On September 21st, 2010, on our way home from a week in Dubois, WY, Loretta and I stopped at Martin’s Cove. Martin’s Cove is where the Martin Handcart Company of Mormon pioneers sought shelter from fierce weather. The company left on their trek to Salt Lake City from the Mississippi River somewhat late in the season, and an early and cruel winter caught them in Wyoming, miles from any help. Brigham Young, on hearing of their plight, immediately sent a rescue force, but it took some days to reach the Martin Company, during which time many died. While waiting, the pioneers sheltered in a “cove,” meaning a space between a knoll and the hills behind. You can see what it looks like in this overview photograph:
The Martin Handcart Company (here “company” means “a group of people”) did not cross the Great Plains in oxen-pulled covered wagons, but rather pulled handcarts without the aid of animals. See this Wikipedia article for more information. The supplies they could carry were limited by the size of the handcarts. A full-size reproduction handcart is shown in the photo below:
My kids, both now grown, have had the opportunity as teenagers to join a recreation of this crossing along with hundreds of other youth. They were organized into families and each family was given a handcart. For three days they pulled these and camped along the way, ending their trek in Martin’s Cove itself. Loretta and I were far more pampered, being taken from the Visitor’s Center up to the cove by guides in a motor-powered cart. The photo below shows the cove. It’s a 180-degree panorama of the site, taken not far from where the cart parked. Click on the photo for a far larger version.
This site holds a special place in Mormon history, and as a Mormon myself I felt like I was walking on sacred ground. The church would not have prospered had it not been for people like these who were willing to sacrifice everything, even their own lives, for the cause of Zion. Granted, most members of the company were rescued and made their way to Salt Lake City to begin their new lives in the American West, but many died here. As my father says, those were the days of wooden ships and iron men.
The September weather was picture perfect, as you can tell from the photos. We saw some antelope as our cart took us from the Visitor’s Center up to the cove.
Overall, this was quite the experience. You can get driving directions by clicking here. I conclude with the list of names of the Martin Handcart Company. Those in red are those who died on the journey. Click on the image to see a much bigger and more complete image with all the names.