The Sixth Crossing of the Sweetwater offered wagon-train emigrants good water again after 16 dry and dusty miles. Most camped at the crossing. Here, in 1856, 500 members of the Willie Handcart company, most of them Mormon converts from England, were found starving, freezing and dying by rescuers from Salt Lake City.
The main branch of the Oregon Trail crossed the Big Sandy River at present Farson, Wyo. State Highway 28 running southwest from Farson continues to parallel the route. Swales are often visible alongside the highway, sometimes to the right, sometimes to the left.
Dry and sandy accurately describe the creek crossing where good water was scarce and wagons often foundered in an alkaline mire. Travelers often noted decaying livestock carcasses and thick clouds of gnats; most kept going if they could. Later years saw establishment of a stage and Pony Express station here.
Deep, crystal-clear waters with snow-capped views greeted emigrants as they arrived at the final crossing of the Sweetwater River near South Pass. At times, hundreds of travelers waited impatiently for makeshift ferries, hoping to outrun the cholera they feared was being carried toward them by parties farther back along the trail.
Oregon Trail emigrants along the Sweetwater River came to a place where steep hills forced them to cross the stream three times within two miles—a dangerous option at high water—while a detour through deep sand was safer but slower: just another day on a long journey with hard choices.
Iced drinks on the Oregon Trail? Early emigrants refreshed at the fabled Ice Springs near the Sweetwater River—now known as Ice Slough. But after a decade of trailside chopping and trampling, the spot became less attractive. Later travelers felt deceived by the stories they had heard.