Ole Madsen boarded the ship Thornton in Liverpool in May of 1856. He had brought his family from Denmark, intent on immigrating to their promised land and Zion in the Rocky Mountains of Utah. His wife, three daughters and one son would survive because of his sacrifices. Ole would not. At Iowa City, Iowa, Ole loaded what needful things he could on the small family handcart. They were allowed 17 pounds per person as they prepared to walk and pull their handcart 1,300 miles across Iowa, Nebraska Territory and Utah Territory. On September 3, 1856, Ole killed a buffalo which helped feed his family and others in the Willie Handcart Company. That night about thirty head of cattle were lost in a severe thunderstorm and Ole would have to load flour on his handcart that the provision wagons were no longer able to carry. As an early winter and dwindling food supplies brought many new challenges, Ole continued to sacrifice for his family. He carried his wife and children, one by one through freezing water and deep snow. His last sacrifice on October 23, 1856, was to bring them across the summit of the Rocky Ridge in a blizzard, through Strawberry Creek where his boots froze to his legs, and about five more miles to the sheltered camp at Rock Creek Hollow where he succumbed to death and was buried in a common grave with 12 others who had made similar sacrifices. Ole’s daughter, Christena, would later tell of the experience:
I could write a book of my life and not tell half of the suffering we went through on our journey over the plains. We took all our bedding and the family Bible with our records written in, but we had to throw them away on the plains. . . . [Father] pulled his handcart all day without having anything to eat. At last one evening he rolled up in scanty covers, laid down and passed away. . . . they who died that night were laid in a small ditch with their boots or shoes on and covered. That night the wolves howled all night. . . . [Mother was] now left alone with her children with nothing to eat, frozen and hungry. But [we] pulled and pushed the handcart until [our] hands were so cold and fingers so crooked they never again came back into shape.