Martin's Cove: Mormon Trail Site
The Martin's Cove: Mormon Trail Site is home to the Mormon Handcart Visitors’ Center located at Martin's Cove in Alcova, Wyoming, 55 miles southwest of Casper, Wyoming. Throughout the historic site, monuments, memorials, and sculptures commemorate the rescue. A trail loop leads to the eastern portion of the cove. Visitors may also hike a trail that leads to Devil’s Gate and explore the Sun Ranch at Devil’s Gate, a National Historic Landmark interpreting the homestead and cattle ranch that began on the site in 1872.
As part of the Westward Migration in the mid-1850s, Brigham Young and other leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints provided a way for financially limited members of the Church to travel to the Salt Lake Valley to join the main body of the Church of Jesus Christ. Handcarts were more affordable than covered wagons and oxen. Handcart Companies departed from Iowa traveling by foot and pulling their food supplies and limited household goods. They walked over 1,300 miles.
During 1856, three handcart companies successfully arrived in the Salt Lake Valley, but two handcart companies left late in the summer and consequently experienced breakdowns due to green wood used in their handcarts, heavy snowfall, extreme cold, and death. Missionaries traveling to Utah passed the companies in late September and told Church leaders about the two companies still out on the plains. President Brigham Young immediately sent a rescue party with sixteen wagons full of supplies, but they too were hampered by the extreme weather.
The rescuers reached the Willie Handcart Company on October 21, just one day after the company ran out of food. Sixty-eight members of their company died before they arrived in the Salt Lake Valley. Many of the rescue party traveled on to find the Martin Company.
The Martin Handcart Company, with 576 emigrants—most of them women, children, and elderly—found refuge from the storm in what is now called Martin’s Cove. The rescue party did not have adequate supplies for the Martin Company.
Members of the Hodgetts and Hunt wagon companies, traveling just behind the Martin company, emptied their wagons of provisions to make space for more people. Many handcarts were left behind, and the travelers in the worst condition rode in wagons. By November 9, preparations were made, and the weather had warmed enough for travel to continue on toward Utah. With assistance from more rescuers bringing thirty wagons full of supplies, they arrived in the Salt Lake Valley on November 30. More than 145 members of the company died before they reached their destination.
The Mormon Handcart Visitors’ Center allows visitors to view exhibits that record the tragic circumstances of the two companies. Handcart replicas are displayed and visitors can experience pulling one. Each year, thousands of youth from the Church of Jesus Christ participate in a re-creation of the trek through the surrounding area, including a visit to Martin’s Cove.
- Timeline: Rescues of the Willie and Martin Handcart Companies and the Hodgetts and Hunt Wagon Companies