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Religion

Journey to Martin's Cove: The Mormon Handcart Tragedy of 1856

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.

The Martin's Cove Controversy

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.

Protestant Missionaries Cross South Pass

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.

The Reverend John Roberts, Missionary to the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho Tribes

The Welsh-born Episcopal priest John Roberts arrived in 1883 at Fort Washakie on what’s now the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming, became a friend of the Shoshone chief Washakie, and served the Shoshone and Arapaho people with a loving paternalism well into his old age. John Roberts died in 1949.

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Encyclopedia | Devils Tower, a basalt column rising 1,267 feet above the nearby Belle Fourche River, was the nation’s first National Monument and remains important to tourists and the many tribes that hold it sacred.
Encyclopedia | The Welsh-born Episcopal priest John Roberts arrived in 1883 at Fort Washakie on what’s now the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming, became a friend of the Shoshone chief Washakie, and served the Shoshone and Arapaho people with a loving paternalism well into his old age. John Roberts died in 1949.

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