Martin’s Cove: Mormon Heritage Site

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:

Overview of Martin's Cove

Overview of Martin's Cove, looking generally north. The Sweetwater River is in the foreground. Behind that is a grassy knoll. Tucked behind that, between the knoll and the rocky cliffs behind, is the "cove." It's a geographic feature the Martin Company felt might shelter them somewhat from the blizzard.


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:
Recreation of a handcart

Recreation of a handcart, shown at the visitor's center not far from Martin's Cove. The person pulling the cart would step between the cart and the crossbar. The direction of travel would be to the right.


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.
Martin's Cove

This is the cove. This 180-degree panoramic image shows the path back to the parking area at the left, and the path further along the cove at the right. As you can see, the location offered only minimal protection from the storm. Click on the image for a larger version of the panorama, and use your browser's back button to return here.


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.
Visitor Center guides

Visitor Center guides at the cove provide a lecture and answer questions.


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.
Antelope at Martin's Cove

Antelope were everywhere during our visit to Martin's 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.
A portion of the list of members of the Martin Handcart Company

A portion of the list of members of the Martin Handcart Company. Click on the image for a MUCH bigger image that has all the names. Note that while the image looks like it's been torn, it hasn't. The upper part of the image was in deep shadow and the lower part in bright sunlight. This is the best I could do after extensive processing in Adobe Photoshop Elements. The number after each name is that person's age at the time of crossing. Note the number of children.

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