Featuring Nicholas Neel. Holding on is a trek song, written in behalf of James and Joseph Kirkwood, of the Willie Handcart Company. James (11) ultimately gave his life carrying his little brother Joseph (4) up Rocky Ridge. Theirs was a story of love, sacrifice, determination, and courage. These two young boys have left their handprints on my heart and it was a privilege to write a song for them. Full story below.
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Father, it’s me again
Forgive me as I stop to take another rest
The snow is deep
And it’s awful steep
With every step it’s harder, Lord, to move my feet
And Joseph’s little legs are much too weak
His tired arms are reaching out to me
Lord, bless these weary feet
To reach the fire’s light
And Lord, bless these trembling hands
To hold my brother tight
And while my brother’s holding on to me
I’ll be holding on to Thee
Father, it’s hard to speak
I’m pushing on even though the flesh is weak
The way is slow
And it’s awful cold
But I can hear Papa’s voice, “Don’t let go.”
And Joseph’s crying out for mother’s side
Father, will you get us there tonight
Another step, another breath
I feel Thee close
And I can hold, your helping hand
I won’t let go
Story of James & Joseph Kirkwood
James and his family were among the first converts in Scotland in 1840. Their home was always open to the missionaries. James was baptized by Elder James MacGregor on April 28, 1856, just prior to sailing for America. James' father and two sisters had died in 1852, but his determined mother gathered her four sons (Robert age 21, Thomas age 19, James age 11, and Joseph age 4) and set her sights on Zion.
Robert and his mother pulled Thomas in a handcart, as Thomas was crippled and could not walk on his own. James (age 11) was primarily responsible for his younger brother, Joseph Kirkwood (age 4).
The most tragic and difficult day for the Kirkwood family, and the Willie Company, was October 23rd. Joseph Elder described it as "an awful day...Men, women, and children were weakened down by cold and hunger, weeping, crying, and some even dying by the roadside. It was very late before we all got into camp."
Margaret and Robert had struggled about 16 miles that day, pulling Thomas across Rocky Ridge in a storm of wind and snow. Some families became separated in the struggle, including the Kirkwood family.
James and Joseph were exhausted and fell behind the company. They walked in the freezing snow all night to reach camp. Joseph was so young that James carried him on his back. When the pair finally arrived at the campfire that night, James set his brother down, whom he had carried most of the way up Rocky Ridge, and collapsed from exhaustion and exposure. Margaret had been waiting up for the boys, keeping a small fire burning, but the warmth of the fire was not enough to revive James. He was buried in a common grave with three other children and nine adults later that morning.
With determination, James faithfully carried out his task to watch over his little brother and bring him safely to camp; literally giving his life for his brother.