Visiting Martin’s Cove

The best way to record thoughts, ideas and discoveries at Martin’s Cove is to keep a journal.  Students can record reactions to the following prompt ideas – choose what fits your students, modifying when needed.

Before the trip to Martin’s Cove

Read Annette Hein’s short article on the handcart tragedies of 1856, as well as Patience Loader’s account of the sufferings of the handcarters in the Martin Handcart Company and Ephraim Hanks’ account of the rescuers sent from Salt Lake.

On the bus to Martin’s Cove

  • If traveling from Casper, notice the time it takes to get out there.  Keep in mind the one-hour drive two full, hard days for pioneers even in the best weather.  In the fall of 1856, everything went wrong for the Willie and Martin Handcart companies, and the same distance took the Martin Company about 12 days to cross.
  • If possible, stop at Bessemer Bend – there is a BLM interpretive site there.  This is as far as the people in the Martin Company got the first day or two after crossing the Platte River, because they were so weak from hunger and cold. They spent nine days here and many of them died before the first rescuers arrived.
  • Ask the bus driver to take Natrona County Road 319 from the Poison Spider School west of Casper to Wyoming Highway 220 near Independence Rock. On the way, stop at the BLM Interpretive site at the top of Ryan Hill. Read the description by Daniel Jones, one of the rescuers, on pp. 44-46 of his book 40 Years Among the Indians, of the people of the Martin Company making their way up a hill along this route.
  • Stop when County Road 319 crosses Horse Creek. This is where the Martin Company was finally met by the full company of the rescuers, who then guided them to Devil’s Gate, where there was an abandoned trading post. After that, the handcarters camped for several days in a sheltered place in the rocks near Devil’s Gate. That place later came to be called Martin’s Cove.

Arriving at the Martin’s Cove visitor center:

  • What is your first impression?  Do you see any handcarts?
  • Visit the main museum at the visitor center. What did you learn about the events of 1856?
  • The visitor’s center is in buildings that once were the ranch house, barn, corrals and outbuildings of the Sun Ranch. The Sun family ran the place for 125 years. Do you see any signs of the old ranch life? 
  • Walk to the reconstructed trading post. Why do some of the boards look burnt?
  • If you have time, visit the trader’s store at the trading post. What kind of people would have lived and worked here? What things would have been for sale? What people would have done business here?
  • Visit the little museum at the trading post, which displays artifacts discovered when the foundation of the actual trading post was excavated in the early 2000s. What were the most interesting items?
  • Walk the graveled trail from the visitor center along Sweetwater River to Martin’s Cove. With your friends, pull a handcart if possible. Is it hard to pull?
  • Now imagine you’re on a much rockier trail, that the handcart has no tires but its wheel rims are wrapped in rawhide, and that it’s made of green wood and keeps falling apart. What would that do to your speed?
  • At Martin’s Cove, imagine it’s very cold, about zero degrees, and you have almost nothing to eat but enough fuel to build a campfire. What would you do to pass the time? (Hint: Read the Patience Loader account.)

Back home:

  • Imagine you’re member of the Martin Handcart Company. You and your family just left Liverpool, in England, seven months earlier.  Write a journal or diary entry describing what you saw at Devil’s Gate and at Martin’s Cove. You can include pictures of what you’ve seen.
  • Imagine you’re a member of one of the rescue parties sent out from Salt Lake City. Write a letter home to your family about the condition of the people in the Martin Company. What do they look like? How do they sound? How are their spirits?
  • Imagine you are Brigham Young, governor of Utah Territory and president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—the Mormon Church. You learn that, late in the fall, more than a thousand newly converted English Mormons are coming across the plains toward the Salt Lake Valley. You know it is very unsafe for them to be traveling this late in the year. What do you do? Once you’ve decided, write out a speech you will give to the people of Salt Lake City about your plans.