Entrance to the Homestead
As our Wyoming Mormon Trail Mission winds down, we wanted to share with you some of the things we have packed into this 6 month experience. This is a very short mission compared to other senior missions that last 12, 18 or 23 months. But a lot happens in that short time.
First and foremost, we have been called, set apart and ordained as missionaries of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Our purpose is to invite others to come unto Christ by helping them receive the restored gospel through faith in Jesus Christ and His Atonement, repentance, baptism, receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost, and enduring to the end.
The Prophet Joseph Smith’s First Vision of Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ
We carry out our missionary responsibilities by serving at various assignments such as:
Martin’s Cove Mormon Handcart Historic Site encompasses the national historic landmark Tom Sun Ranch established in 1872, one of only a few western ranches to achieve this honor; Devil’s Gate, a natural cleft in the Rattlesnake Mountains where the Sweetwater River flows through; and the four pioneer trails – Oregon, California, Mormon and Pony Express that passed through this property. You can still see the original wagon tracks and depressions in the ground where the weight of the people, gear and animals crushed the earth.
We give tours of the reconstructed Fort Seminoe, which was an abandoned trading post where the freight from the Hodgetts Wagon Company was stored over the winter of 1856 so the weak and sick Martin Company pioneers could use the wagons to ride to Salt Lake. Twenty men had to stay behind to guard the freight. They were on near starvation rations and ate animal hides to stay alive until they and the freight could be taken to Utah 7 months later. None of them got sick or died during that time.
We also honor and protect Martin’s Cove, a ravine behind a large sand hill up against the bare granite mountains. The pioneers spent 5 nights in the Cove and as their people froze to death, the bodies were placed in snow banks because the earth was too hard to dig graves. Wild animals soon scattered the remains. We do not know where the bones are, so the entire area is hallowed ground. After having a brief spiritual talk by their leaders, trek groups walk reverently and quietly up into the Cove to contemplate the real meaning of sacrificing everything for what you believe in.
The Visitor’s Center is located in the original family house of the Sun Ranch.
We maintain some of the ranch buildings from the 1880’s.
We show people the historic displays, telling them the stories of the Mormon pioneer handcart companies (meaning: people organized in a group to safely travel across country, not a company that builds handcarts).
Loaded handcart, ready for the 1300 mile journey from Iowa City, Iowa to Salt Lake City, Utah
And most importantly, we offer our visitors a copy of the Book of Mormon and bear testimony of Jesus Christ.
One of the best mission assignments is trek hosting– where we get to guide the groups of people that come to trek up into Martin’s Cove (5-8 miles) to re-connect with their spiritual roots. Church groups (youth 12-18, young adults, church congregations and families) dress in 1850’s pioneer style clothing, load up their hand carts and trek to the Cove and then on to their primitive campground.
We help them feel the special spirit of the Cove and teach them pioneer stories of faith, obedience, sacrifice and charity.
Clay teaching a trek group about the need to rescue others in our day, like the Valley Boys from Utah did when they carried the 550 members of the Martin Handcart Company over the Sweetwater River in November, 1856
These young trekkers don’t have their cell phones or internet access, so they learn to talk, laugh and work together, square dance, play pioneer games, rough camp and bear testimony.
There were 45,000 trekkers this year over the three historic mission sites. We have 60 missionary couples to do all the work and service necessary to give our visitors a great experience.
Story Telling/Mission Play
To bring the lives of the Mormon pioneers to life, we tell stories from their journal entries. They are now our friends and we care deeply about them. We all participated in the Martin Handcart Story- a play with original music. I’m really glad I didn’t know until afterwards that Marie Osmond was on the front row (her sister-in-law is one of our missionaries).
Rock Creek Hollow
For one week, we had the privilege of serving at Rock Creek Hollow (100 miles from our main camp), where the Willie Handcart Company suffered tragedy during the 27 hours it took them to cross Rocky Ridge in October, 1856. That night, 13 people died and were buried in a common grave. An additional two men who buried those dead also died from exertion the next day.
The common grave site is marked and there is a very special spirit there. One of my favorite times was sitting in front of the grave marker, researching the stories behind the names.
James Kirkwood, age 11, was assigned to help his 4 year old brother Joseph over Rocky Ridge. His mother and older brother struggled with their handcart loaded down with their possessions and another crippled brother. James ended up carrying Joseph when his little feet were too frozen to walk. After he got to the camp at Rock Creek Hollow, James put his brother down and then died by the fire. Joseph lived and his descendants always honor the ultimate sacrifice of their Uncle James.
Rock Creek Hollow mass grave site
It is a quiet, cold, isolated and windy place.
We greeted any visitors who made their way to this remote site and served as campground hosts for numerous trek groups.
To get to the Hollow, the first trekkers of the season spent 12 hours pulling handcarts 15 miles over Rocky Ridge (the highest point on the historic pioneer trail). They had been heavily rained and hailed on. At 7 pm that night, coming over the last hill into Rock Creek Hollow, they were covered with dried dirt from fording multiple streams, mud holes and a broken bridge, with sweat streaking through the grime on their smiling faces as they waved white handkerchiefs and sang in loud voices, the trek anthem, “The Fire of the Covenant”.
I will always cherish our week at Rock Creek Hollow.
And that is only some of the adventures. Stay tuned for Part Two!