Tom Sun established a cattle ranch near Devil’s Gate in 1872. As early as 1882, people recognized it as a prime example of western cattle ranching, and in 1960, the ranch was designated a national historic landmark. The Church acquired the property from the Sun family in 1996. Although some buildings are now used to meet the needs of missionaries and visitors, Sun Ranch continues to tell the important story of a family-run cattle ranch.
The Sun family maintained a room in their ranch house as something of a family museum. The artifacts, documents, and photographs in this room continue to chronicle the family’s life and work across four generations on their historic ranch.
An old log cabin once used as a schoolhouse was moved to the Sun Ranch in 1999. It now serves as a museum of the Sweetwater region, with artifacts donated by the Sun family, their neighbors, and a museum in Rawlins, Wyoming.
The ranch that the Church purchased from the Sun family included grazing permits on 80,000 acres of rangeland. Visitors to the ranch today may still see livestock grazing in the distance—a fitting backdrop for the few original buildings left on the ranch. Together they tell a story of 19th-century cowboy life.
The bunkhouse and washhouse were built in about 1880. Both are original to the ranch. Today the bunkhouse’s sparse furnishings depict the basic living conditions of a hired hand. Furnishings in the washhouse show how the ranch’s laundry needs were met.
The blacksmith shop was built in about 1880. The building is original to the ranch, but the equipment inside is not. Volunteers demonstrate how the ranch blacksmith could use his tools to work the metal used on the ranch.
The barn was built in about 1880 and is original to the ranch. It was remodeled and expanded in 2001. Today the barn is used as a meeting room and dining room.
In 1997, President Gordon B. Hinckley dedicated the Sun family ranch house as a visitors’ center. Other changes to the ranch have included new buildings, artwork, and monuments.
The old ranch yard is now a walking path replanted with native prairie grasses. Seven sculpted scenes from the 1856 handcart story line the path. The names of most of the people in the stranded companies, as well as their rescuers, are listed on the side of a wagon at the end.
Several buildings added to the ranch complex support initiatives of missionaries serving in the Mormon Handcart Historic Sites Mission. Among these initiatives are youth treks and humanitarian relief efforts.
“Tom Sun Ranch National Historic Landmark,” Wyoming State Historic Preservation Office, wyoshpo.state.wy.us
“Remembering the Rescue,” Ensign, Aug. 1997, 38–47
Curtis Ashton, “Remembering Handcart Pioneers in the Sweetwater Valley,” history.lds.org