Oh the Adventures! Part Two

Service Opportunities

There is never a dull moment on the Wyoming Mormon Trail Mission.  When we are not serving at the Visitor’s Center, leading tours of the historic Sun Ranch buildings, trekking with groups through Martin’s Cove or re-enacting stories from the lives of the pioneers, we get to do other interesting assignments.

Welcome Post

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As you approach the homestead, you see the welcome post greeters, a day long assignment to get visitors and hundreds of trekkers where they need to go. Trek groups come from states such as California, New Mexico, Idaho, Utah, Colorado, Montana and Wyoming.

Chinese tour buses traveling around the United States purposefully stop at our site on the way to Mount Rushmore in South Dakota because we have super clean restrooms. They walk through the visitor’s center and snap a ton of pictures, especially if a missionary is wrangling a snake off the lawn.

Welcome Post can be relaxing, with enough time to read a book, or it can be very busy. On the last day of trekking in September, we counted 450 visitors in 120 vehicles. During the height of the summer trek season, the numbers soar.

Handcart Parking

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We really do park handcarts as the trekkers come from the homestead part way along their journey into Martin’s Cove. There were about 600 trekkers pulling 45 carts in 3 groups while we were hosting one day.  Parking can get tight!

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Using colored flags to distinguish between the treks, Base (which acts like an air traffic controller) knows where each group is at all times as we take our trek groups  from place to place. Constant radio communication with base keeps each trek group from running  into each other so that each can have a great experience.

 

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The trekkers are then ready to quietly walk up into Martin’s Cove for more spiritual experiences.

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Dan Jones Amphitheater

Cherry Creek Campground Hosting

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That’s a supply shed behind the host cabin, not an outhouse

When trekkers get off the buses, they load handcarts with 5 gallon buckets containing their personal belongings and walk 3 miles from the homestead to Cherry Creek Campground, where a missionary couple greets them, directs traffic and gets all the different groups and their myriad of support vehicles situated for the night.

 

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After dinner, the groups learn square dancing (with missionary assistance) and have fireside talks as the sun sets.  After doing ‘Oh Johhny Oh’ square dancing, the tune sticks in your head all night long as you try to sleep.

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Trekkers water-coloring pictures of handcart pioneers and their rescuers.

It’s a long, hot, windy time during that week of campground hosting, but it’s also fun mingling with sweet and enthusiastic young trekkers.

 

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Medical Advisor/Emergency Preparedness Advisor

Everyone has skills and talents they use to the fullest on this mission. Ours happen to be medical doctor for the mission and emergency plan creator.

Since we are 50-70 miles from the nearest medical facilities, being able to triage a problem before it gets worse is a great way to serve. I diagnosed everything from infected Russian Olive tree thorns, severe positional vertigo, TMJ, chest pain requiring 3 cardiac stents, torn knee ligaments, corneal flash burns from welding, to a bad case of shingles.

Independence Rock Volunteers for Wyoming State Parks

 

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Six miles from the homestead, heading east on the highway to Casper, is Independence Rock, the pioneer register of the trail, where travelers carved their names on the granite monolith.

 

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We serve as volunteers for the State and tell people about the rock and encourage them to check out Martin’s Cove as well.  We also get to climb the rock!

Independence Rock partly got its name because if your pioneer group got there by Independence Day, July 4th, you were almost guaranteed to get across the Rocky Mountains before the snows came.

The Martin Handcart Company arrived at Independence Rock around November 2, 1856 and had to trudge through deep snow and a fierce cold wind.

Wyoming State Highway Volunteers

As part of our volunteer hours, we pick up trash along the highway several times a year.  There’s some interesting stuff out there, folks.

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Cleaning up the highway in front of Rattlesnake Pass- where all 500,000 pioneers traveling on the 4 historic trails came through on their way out west between 1843 and 1969.

School Groups

The missionary sisters dress in full pioneer outfits, complete with bonnets, aprons and bloomers, and take the Wyoming 4th grade school children on tours of the homestead ranch, visitor’s center and let them pull handcarts.

 

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It is a favorite field trip for the kids and we enjoy it too, as they are encouraged to call us ‘Grandma’.  Many kids have gone home and insisted their entire families come back to see this place, sometimes that same afternoon.

 

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Pioneer Grandmas: front row L to R: Sisters Chandler, Bushman, Turpin, Maxfield. Back row L to R: Smith and Shugart

Stay tuned at this same bat time, same bat channel for more to come in Part Three!

-Wendy

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Oh the Adventures! Part One

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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.

Missionary Work

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.

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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:

Visitor’s Center

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.

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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.

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Fort Seminoe

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.

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The Visitor’s Center is located in the original family house of the Sun Ranch.

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We maintain some of the ranch buildings from the 1880’s.

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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).

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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.

 

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Trek Hosting

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.

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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

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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.

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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”.

 

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I will always cherish our week at Rock Creek Hollow.

 

And that is only some of the adventures.  Stay tuned for Part Two!

-Wendy