To visit the grave of 32-year-old Elizabeth Paul, who died in childbirth on the Lander Road in 1862, drive west from Big Piney, Wyo. on Wyoming Highway 350. Bear left after about 10 miles onto Sublette County Road 142. The grave lies on public land in the Bridger-Teton National Forest about 30 miles from the west edge of Big Piney and 4.5 miles southeast of the La Barge Guard Station. For maps and more information, call the BTNF offices of the Kemmerer Ranger District, 307-828-5100; the Big Piney Ranger District, 307-276-3375 or the Greys River Ranger District in Afton.
The Grave of Elizabeth Paul
In the summer of 1862, a large train of 80 wagons was making its way west through mountains in what’s now western Wyoming when serious troubles led to the deaths of two women and their infants within a matter of days.
Elizabeth Mortimore Paul was born in Indiana in 1829, the oldest daughter and second child of Thomas Plymworth Mortimore and Martha (Patsy) Alice Mortimore (née Deshil). Early in the 1830s the Mortimore family moved from Indiana to Wapello County, Iowa, where they eventually became acquainted with the family of Joseph and Mary Paul, Virginians who had moved to Indiana about 1830 and then to Iowa in 1845. Their son Thomas was had been born in Monroe County, Va., now West Virginia, in 1828.
Thomas Paul and Elizabeth Mortimore were married in 1849. Thomas was, like his father Joseph, a farmer and Methodist minister. By 1862, Elizabeth and Thomas were parents of six children: Louisa, age 12; Mary, 10; Isaac, 9; Harriet, 8; Patsy Alice, 5, and Lucinda, age 2. Another son, named Joseph Plymworth Paul for his two grandfathers, was born in 1859 but lived for less than a year.
In 1862, the families of Joseph and Thomas Paul and other relatives joined a company determined to move to the vicinity of Walla Walla in Washington Territory. They left home on April 24. Joseph Paul was selected captain of the outfit, of which a roster survives.
When all the contingents had assembled, the company consisted of 88 men, 69 women, and 86 children under the age of 18. They had 52 ox-drawn wagons, 315 head of cattle, 38 saddle horses, 14 mules, and 38 milk cows, for a total of 404 head of stock. As they headed west, others joined them, and by July 10 it was a train of 80 wagons, 334 people, and 532 head of stock.
There were worries about possible Indian attacks, so companies had come together for mutual protection. By then the overall captain of the wagon train was John K. Kennedy, also from Mahaska County, Iowa. Because of its size or perhaps because of the incompetence and its captain, the company had many problems, especially with stampeding cattle.
When the Pauls left home Elizabeth Paul was pregnant with her eighth child. Apparently, it was a troubled pregnancy. Diarists with the company say they were often delayed because of sickness in the train. There were other pregnant women in the company, but Elizabeth Paul is specifically mentioned on July 5: “We laid in camp until one o’clock on account of Thomas Paul’s wife being sick. She was better at noon so we hitched up.”
On July 16: “The party which was sick is able to travel this morning so we moved on once more.” Again on July 24, “Stayed in camp on account of sickness in the company.” The entries of the last two days may well refer to Elizabeth Paul. By this time many teams in the company, tired of the trouble and delays, had moved on.
Death in childbirth
On the night of July 25, the company’s cattle stampeded twice, and then again on the night of July 26. The next morning, July 27, 1862, Elizabeth Paul died giving birth to her eighth child, a girl.
Diarist Hamilton Scott wrote: “We remained in camp all day. Thomas Paul’s wife died about nine o’clock this morning. She died in childbirth. She has left an infant. She has been very poorly for some time. We buried her this evening under a large pine tree and put a post and railing fence around her grave.” Thomas Paul named the baby Elizabeth.
The Pauls’ oldest child, Louisa, believed six decades later that the last of these stampedes had something to do with her mother’s death: “Father being on guard at the time caused Mother a great deal of worry, and the excitement causing premature confinement she died the next day. … The baby lived but a week, and was buried a week later after Mother’s death. The ladies made up some verses and put them on a board which they placed at the head of Mother’s grave. The men made paling and put it all around her grave.”
Diarist Jane Gould’s company caught up to the Kennedy train on July 28, when she wrote: “Came past a camp of thirty-six wagons who have been camped for some time here in the mountains, they have had their cattle stampeded four or five times, there was a woman died in their train yesterday, she left six children and one of them only two days old, poor little thing it had better died with its mother, they made a good picket fence around the grave.”
Henry Judson, another emigrant from Iowa, came by on July 29: “We pass this afternoon a beautiful grave made in an opening in the forest & directly beneath a fine fir tree—Twas made on the 27th inst (only 2 days ago) & was enclosed in a picket yard of hewn timber—a board set into a notch sawed into the tree informed us that the grave contained the remains of Mrs. Elizabeth Paul—aged 32 years—beneath some kind friend had pinned a paper on which were written 3 beautiful & appropriate verses & which I regret very much I had not time to copy.”
James McClung was a member of the Paul company and in his diary entry of July 27, he included the three stanzas of the verse left at the grave: “Elizabeth Wife of Thomas Paul died and was buried this afternoon near the foot of the mountain aged 32 years 7 months and 27 days this is a day of sorrow indeed.”
The first stanza was a well-known early 19th century epitaph:
Friends and physytions could not save
This mortal lovely body from the grave
Nor can the grave confine it here
When God commands it to appear
For tho it was her lot to die
Hear among the mountains high
Yet when gabriels trump shall sound
Among the blessed she will be found
And while she rests beneath this tree
May holy angels watch and see
That naught disturbs her peaceful day
Until the dawning of the day
On July 29, after gathering up all but four of their lost cattle, the company moved on. In the next few days they traveled through Star Valley, entered the mountains again after crossing what’s now the Wyoming-Idaho state line and camped the evening of Aug. 1 near Lane’s Creek.
“[G]ot through the mountains today,” a diarist wrote that evening. Their troubles were far from over, however.
A stampede and more deaths
The next day, Aug. 2, they experienced another devastating stampede. Twenty-five teams ran away, and several people were badly injured. Mrs. Nancy Townsend attempted to jump from her run-away wagon, but hampered by her advanced pregnancy, she wasn’t able to clear the wagon. She was run over by its heavy wheels and badly crushed. The next day she suffered a miscarriage, and she and the baby died soon after. Nancy Townsend, wife of Samuel Townsend, was 21.
On the night of Aug. 2, the week-old infant, Elizabeth Paul, died. She was buried at noon the next day, about the time Nancy Townsend passed away. Jane Gould wrote: “We passed by the train I have just spoken of, they had just buried the babe of the woman who died a few days ago, and were just digging grave for another woman that was run over by the cattle and wagons when they stampeded yesterday. She lived twenty-four hours. She gave birth to a child a short time before she died; the child was buried with her. She leaves a little two-year old girl and a husband, they say he is nearly crazy with sorrow."
The graves of Nancy Townsend and child, and that of Elizabeth Paul’s infant, are a mile or two east of Gray’s Lake on the Lander Trail, but the exact sites are now lost. The grave of mother Elizabeth Paul, however, still survives.
Julius Merrill was there on Aug. 15, 1864, and wrote: “Passed a grave enclosed by a picket fence, painted white. A lovelier spot I never saw. There was an opening of perhaps, half an acre, with one large shady pine near the center. Under this lone tree was the grave. The beauty of the place and the care bestowed upon the remains of the woman cause us all to look at it.” The gravesite has much the same appearance today. The original pine tree still stands over the grave.
Thomas Paul went on to Washington Territory and settled on Dry Creek, six miles north of Walla Walla, and married again to Susan Zaring (née Ellis) in 1863. They had four more children. Thomas Paul died in 1904 and is buried in Mountain View Cemetery in Walla Walla.
- “Another Pioneer Dead.” The Evening Statesman, Walla Walla, WA. vol. XXXI, no. 168. September 29, 1904, p. 1, col. 3.
- Estes, Louisa J. “Reminiscences Of Mrs. Louisa J. Estes At Age 75 Of Her Trip Across The Plains Over The Old Oregon Trail By Ox Team In 1862.” typescript by Pauline E. Thompson. Cage 676, Box 3. Pauline E. Thompson Collection. Chapter 5, “My Genealogy.” Six pages. 1994. Washington State University Library, Pullman, WA.
- Find a Grave. “Nancy J. Townsend.” findagrave.com, accessed April 25, 2017 at https://findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GSln=Townsend&GSiman=1&GScnty=210&GRid=133924027&
- Find a Grave. “Thomas Plemworth Mortimore.” Findagrave.com, accessed April 25, 2017 at https://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=42554781
- Gould, Jane Augusta Holbrook. The Oregon & California Trail Diary of Jane Gould in 1862. Ed. by Bert Webber. Medford, OR: Webb Research Group, 1997.
- Iowa, Mahaska County. Cedar Township. 1860. U. S. Census.
- Judson, Henry M. Diary, 1862. MS 953, Nebraska State Historical Society. Typescript, 137 pages.
- McCarley, Jayne. Roots Web. “Reconstruction of Roster of 1862 Kennedy Company, John Knox Kennedy, Capt.” Pat Packard and Marjorie Ellis Miles. Additions and corrections by Ella Jane Allison McCarley. Originally published April 1993. vol. 36, no. 2. Yakima Valley Genealogical Society. Accessed April 25, 2017 via www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~orgenweb/ReconstructionofRosterof1862-2.doc.
- McClung, James Scott. Diary and Letters, 1862. Mss 1508, Oregon Historical Society. Transcribed by Richard L. Rieck.
- Merrill, Julius. Bound for Idaho: The 1864 Trail Journal of Julius Merrill. Edited by Irving R. Merrill. Moscow, Idaho, University of Idaho Press, 1988.
- Scott, Hamilton. A Trip across the Plains in 1862. Mss 596, Oregon Historical Society. Typescript, 10 pages.
- Wyoming State Historic Preservation Office. “Elizabeth Paul Grave.” Emigrant Trails Across Wyoming. Accessed April 25, 2017 at http://wyoshpo.state.wy.us/trailsdemo/elizabethpaul.htm.
- Both photos are by the author. Used with permission and thanks.
The Lander Trail parallels a series of county roads across public and private land from Wyoming Highway 28 near South Pass, along the southern edge of the Wind River Range, to U.S. Highway 191 about 40 miles north of Farson. From there, it parallels Wyoming Highway 351 for about 25 miles, runs through Big Piney, Wyo., crosses Big Piney Creek and the Wyoming Range and finally crosses Star Valley on the Idaho border and into Idaho.
If you plan to visit the Lander Trail in Wyoming, get ready for spectacular scenery and often difficult road conditions. Traveling state Highway 28 to South Pass, you’ll find a turnout with interpretive materials where the Lander Trail crosses this modern road. You can travel in the actual trail ruts to the east but soon will encounter private lands and difficult, if not impassible, drainage crossings. Always obtain permission prior to accessing private lands.
To the west, you’ll encounter a series of county roads—Fremont County Route 446 and Sublette County Routes 132, 118, 133 and 113—that cross the trail in several places. Most crossings on these county roads are marked by concrete Lander Trail markers. Visitors can follow and intercept the trail and absorb the stunning landscape, much the same as it was at the time of its construction; however, this is now in an area that is a mixture of public and private ownership. Another interpretive site is found near Buckskin Crossing, which was a difficult ford for emigrants. There are graves and interpretive materials. The trail continues west past Buckskin Crossing for several miles, occasionally obscured by modern dirt roads. Follow the concrete and sometimes wooden markers to stay with the trail.
The Lander Trail sometimes is within BLM, U. S. Forest Service, county, U.S. Highways, state Highways and private roads, with intact segments often located near these modern arteries. Frequently, the trail is reachable as it intersects more user-friendly modern roads.
To the west of its intersection with U.S. Highway 191 the trail becomes difficult to follow. Expansive gas field development has compromised many segments and made others difficult to experience. Washed out stream crossings, steep terrain, vegetation, wide expanses of mud or dust, depending on the weather, and road segments that have changed from ruts into streambeds can make for uncertain travel. A high clearance, four-wheel drive vehicle is necessary on much of the remaining Lander Trail.
In recent years the Sublette County Historical Society has acquired property where the Lander Trail crossed the New Fork River, and is improving it to enhance the overall visitor experience. From the intersection of State Highway 351 and U.S. 191, travel 11 miles west on Highway 351 through industrial gas fields to the New Fork River.
A quarter of a mile after the river, take a right onto unpaved Sublette County Road 136 (also known as Paradise Road) and head north. At one mile on the left is Oregon Trail Lane, which leads to a small subdivision of private property on the original Lander Cutoff. On the right is the Lander Wagon Road’s crossing of the New Fork River.
From there, the trail continues just north of state Road 351 and passes through the Sublette County Fairgrounds in Big Piney, Wyo. It crosses Big Piney Creek as it continues west through Sublette County, eventually entering the Star Valley in Lincoln County via a route through the Wyoming Range. The trail leaves Wyoming and enters Idaho shortly thereafter. The Lander Trail rejoins the main Oregon/California trail system near Big Springs, Idaho, on the Fort Hall Indian Reservation.
The trail has been marked by the U.S. Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the Oregon-California Trails Association and other partners.
An interactive map of the Lander Trail can be found at http://www.blm.gov/wy/st/en/programs/nlcs/Historic_Trails/map.html.
Gregory M. Franzwa’s Maps of the California Trail, (Tucson, Ariz: The Patrice Press, 1999), is a valuable resource to take on any expedition that tackles the Lander Trail.
For more information, visit the Lander Trail Center, an interpretive facility focusing on the Lander Trail, in Afton, Wyo.
In 2014, a historical park was opened to the public at the New Fork River crossing of the historic Lander Trail. The 100-acre park is located on the west bank of the New Fork River in western Wyoming. The park is located 25 miles south of Pinedale and 14 miles east of Big Piney, one mile north of Wyoming Highway 351 where it crosses the New Fork River. Follow the directional signs on the highway to arrive at the park, which is open during the months May through October.
Today, most major emigrant river crossings on the historic trails lie on developed private land. This park provides a unique opportunity for access to a river crossing that remains much like it looked when emigrants passed through in the 1860s.
Visitors can walk a one-mile, self-guided loop on a rustic trail to explore an emigrant river crossing and campsite. Nine interpretive signs with quotes from diary accounts help tourists imagine what pioneers experienced here. An alternate one-tenth mile, handicap-accessible trail leads to an overlook of the old emigrant island and now abandoned river channel.
The Oregon, Mormon Pioneer and California trails all cross Wyoming in the central and most popular corridor of the transcontinental migration of the 1840s, ’50s and ’60s. As many as half a million people may have traveled this corridor in the 19th century. To many, the environments of the Great Plains, Rocky Mountains and Great Basin seemed like another planet, full of strange and alien landscapes.