Monday, 15 August 2016

Handcarts and Rattlers

Monday May 30th  and the American flags are out at the Mormon Handcart centre for Memorial Day, commemorating all those who have lost their lives in military service...
Elder Hoskins invited me to attend a commemorative breakfast where anyone who had served in the military stood up and related their experiences - very moving.

The centre was set up to commemorate Mormons who lost their lives here at Martin's Cove in the Mormon Handcart tragedy of 1856.  Mormon leader Brigham Young founded Salt Lake City in 1847 and by the early 1850s most of the Mormons who had been thrown out of Nauvoo had arrived and settled in Utah.  Church leaders now looked to attract new Mormon converts from Europe.  Initially there was a smooth passage of British and Scandinavian converts emigrating to Utah by ship, train and then ox wagon, often subsidised by the church, but lack of funds by 1856 caused the use of cheaper handcarts to be encouraged for the last stage across the west.

 The first companies pulling handcarts reached Salt Lake City without mishap, but two companies, the Willie Handcart Company and then the Martin Handcart company, consisting of almost 1,100 emigrants did not set off from Florence, Nebraska until the end of August.  There were further delays due to the flimsy nature of the handcarts which were made of green wood that cracked in the dry prairie air. Food ran low and the fateful decision was made to direct the emigrants to discard warm clothing and bedding to lighten loads and speed up the journey.  Due to the late start the emigrants were then caught in early winter storms which descended while they were crossing the Sweetwater river to the west of present day Casper. Added to this planned supply convoys from Salt Lake City failed to meet them, and they found themselves struggling along the trail weakened by exhaustion, exposure and lack of food.  Many men, women and children had already died by the time the Martin Handcart company reached Devil's Gate, though by this time rescue parties were on their way. When a fierce blizzard arrived, many of the freezing, starving company took shelter for several days out of the worst of the wind in a small cove in the rocks, now called Martin's Cove.  With the help of the rescuers, the company eventually reached Salt Lake City on November 30th 1856, having lost about a quarter of their numbers, men, women and children.
The site has been leased by the LDS church since 2004. The visitors' centre explains the history of the Martin Handcart tragedy and one can walk or cadge a lift in a motorised buggy up to the cove itself.

Diadra turned up with friend Danielle to accompany me on my morning's ride west along the trail.  Here they are on their mustangs Pardner and Dreamer...
Diadra is on the left, and Martin's Cove is behind the swell of land in front of the rocky ridge and slightly to the right of Danielle's head.

We just miss stepping on a rattlesnake lying in the middle of the road - Lady almost walked over it!..
You can just see it making an exit stage left.   This was on the road to the new Sun Ranch.
The Sun Ranch was formed by Tom Sun when he built a log cabin near Devil's Gate in 1872. It became the largest operation in Wyoming, covering over three million acres and was handed down through the Sun family. The ranch house was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1960, but was sold to the LDS church in 1996, and became part of the Mormon Handcart Centre.
Descendant Tena Sun lives on a newer ranch house on a beautiful site further up the valley, where she also manages a couple of secluded holiday cabins Sun Ranch Cabins.   She very kindly gave me permission to ride across the ranch following the Oregon trail through some stunning countryside ....
In fact the Pony Express trail crosses the ranch a little further to the south, but Tena advised me that the Oregon trail route was more scenic and direct, as I was heading for Split Rock Ranch...  
Stopping for a grazing break on the banks of the Sweetwater river....
The land and young bulls on the other side belong to the Split Rock ranch a couple of miles further on.   Arriving at Split Rock Ranch...
...where I was able to camp and let the horses graze on the yard, courtesy of Miles Petersen who has leased the ranch.

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