For the residents of Provo the Christmas of 1856 was a somber one. Two years of grasshopper invasions, drought, and a severe winter had devastated the city of Provo which was only seven years old.
While Provo was dealing with this difficult Christmas season, over a thousand late immigrants from the Martin and Willie handcart companies were caught by heavy snow and frigid temperatures for weeks in Wyoming.
An enormous rescue effort, including men and supplies from Provo, saved many of the immigrants from starvation and freezing to death. 141 of these destitute survivors were brought to Provo where resources were already stretched.
Wagon-loads of them, ragged, filthy, starved and homeless, descended on the town seeking shelter, food and nursing care. The immigrants were left at the corner of 5th West and 1st North and waited until sympathetic families took them to their homes.
The Provo people were quick to respond to the need. They had so little for themselves, still they found something to share. They opened the doors of the tiny log and adobe cabins and divided their food. They clothed them and warmed them at their fires. And they did it not just for a day, but for weeks and months until these immigrants could make it on their own.
And so that bleak Christmas of 1856 was a time of giving and healing, rather than light heartedness and festivity. But if Christmas is giving, the citizens of Provo had a meaningful Christmas in 1856–a Christmas to be remembered and honored.
Thanks to Lyndia and Robert Carter for the historical details.