Friday, June 3, 2011



IMG_1964 The Mormon handcart disaster of 1856 resulted in the greatest loss of life from any single event during the entire Westward migration period. That year, five companies of Mormon handcart emigrants journeyed from Iowa City, to Salt Lake City. The first three companies made the journey without incident. The last two companies, traveling late in the season, were not so fortunate.

For much of the way they journeyed along the Oregon Trail which was also used by the Pony Express. Deep trail ruts are still visible just west of Devil’s Gate.

The Fifth Company was led by Captain Edward Martin. The company had nearly 600 emigrants, most of whom had come to American from England. They were late leaving England which mean it was August 27 before they left Florence, NE.

IMG_1959 Do you know what this is?











On October 8, 1856, they arrived at Fort Laramie, WY. They were suffering from the lack of food and fatigue and at Glenrock WY, the company makes the fateful decision to discard clothing and personal effects in order to lighten loaded handcarts.

IMG_1962 This represents the 17 lbs that each of these pioneers could take with them on their trek west.

These handcarts were made so that poorer people could make the journey west. Those that couldn’t afford a wagon and a team of oxen. By the time they left Fort Laramie they were allowed only 4 ounces of floor per day for teenagers and adults and 2 ounces for children.

A rescue company from Salt Lake City was headed east to try and find the handcart company and bring them provisions. However, they thought the company would be much further west and it took them several days longer than planned to reach them.

IMG_1961 On October 19, the Big Snow Storm Hit. They had to cross the Platte River and pulled up the bluff above the river to camp for the night. There were cold, their clothes were wet and frozen and there was no fuel for a fire. As many as 13 people died of exposure before morning.

They then moved to the Red Buttes camp which is about 40 miles east of Devil’s Gate. Because of the bad weather and a combination of exhaustion, lack of food, illness, inadequate clothing and poor equipment more than 50 people died in this area. The snow was 12 inches deep and the temperature was below zero, plus the Wyoming wind. The storm lasted for 8 days.

On October 28, three men arrived on horseback from the rescue party and told them the provisions were near and that they had to go meet the wagons. During the next two days they pulled the handcarts 17 miles in the bitter cold. They met with the rescue wagons near present day Horse Creek.

IMG_2002 On November 2, they reached the stockade at Devil’s Gate. They knocked down one of the cabins to use the wood for firewood. It was 11 degrees below zero and 13 died that night.



IMG_1985 On November 4, the Martin Company moved into the Cove for protection from the winds and the availability of firewood. They stay in the Cove until November 9 waiting for the weather to improve.


IMG_1965 On November 30 the Martin Company finally arrives in Salt Lake City after the loss of between 135 and 150 lives, about one fourth of the company.



IMG_1966 When you visit Martin’s Cove today you can pull a handcart along part of the trail that the pioneers used. Jim and I opted for the jeep tour.


  1. You always find the most interesting places to see and then write about. You're having another great traveling season.

  2. I knew not ONE thing about this. How interesting. Love the first picture with the MH under the sign. Very creative. Great blog with wonderful pictures. Good job AGAIN!


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