In 1862, Charlotte Dansie and her family sailed from England with hundreds of other Mormon converts, then gathered with others near Omaha to set out for Salt Lake—all while having a difficult pregnancy with her eighth child. Her descendants managed to relocate her grave in 1939 near Pacific Springs.
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Their wagons lurching over sharp boulders up a steep grade, westbound emigrants found a particularly difficult stretch of trail about 40 miles east of South Pass. The late-starting Willie Company of Mormons pulling handcarts suffered terribly here in 1856. For many, the end of the journey was a grave.
Two highly educated families of African-American farmers founded Empire, Wyo., near the Nebraska line northeast of Torrington in 1908. At one time it boasted school, church and post office. But drought, low crop prices and, evidence shows, the racial prejudices of their neighbors drove the people away; all were gone by 1930.
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 March 1965, clergyman James Reeb, a graduate of Natrona County High School and Casper College, marched in Selma, Ala., with the Rev. Martin Luther King to protect black voting rights. Reeb was murdered soon afterward. Publicity surrounding his death helped move Congress to pass the Voting Rights Act later that year.
In October 1969, University of Wyoming Head Coach Lloyd Eaton dismissed 14 black football players from his team when they showed up at his office wearing black armbands over their street clothes, to protest what they saw as racist policies of Brigham Young University. The incident sparked widespread controversy and swung the national news spotlight on Wyoming.
On May 16, 1986, David and Doris Young took 154 people hostage at the Cokeville Elementary School in tiny Cokeville, Wyo. and detonated a bomb inside. The Youngs both died that day. Everyone else survived, and many who did recalled the tragedy with memories of the presence of angels.
A childhood love of adventure eventually led the Belgian Jesuit priest Father Pierre-Jean De Smet to become a missionary to the Indians of the Rocky Mountains. He traveled throughout the northern Rockies, along the way celebrating the first Catholic Mass in what’s now Wyoming on July 5, 1840, during the Green River Rendezvous. In 1851, members of his party named Lake De Smet for him as they traveled from the Missouri River in present Montana to assist in treaty negotiations with the plains tribes near Fort Laramie.
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.