June 19, 1997
Location: Martin's Cove - 302 miles left, Wyoming - Not mentioned in Clayton's journal. Fifty-six members of the Martin Handcart Company died here while waiting out a fierce storm, November 1856. - About 707 miles from Winter Quarters.
Summary: On rest days and fun days and mission calls.
Journal entry: Today we don't travel. These are always nice days to clean and do things we want to do. Things like not walking unless you have to.
We are camped at the group camping area near Martins Cove. This morning we did do some walking as a camp. The camp Presidency called for a testimony meeting in the first of the three coves near the Martins Cove area, many of us walked to the area. Most got on a shuttle and drove part way, then walked up to the cove.
This first little cove is just a beautiful area this year. I understand because of the rain, the area is unusually green and the grasses lush and tall. One of our first speakers in speaking of this area suggested that we try to imagine the snow as deep as the grass is tall. That is a lot of snow. As I sat there listening to the testimonies of the wagon train members and visitors, it was really difficult to feel the heartache and pain of the people who suffered and died at this spot. It was so peaceful.
The Martin Handcart Company got a late start in their journey westward. It was the 1850s. The people, very poor, needed to get to the West and have the comfort and help of other members of the church. So, they left Winter Quarters late in the summer. They weren't far behind the Willie Company and both groups hurried along the trail. The early snows came unexpectedly. The people found themselves stuck in the depths of winter with no resources for help. The Martin Company got as far as Devils Gate. To lighten their load, earlier they had tossed aside blankets and winter apparel, hoping this would quicken their journey. They found themselves freezing and dying of exposure.
The Church had sent out rescue parties when they learned in Salt Lake of the ill-fated handcart groups. The wagons from Salt Lake arrived when the people were camped at Devils Gate. To get them out of the worst of the weather, a place was sought for refuge. The coves proved to be the answer to their need and the people were brought here in order for them to re-group. It was bitter cold. The Sweetwater River proved only another obstacle to the ill-fated travellers. Three of the young rescuers spent a day carrying the people through the river to the opposite side so the people could continue to the protection of the cove. Many died in this area. The number that I recall is fifty. It must have been a very sad and depressing event.
It was a beautiful morning for a meeting. The blue skies and soft breezes only conveyed peace and love. Surely, I thought, I would feel some of the pain and sorrow of this sacred place. But I did not. It was only quiet reverence and solitude. Maybe that is what is meant to be conveyed today: that the people who lived, to only die here, are at peace with what happened and what they did. For they have left us a legacy of faith and courage and the power of their testimonies. They would travel by foot, pushing a handcart. A handcart that was laden with their only worldly possessions-- surely a pittance of goods in todays standards of "stuff". They were only people like you and me. They were driven by the thoughts of a better life and the belief that they could find a place to live where no one would persecute or harm. I can't help but feel that this may have been their calling in life. For they have left us a powerful testimony of truth and eternal values. I cannot help but feel a great awe and respect for what they have left us...the convictions of one soul. So incredible!
Back at our camp, we had a meeting with the wagon group. We learned of tomorrows travels through BLM land and some of the necessary things we can and cannot do. We were all given armbands since there is a restricted number of people allowed in this area, and we needed some sort of way to identify us. It should be a beautiful trip tomorrow.
This evening we had a really fun western band to entertain and the dancing was just fun. But the best part for my family was that my daughter, Nica, received her mission call from the Church Headquarters. My sister, Kathleen, in Salt Lake, went to the Church offices and picked up the special white envelope, gave it to a friend who will be on the wagon train tomorrow, and they brought it out to us. Nica has been so excited to receive that envelope and it was just a wonderful way to receive a call.
The evening was falling and it was a beautiful sunset. As she stood there on the stage where the band had played, and read her mission call to the group, it was such a wonderful feeling to know that she wants to go and be a missionary. I keep wondering what it was that we did that was right. She will serve for 18 months in the Canada Calgary Mission. She said that this is just where she wanted to go.
Nica's comment was that her memories of Martins Cove will always be wonderful and happy ones. She feels that for a place with so much sadness and tragedy, it is a paradox. I can't help but think that the people who passed through here and suffered so, are at peace with their sacrifice. They left an example for us and the world.
Nica's call is the fourth mission call to be received here on the trail. Heber Dew is going to North Carolina. Jonathan Tyler is going to Texas. Lisa Holgreen is going to California and my oldest daughter, Nica, is going to Canada. Truly a time of happiness. HappyNetTrekking!