The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints operates three historic sites in central Wyoming: Martin’s Cove, Sixth Crossing, and Rock Creek Hollow. At these places and others nearby, in October and November 1856, rescuers provided aid to the Willie and Martin handcart companies and the Hodgetts and Hunt wagon companies.
Today these sites honor the pioneers for their sacrifice, faith, and determination to gather to Zion, and they also honor the rescuers for their heroic charity. During the summer months, thousands of Latter-day Saint youth and adults come to these places to remember the trek of the handcart pioneers and to hear stories of the other pioneer companies that traveled through the area.
Preparing to Visit the Sites
Each site offers a unique visitor experience. Your visits to the trails, monuments, and historic buildings will be largely self-guided. Preparing ahead of time by learning a little about these sites and their features will help you experience all that the sites offer. You can also come prepared by wearing good walking shoes and carrying insect repellent and plenty of water.
Hours and seasons of operation are different at each site. Check here for updated schedules:
There are many things to see and do at Martin’s Cove. Options are listed below. Plan to spend one to three hours visiting this site. Those who intend to walk to the cove should plan to spend about two hours of their visit on the trail. Campsites are available.
1. Visitors’ Center
Your visit may begin with a guided tour of the visitors’ center. Here you can relax and enjoy artwork, artifacts, and exhibits. Before you explore the rest of the site, missionaries will invite you to watch a brief video that tells the story of the handcart pioneers.
2. Martin’s Cove Trail
Your walk to Martin’s Cove begins south of the visitors’ center. The trail to the upper reaches of the cove and back covers 5 miles (8 kilometers). You may arrange with the missionaries to pull a handcart for the first 1¼ miles (2 kilometers) of the trail.
3. Martin’s Cove
The Martin handcart company sought shelter in this cove during the bitter snows and wind in November 1856. While awaiting rescue, an unknown number of pioneers died in the vicinity of this cove.
Before entering the cove, you will have an opportunity to drink from a water fountain and use the restroom. A picnic area is also available for those who carry in food. Trash receptacles are not available, so please pack out any garbage.
4. Martin’s Cove Monument and Rescue Sculptures
While walking the Martin’s Cove trail, you will see several monuments and sculptures commemorating the rescue of the Martin, Hodgetts, and Hunt companies. In 1992, President Gordon B. Hinckley dedicated the Martin’s Cove Monument as a memorial to those who suffered and died in the cove. As you return to the visitors’ center, you may want to take the trail loop, which includes several bronze sculptures created by Russell “Rusty” W. Bowers. These sculptures commemorate the heroic efforts of the rescuers.
1. Devil’s Gate
Many pioneers traveling to Oregon, California, or Utah camped near Devil’s Gate and paused to explore this geological wonder made by the Sweetwater River. It is now on the National Register of Historic Places. If you would like a closer look, a path leads from the Martin’s Cove trail to Devil’s Gate. The round-trip is 1 mile.
2. Fort Seminoe
Here at this abandoned trading post, the Hunt and Hodgetts wagon companies left behind their personal belongings to make room for members of their own companies and the Martin handcart company who were no longer able to walk. The fort has been reconstructed. Missionaries provide guided tours of the fort, where you can also examine clothing, guns, and trade goods from the 1850s and archaeological artifacts from the original building.
3. Sun Ranch
You might also take a guided tour of the historic buildings at Sun Ranch. Tom Sun was the first person to establish a ranch along the Sweetwater River, and this ranch is now designated a National Historic Landmark. Here you can explore original buildings, including a bunkhouse, a washhouse, and a blacksmith shop. In the Peoples of the Sweetwater Museum, which is located in a historic cabin, you can see artifacts related to Sun Ranch and the pioneer trail.
4. Prairie Park
Near the visitors’ center, you can stop at a park and see a group of sculptures surrounded by native plants and grasses. These sculptures, created by LeRoy Transfield, help to tell the story of the 1856 handcart pioneers. The names of the handcart and wagon company pioneers and the rescuers are listed on the side of an old wagon at the exit from the park.
5. Martin’s Cove Marker and Historic Trails
You can drive a short distance to the old Martin’s Cove marker placed by the Utah Pioneer Trails and Landmarks Association in 1933. From this spot you can take in a commanding view of the cove. You can also see impressions from the California, Oregon, and Mormon trails. Driving directions are available at the visitors’ center.
Willie Center at Sixth Crossing
There are several things to do and see at Sixth Crossing. Options are listed below. If you intend to drive and walk to the Sixth Crossing of the Sweetwater River, you should plan to spend one hour visiting. Campsites are available.
1. Visitors’ Center
Your visit may begin with a tour of the visitors’ center. Here you can explore exhibits, an interactive kiosk, and artwork. Missionaries will invite you to watch a brief video about the Willie handcart company. Driving directions to Sixth Crossing and to Rock Creek Hollow are available in the visitors’ center.
2. Sixth Crossing of the Sweetwater
Sixth Crossing is one of nine pioneer crossing points of the Sweetwater River. It is a 3-mile (5-kilometer) drive to the southwest of the visitors’ center. It was here that the first rescue supply wagons met the Willie company in the early snows of 1856. Nine members of the company were buried at Sixth Crossing.
Rock Creek Hollow
A visit to this site includes a short walk to Rock Creek Hollow, where you will see several monuments and markers commemorating the events that transpired here. Plan to spend 30 minutes to one hour visiting this site.
1. Missionary Welcome
Your visit to Rock Creek Hollow is largely self-guided. During summer months, missionaries are stationed at the site and will welcome you and provide some information about the experiences of the Willie company at this place. Although there is no visitors’ center, the site does include public restrooms.
2. Rock Creek Hollow and Monuments
After a grueling day’s journey, including traversing Rocky Ridge in blizzard conditions, 15 members of the Willie company died and were buried in the area. As you walk into the hollow, you will see the Willie handcart company monument. This monument was placed in 1933 and was rebuilt in 1994. President Gordon B. Hinckley dedicated it in 1994 to the memory of the pioneers who were buried in the area. Other pioneers who passed through this location are also buried here. Out of respect for those who died here, please be reverent.
Before and after your visit, you can learn more about these historic places at history.lds.org.
- Mormon Handcart Historic Sites landing page
- “Fort Seminoe”
- “How the Rescue of Handcart Pioneers Helped Revive the Relief Society”
- “Five Things You Might Not Know about the Handcart Rescue”
- “Journeying to Zion by Handcart: One Young Woman’s Experience”
- “The River, the Hollow, and the Cove”
- “Pioneer Doodles: Sketches of the Sweetwater Valley”
- “An Artist’s Record of Daily Life on the Trail”
- “Why Historic Sites?”