated “The most remarkable thing about it was that I had traveled that road more than fifty times, and never before saw so many buffaloes in that part of the country. There was not a member of the party but what believed that the Lord had sent them to us in answer to prayer.” He also “administered to the sick and dying.”
Hanks practiced plural marriage and had four wives and twenty-six children; his wives were Harriet Amelia Decker (married September 22, 1848), Jane Maria Capener (married March 27, 1856), Thisbe Quilley Read (married April 5, 1862), and Hannah Hardy (never lived with Hanks and divorced in 1856).
President Brigham Young said Hanks “was a man always ready to lay down his life for the authorities of the Church as well as the cause of Zion and her people” (Richard K. Hanks, pp. 2627). Hanks was known for his obedience to church leaders and was ordained as a Patriarch in the Church.
Hanks cross the plains many times while serving as a U.S. mail carrier from 1851 to 1853; he “later acted as a station master for the Pony Express, facilitating mail service on the Mormon Trail to Salt Lake through Utah’s Emigration Canyon. Hanks’ Station was located on the Mormon Trail in Mountain Dell, a valley between the Big Mountain and Little Mountain, also known as Big Canyon, named for the creek that still runs through that area. The historic station has been removed, but its site sits on the edge of what is now Little Dell Reservoir.”
Ephraim Hanks died on June 9, 1896, at his Floral Ranch, Wayne County, Utah; he was buried in the Caineville Cemetery.