What are the Mormon Handcart Historic Sites?
In the mid-1800s, these lands in central Wyoming were part of the Oregon, California, and Mormon Trails as well as the Pony Express. The virtually unaltered landscapes provide stunning vistas that immerse visitors in the setting where approximately 70,000 Latter-day Saints traveled west. These sites are particularly significant because they witnessed one of the most dramatic rescues of overland emigrants in American history. The Mormon Handcart Historic Sites include three separate locations: Martin’s Cove, Sixth Crossing, and Rock Creek Hollow.
While some rescuers stayed with the Willie handcart company, eight to 10 other wagons continued eastward to look for the Martin handcart company and the Hunt and Hodgetts wagon companies. When the rescuers reached Devil’s Gate without sign of these companies, they were disappointed and worried. Three express riders found the Martin company and Hodgetts company around noon on Tuesday, October 28, at Bessemer Bend. Later that afternoon they reached the Hunt company nine miles farther east. The express riders and other rescuers helped the Martin and Hodgetts companies meet up with additional rescuers at Fort Seminoe, just west of Devil’s Gate, on November 2. With over 300 miles to go to reach Salt Lake City, and with only about one-third of the handcart company able to walk, the rescuers realized that they would need to leave the handcarts behind and use the other two companies’ wagons to transport people. While waiting for the Hunt company to arrive, the rescuers decided to move the Martin handcart company across the Sweetwater River to a cove in the mountainside that would provide more protection from the wind. Once the Hunt company caught up, all items besides basic necessities were removed from the wagons to make room for passengers. The items left behind were stored in Fort Seminoe. When the rescuers and the Martin, Hodgetts, and Hunt companies started toward Salt Lake on November 9, 20 volunteers remained behind to guard the goods until spring.
On October 21, 1856, rescuers sent by Brigham Young entered the Willie handcart company’s camp at the sixth crossing of the Sweetwater River. Six relief wagons assisted the company to continue their westward journey. Over the next few days, they traveled to Sweetwater Camp and then up over Rocky Ridge—a climb of 600 feet over a distance of about three miles. For people already worn down by hunger and fatigue, pulling heavy handcarts up that grade was agonizing. The company captain, James Willie, later said traversing Rocky Ridge was “the most disastrous day” of the journey.
The Church owns campsites and property around Sixth Crossing on which trek groups can pull handcarts. The Church also has an agreement with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to permit a limited number of trek groups to cross Rocky Ridge each summer between July 1 and September 15.
The Church owns property that includes two campgrounds, a historic ranch, and the land where Fort Seminoe once stood. Families, wards, and stakes can camp and trek on the property. The Church has agreements with the state of Wyoming and the BLM to allow visitors to walk to Devil’s Gate and through Martin’s Cove.
Rock Creek Hollow
Rock Creek Hollow was a favorite camping spot for travelers along the trail. Some believe this is where the Willie handcart company camped after crossing Rocky Ridge; however, the evidence is inconclusive. Today families, wards, and stakes can camp at Rock Creek Hollow overnight. Visitors can see monuments placed in memory of those who were buried along this part of the trail.
A Privilege to Trek
Because of the significant historic events that occurred at these places, trekking on these properties has a special spirit. The opportunity to trek here is a privilege. To preserve these places and to abide by the agreements with the BLM and the state of Wyoming, there are specific rules and regulations for trekking at these properties. Leaders of trek groups with 25 or more people are required to participate in Trek Leader Training to ensure they are aware of the parameters for trekking at this site.