The new Mormon Handcart Visitors’ Center at Sun Ranch in Wyoming honors the October–November 1856 rescue of the Willie and Martin Handcart Companies.
Between 1856 and 1860, ten handcart companies of Latter-day Saints made their way from Iowa City, Iowa, or Florence, Nebraska, to the Salt Lake Valley. Handcarts proved to be a less expensive and often faster means of travel than wagon trains. Eight of these companies passed over the more than 1,000 miles with little trouble. Two of these ten companies, however, became stranded in early, monstrous snowstorms in Wyoming. The story of the suffering of those two companies and of their eventual rescue by Latter-day Saints from the Salt Lake Valley is poignant and dramatic. Following are paintings featured in the new Mormon Handcart Visitors’ Center that portray this epic story.
Looking back on the suffering of the Willie and Martin Companies and the courage of those who rescued them serves to strengthen us. The words of one survivor of the Martin Company experience—Elizabeth Horrocks Jackson Kingsford, widow of Aaron Jackson, who died after crossing the Platte River—reflect that strength: “I have a desire to leave a record of those scenes and events, through which I have passed, that my children, down to my latest posterity, may read what their ancestors were willing to suffer, and did suffer, patiently for the gospel’s sake. And I wish them to understand too, that what I now [write] is the history of hundreds of others, … who have passed through many like scenes for the same cause. I also desire them to know that it was obedience to the commands of the true and living God [to gather to the Salt Lake Valley], and with the assurance of an eternal reward—an exaltation to eternal life in His kingdom—that we suffered these things. I hope, too, that it will inspire my posterity with fortitude to stand firm and faithful to the truth, and be willing to suffer, and sacrifice all things they may be required to pass thru for the kingdom of God’s sake” (“Leaves from the Life of Elizabeth Horrocks Jackson Kingsford,” Utah State Historical Society, Manuscript A 719).
Visitors’ Center at Sun Ranch
Much of the site where the Martin Company sought shelter is on the Sun Ranch in Wyoming—land owned for four generations by the descendants of a French Canadian homesteader, Tom DeBeau Soliel, who changed his surname to Sun. In 1872, 16 years after the rescues took place, he built a cabin near Devil’s Gate on the Sweetwater River and raised cattle on his extensive acreage. Until recently, his children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren worked the ranch.
Today, the ranch house has been transformed into a visitors’ center, where the story of the rescue of the companies is retold. Located near Martin’s Cove, the site where the Martin Company took refuge, the center is open from 8:00 A.M. to 7:00 P.M. seven days a week. More than 100 handcarts are ready for use by individuals or groups who would like to make the 2 2/3 mile trek to and from Martin’s Cove. Longer treks are possible. Carts are not available on Sundays. No food or lodging is available at the center. Only groups with reservations who are participating in overnight treks can camp overnight. Call 1-307-324-5218 for information or reservations.