Wyoming’s Bighorn Basin was still largely unsettled in 1900 when irrigation-minded Mormon colonizers from Utah established the towns of Byron and Cowley, expanded Lovell and began digging the Sidon Canal on the Shoshone River. Their influence settled and stabilized a previously lawless part of the state.
In 1992, officials from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints placed monuments commemorating the ill-fated, 1856 journey of the Willie and Martin handcart companies at Martin’s Cove, on public land leased for livestock grazing by the Sun Ranch near Devil’s Gate in central Wyoming. In 1997, the LDS church bought the ranch, and in subsequent years tried to get a bill through Congress to allow church purchase of the cove as well. The bill was opposed by some Wyoming citizens, however, and by Wyoming’s U.S. senator, Craig Thomas. Instead, a compromise 25-year lease was negotiated between the church and the Bureau of Land Management, guaranteeing public access to the public.