Between 1843 and 1869 (when the railroad finally joined the west coast to the rest of the nation), 500,000 people rode horses, walked beside their wagon or pulled a handcart by Devil’s Gate (in Wyoming) on their way to what is now Oregon, California and Utah.
This summer we are camped right on this famous trail which we read about in our American Heritage classes as teenagers.
Our mission this summer is to tell thousands of visitors the stories of these pioneers.
The Martin Handcart company, made up of over 600 European immigrants bound for the Salt Lake Valley, got a late start on the trail in 1856. They were seeking refuge from religious persecution in their homelands. Because of their late start, and early snows in the high plains of Wyoming, over 150 of their group perished as they struggled to pull their carts through the snow and sub-zero temperatures. During the worst of these storms they took shelter for five days in a cove just west of Devil’s Gate, now known as Martin’s Cove.
These are touching stories of sacrifice which families made in order that their children and future generations could be raised in a place that would nurture and promote their religious freedom.
Many of our visitors come in groups of 30-700 teenagers. They set up in primitive camp sites, dress in 1850-era pioneer garb, pull handcarts and cross rivers: re-enacting to the best of their ability a small part of the journey their forebears made so that they can appreciate the heritage they enjoy as free people, and as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons).
During their experience with us, these youth cover mile upon mile pulling their handcarts, fording rivers and thinking about their relationship with God, about what they truly believe, and how they will, in their own way, be pioneers of the next generation.
These are amazing youth! They get it. Wendy and I have been in awe of their dedication, their desire to learn and their pure goodness. They give us hope for the next generation. We feel so fortunate to be their mentors and guides.