In August 1856, more than 1,000 Mormon emigrants in the Willie and Martin handcart companies left Florence, Nebraska Territory, with plans of reaching Salt Lake City and the headquarters of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints before winter. Their late start, substandard equipment and lack of sufficient supplies had disastrous consequences when they were hit by winter storms. Hundreds died on the journey across what’s now Wyoming and into Utah. Images of emigrant families pulling handcarts have since become an LDS Church icon of the triumph of faith over adversity.
Historic Spots & Monuments
Browse Articles about Historic Spots & Monuments
|Last Crossing, Sweetwater River||WyoHistory.org|
|Leigh, Richard “Beaver Dick,” mountain man||Steve Roberts|
|Lincoln County, Wyoming||Jessica Clark|
|Little Sandy Creek, Oregon Trail crossing of||WyoHistory.org|
|Lombard Ferry on the Green River||Wyoming State Historic Preservation Office|
|Magill, Ada, Oregon Trail grave of||WyoHistory.org|
|Martin’s Cove, events of 1856||Annette Hein|
|Martin’s Cove, Mormon Church Acquisition of||Annette Hein|
|Medicine Bow Peak, plane crash into, 1955||Thaddeus Mast|
Historic Spots & Monuments
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.
The Durlacher House in Laramie, Wyo. was built in 1878 for Civil War veteran Simon Durlacher. Durlacher arrived in town a decade earlier and just one month before the Union Pacific Railroad tracks reached Laramie. The house, designed by architect Charles Klingerman in late-Victorian Queen Anne style, was also used as a church and now is used by a private business. The Durlacher House is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Discovery of gold near South Pass in the 1860s led to the creation and settlement of short-lived South Pass City, Wyo. and other settlements nearby. The Carissa Mine was one of the richest, but between 1867 and 1869, 1500 lodes were located during the rush, and as many as 2,000 miners and others may have lived in the little town or on their claims. By the early 1870s, only a few hundred were left. Sporadic gold production has continued since, however, with systematic prospecting by an American subsidiary of a Canadian firm permitted as recently as 2006.
The history of Johnson County, Wyo., features a number of violent conflicts that influenced the heritage of the West. The Fetterman and Wagon Box fights were important conflicts in the Indian wars of the 1860s, while the infamous 1892 Johnson County War erupted because of tensions among cattle barons, homesteaders and rustlers. Johnson County’s economy today continues to thrive on tourism, ranching and oil and gas.
Founded in 1868, the short-lived town of Carbon provided crucial coal supplies for the Union Pacific Railroad. Its rough reputation was boosted in 1881, when a mob of miners pulled Dutch Charley Burris, accused of the murder of a popular lawman, from a train and hanged him from a telegraph pole. Many Finnish men worked in the coal mines until 1902, when the mines closed. Today, there are only a few ruins to mark the site, but the Carbon Cemetery has been recently refurbished and is still being used.
John Richard’s bridge across the North Platte River near present Casper, Wyo. eased the way for thousands of those who traveled the Oregon, California and Mormon trails during the years 1852-1866. Because Richard spoke with a French accent, many people thought his name was Reshaw and began referring to the bridge as Reshaw’s Bridge. A number of diarists, including world traveler Sir Richard Burton, recorded their experiences and descriptions of the bridge and the mixed-race community that thrived at the nearby trading post.
As the beaver trade waned in the 1830s, so did economic reasons for an American toehold in the Oregon country, still under joint British-American occupancy. Religion shifted the balance of power, however, when American Protestant missionaries crossed the Rocky Mountains with an eye toward converting the tribes of the Northwest. Soon these men brought their wives with them as well. In 1836, Narcissa Whitman and Eliza Spalding were the first Euro-American women to cross South Pass, and these people became the vanguard of American settlement of Oregon.
Robert Stuart and partners and employees of the fur magnate John Jacob Astor, traveling east in 1812 from the Oregon coast to St. Louis, crossed “a handsome low gap” in the Rocky Mountains in October of that year, after receiving a tip months before about its existence from a Shoshone guide. This marked the discovery by European Americans of South Pass, destined in coming decades to become the main route of American expansion to the West.