“We are now in the desert, or wilderness, a wave-like country without woods, only a few trees,” wrote Peter Madsen, a Danish member of the Willie company, on August 17, 1856. It was George Cunningham’s 16th birthday and his sister Catherine’s 18th. The Cunningham family had crossed Iowa and was beginning the 1,000-mile trek across Nebraska and Utah Territories. The Willie company journal recorded “a smart shower or two” that day, as well as some counsel from subcaptain Millen Atwood that this was the last chance for any of the handcart travelers to change their minds about continuing to Utah. The Cunningham family was resolute about going to Zion. They had dreamed of it in their native Scotland for nearly 15 years. George was only a year old at the time of his parents’ baptism and was raised “in the strictest sense of the word a Mormon.” He recorded:
The faith, religion, and piety that was then implanted on my mind in my infancy has never been eradicated and I believe never will be. I have often thought of the two thousand young men which we read of in the book of Mormon, who had faith instilled into them by their mothers and the good effects it had on them….My experience was much like theirs.