After all our reunion guests were gone save for three grandchildren, I laundered a slew of towels (but didn't get to the sheets) and then lightly packed for a three day excursion to Wyoming and South Dakota. Our oldest grandson would be dropped off at BYU for an EFY experience while our two oldest granddaughters would travel with us. Two of Glen's sisters, Wylene and Peggy, were also going along for the ride. Six hours in, we were near Martin's Cove and Devil's Gate.
Much of our route would be the same as the Mormon Trail, Oregon Trail, California Trail, and the Pony Express which all shared the same route through Nebraska and part of Wyoming carrying over 500,000 emigrants to the West during the mid 1800's. We would be focusing on the Mormon Trail events, particularly those that happened to two handcart companies, the Willie and the Martin, in the late summer and fall of 1856.
Both companies left the Missouri River later than normal in mid and late July and were hit with a horrendous snow storms and below zero temperatures while miles apart on October 17, 1856. The Willie Company left about two weeks earlier so were many miles west of the Martin Company. Both companies were made up of mostly of Mormon converts from England who had already made it across the Atlantic Ocean and half of the United States. Rescuers from Salt Lake and the Utah Territory responded to the call for help, but it still took several days and many members of these companies died in route from hunger and exposure.
That granite ridge in the background winds across central Wyoming for miles and near Devil's Gate creates a cove which provided the Martin Company with some shelter after they were found by the rescuers. This area became the Sun Ranch in the 1870's which covered hundreds of thousand of acres. The LDS Church has purchased 12,000 of those acres along with ranch buildings and created a Visitor's Center in honor of these brave men, women, and children.
After leaving Martin's Cove, we journeyed on to Casper, Wyoming where we had rooms for two nights.
Early the next morning, we were on our way to the Black Hills of South Dakota and the Mt. Rushmore National Memorial. It was a three hour drive, but a beautiful drive across prairie lands and through the amazing Black Hills.
We stayed for 4 to 5 hours enjoying this awe inspiring mountain sculpture as well as the displays and visitor centers including the restaurant and some Thomas Jefferson ice cream made using his original recipe.
The girls also enjoyed the gift shops. Grandpa immediately bought them bright green hats so that he could spot them at all times. They also accomplished all the tasks in their Ranger booklets and became Junior Rangers.
It was a long process to create the faces of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln.
That rubble pile slopping down the mountain was dynamited away from the original granite rocks one small charge at a time.
Work was began during the summer months of 1927 and ended in 1941 as World War II began. It was never completed to the point planned. Each figure was originally intended to be a finished bust as was started on Washington.
We are standing overlooking an outdoor amphitheater where nightly light shows are presented.
We couldn't resist a bit of hand holding.
To put things into proportion, 1 inch in scale equals 1 foot on the mountain. Those are 60 foot noses.
Although this monument is located near the center of the United States. I found it appropriate that the presidents are looking towards the east and the beginnings of our nation.
This is a bust of the sculptor, Gutzon Borglum. In light of the rest of our journey, I thought it appropriate to learn that he was born in Idaho to Danish emigrants who were Mormon converts who had joined the 500,000 making their way West. The family didn't remain in Idaho and Utah, but I liked the connection. I bought a biography of Gutzon which I am currently reading. He had a very interesting and varied life which included a fair amount of drama and connections to a great many of historical events and people of his time.
We enjoyed very much our drive through Custer State Park which included passing through three tunnels carved out of the same granite hills.
As we excited the tunnels, there was a view of Mt. Rushmore in the distance. Really lovely.
There were also lakes and streams and great places to stay and relax a while.
I could easily picture myself here for a few days as we would take time to venture out to see the bison herds and wild Mustangs and hike a trail or two. We completed our circle drive and were back in Casper by nightfall.
The next morning, we retraced our steps but now moved west instead of east. Our first stop was not far from Casper along the North Platte River.
It was here at Bessemer Bend that the Martin Company crossed the Platte for the last time and is also where the winter storm first hit. They were encamped here for eight days in below zero temperatures and snow and without the majority of their blankets and jackets as it had been in the mid-nineties just three days before and they had discarded them to make their loads lighter.
It was over this ridge that rescuers, mostly younger men from Utah, finally appeared and helped them travel two more days before finally reaching Devil's Gate and eventually the sheltered cove after crossing the Sweetwater River. One of the rescuers dismantled an old trader's cabin at Devil's Gate to provide them fire wood.
It was very sobering to realize that near this peaceful river where we now stood marked the end of life for some 50 travelers who could go now farther.
This marker is located near the North Platte River.
We journeyed on to Independence Rock which marked the mid-point for those taking this well traveled trail. This famous rock is on the way to Martin's Cove.
This was a spot where many of those traveling west would carve their name and the date.
I couldn't help imagining all those people stopping here over the years and marking their progress, including my ancestors who were Mormon Pioneers.
Fort Casper, named for the commander, once stood on this ground just north of the Rock.
We followed the trail around to the back where there is easy access.
The girls headed up . . .
followed by grandpa. Grandma started up but then realized that there would also be a very steep down and decided to protect her knees. They enjoyed grand views and finding many names with dates.
I found a few down low as well.
An acclamation of "I made it this far and I can make it the rest of the way."
Another field of dreams.
The north side of Independence Rock.
And the west side and our rock climbers return to the car.
There is also a visitor's center right off the highway.
Click on this picture for more information.
The south side of the rock.
There was also a display of a covered wagon. When the handcart companies were coming through, there were also two wagon trains, the Hodgett and the Hunt. Most of the handcart companies finished their harrowing journey in one of the wagons from those trains.
Of interest is that Glen and I each have an ancestor who was a rescuer, Joseph Guernsey Brown and Thomas E. Ricks. They also rescued in another way. Joseph Guernsey Brown eventually married Esther Brown who was traveling with the Hunt Company and Thomas E. Ricks eventually married Tamar Loader of the Martin Company.
Once we left Independence Rock, we traveled back past Martin's Cove but continued west towards Sixth Crossing instead of south at the junction which would have taken us back to the I 80. Sixth Crossing is where the Willie Company was camped when the snow storm hit and where the rescuers first came upon the companies. It was here that we hoped to meet up with Glen's uncle and aunt who are currently serving a six month mission here working with youth groups who come to connect with and reenact the handcart experience.
This sign gives more information about this area.
There is a trailer park for the missionaries and we knew we had found the right trailer when we found this license plate. Unfortunately, Phil and Lynette were still out with a reenactment handcart group and they were also delayed by a medical emergency.
We spent some time exploring the small visitor's center and the immediate grounds.
This old log school house was original to the Sweetwater area and was moved to this site to help the youth experience how things used to be even though at a later time.
I loved the interior.
Photograph of James G. Willie, captain of the Willie Company.
A sister missionary gave the girls a quick presentation of what a school day would have been like.
And found them some pioneer clothes to wear.
And it was time to try out the handcart once again. We decided to leave and go to Lander for a late lunch and then return to see Phil later. Wylene's son had served part of his mission in Lander and she really wanted to see Lander in person. She called him and he gave us suggestions of where to eat and what to do. It was a very pretty town on the eastern flank of the mountains of western Wyoming.
We came back and found Phil and Lynette eating a quick dinner before heading back to their group for a presentation. Phil was going to play the role of Levi Savage. I wish I had a picture of Lynette, too. This is the picture that she took. I must have hit the wrong button when taking the picture of her with the group. They appeared to be so happy and were planning to hike up Rocky Ridge the next day.
We headed on west towards home via the South Pass once again crossing over the immigrant trail near where they split off to go to Oregon, California, or the Salt Lake Valley. We traveled our 1500 miles in three days. Their journey took months. For a map and great pictures and info about the Martin and Willie Companies go here.