UB-TAH SUMMER INSTITUTE FIELDTRIP DAY 5 (Under construction subject to change)
FRIDAY, JULY 18, 2008
Educational Material/Non Commercial

Monday, July 14, 2008
Tuesday, July 15, 2008
Wednesday, July 16, 2008
Thursday, July 17, 2008
Friday, July 18, 2008
Saturday, July 19, 2008

Every evening or morning we will share our learning experiences
Support Readings:
U.S. History, The West Timeline
Utah History and Ute History Timeline

Wyoming History Timeline
Plains Indians History Timeline
South Dakota History Timeline
Nebraska History Timeline
Core Curriculum
Suggested Primary Source:
Indian Affairs Laws and Treaties


Event Stop Pictures


Open Continental Breakfast/Questions?


Bus leaves from Casper, Wyoming

Core Curriculum K-4 Standards
Core Curriculum K-5-12 Standards
Core Curriculum Historical Thinking K-5-12
Utah Core Curriculum K3-6 (New Core Curriculum)
Utah Core Curriculum K 7-12

History of Casper City, Wyoming
"Before there were people, there was the river—the North Platte River begins its meandering journey in the mountains near Casper, running east across the Great Plains to merge with its sister river, the South Platte, to become simply the Platte River. Water, mountains, and plains were a lure from the beginning; evidence of human occupation dates back more than 12,000 years with the Clovis peoples, followed by the Folsom and the Eden Valley peoples. A mix of hunting and gathering tribes occupied the area until approximately 500 A.D., eventually morphing into Native American tribes more familiar in today's world.

The original residents of Wyoming were nomadic Plains Indians, including tribes as disparate as the Arapaho, Sioux, Cheyenne, Crow, Lakota, Blackfeet, Kiowa, Nez Perce, and Shoshone. The tribes relied on the land and the roaming buffalo herds for sustenance; when European explorers and hunters began a wholesale slaughter of the buffalo, coinciding with an interest in herding native peoples to a containment area in Oklahoma, armed conflicts escalated in the clash of cultures and interests. In 1812, fur trappers had followed beaver and buffalo populations to the northern Rockies. The Oregon Trail had been scouted out in 1823, and its ever-deepening ruts reflected the entrenched U.S. belief in its manifest destiny to expand westward.

The Western Civil War
By 1847, a network of travel routes converged at a spot just west of present-day Casper; here the Emigrant Trail crossed from the south side to the north side of the North Platte River. When the first Mormon wagon train passed through this area on its way to what would become Utah, Brigham Young arranged for a ferry to be set up for the use of future travelers. The Mormon Ferry soon faced competition as more emigrants passed that way and decided to cash in on a good idea. One entrepreneurial French-Canadian trader named John Baptiste Richard decided to build a bridge across the North Platte and charge a toll for crossing it. The area was now not just a way-station but an encampment.

Local residents established a trading post along the Emigrant Trail in 1859, taking advantage of the growing stream of wagon trains. As the local population grew along with the number of emigrants, friction developed with local tribes of Lakota, Arapaho, and Cheyenne Indians. As a result, the trading post was transformed into a fort by the military, and two pitched battles between the army and the native tribes took place in 1865. In the first conflict, Lieutenant Caspar Collins was killed while attempting to rescue another soldier. Lt. Collins' father already had a fort named after him in Colorado, so the military named the Wyoming fort "Casper" in his honor, inadvertently using a misspelling that had been transmitted by telegraph. The seeds of present-day Casper had been planted.

Black Gold, Texas Tea
Casper in 1888 was a true Wild West town; a railroad had been built through the town in an effort to ease travel to riches of gold in California and fertile land in Oregon. Isolation and lawlessness attracted a rough crowd of renegades and outlaws, and the original township developed a main street lined with saloons on one side. By necessity, the first public building in Casper was a jail. Lynchings were not an uncommon occurrence.

Oil was struck in nearby Salt Creek Field in 1889, an event that has come to define Casper as the "oil capital of the Rockies." The city was flooded with an influx of claim jumpers looking to capitalize on the promised wealth. In 1895, the first oil refinery was constructed. Oil workers known as "roughnecks" followed, along with gamblers, prostitutes and corrupt businessmen. Cattlemen went to war against the sheepmen. The local law struggled to keep up with the shenanigans of the populace, passing laws to prevent women from walking on the saloon side of Main Street and to make illegal the discharge of firearms within city limits.

Local municipal leaders were set on Casper becoming the state capital and a centerpiece of the West. As the economy continued to thrive, construction was begun on some of the tallest buildings in Wyoming during the early 20th century. But, a city that lives on oil can die on oil.
Nearly a Ghost Town
Few communities escaped the repercussions of the Great Depression, and Casper was not an exception. In 1929, the city's population diminished by 50 percent; the struggle continued until World War II spurred renewed demand for oil and gas supplies.

The city has experienced cycles of boom and bust beginning in the 1960s, riding the wave of oil and gas prices. Today, Casper is profiting from U.S. conflicts with oil-producing nations and has additionally seen the growth of more consistent industries in the areas of health care, social services and tourism. Figurative fisticuffs have taken the place of literal gunfights as the oil industry negotiates its place in a city that is increasingly conscious of its finite and infinitely beautiful natural resources."

Author: Wyoming State Historical Society
Source: Wyoming State Historical Society
Educational Material/Non Commercial

Yes Wyoming Map

Indian Reservations and Federal Lands in Wyoming

8:00AM to 11:00AM National Historic Trails Interpretative Center, Casper, WY
1501 North Poplar Street
Casper, WY 82601
phone: 307-261-7700

Trails of Wyoming
Historic Trails Map Interactive

- The Oregon Trail
- The Mormon Pioneer Trail
- The Pony Express
- The Oregon and California Trail Center

Core Curriculum K-4 Standards
Core Curriculum K-5-12 Standards
Core Curriculum Historical Thinking K-5-12
Utah Core Curriculum K3-6 (New Core Curriculum)
Utah Core Curriculum K 7-12

Oregon Trail (Frequently Asked Questions)
What is the Oregon Trail?
"In its earliest days, the Oregon Trail was a 2000 mile long string of rivers and natural landmarks that could be followed from Missouri to Oregon. It was easy to get lost without a guide who knew the way. In later years, after thousands of pioneers had followed the Oregon Trail to settle in the Oregon Country, there were well-worn paths to follow. On the other hand, there were also local roads, military roads, and even shortcuts, so while it was harder to get really lost, it was still easy to take a wrong turn."

Where did the Oregon Trail begin and end?
"Well, that depends on how you look at it. Officially, according to an act of Congress, it begins in Independence, Missouri, and ends in Oregon City, Oregon. To the settlers, though, the trail to the Oregon Country was a five-month trip from their old home in the East to their new home in the West. It was different for every family. Some people got ready to leave the East, or "jump off" as they called it, in towns like St. Joseph or Council Bluffs, and others jumped off from their old homes in Illinois or Missouri and picked up the Oregon Trail in the countryside. Along the way, they could choose to take shortcuts or stick to the main trunk of the Trail, and the end of their journey didn't really come until they settled a claim somewhere in the vast Oregon Country."

What's this "Oregon Country" you keep mentioning?
"The State of Oregon was established in 1859 with its present boundaries. In 1848, the Oregon Territory was declared, making the region -- the states of Oregon, Washington, and Idaho, along with part of western Montana -- part of the United States. Before 1848, it was called the Oregon Country because it was not claimed by the USA. The Oregon Country was even bigger than the Oregon Territory, since it stretched north all the way to Alaska. It was also claimed by the British Empire, but so many American settlers arrived in the 1840s that the British only held on to control over the northern part of the Oregon Country. That part of the old Oregon Country is now western Canada."

Why did people want to go there?
"Lots of reasons. There were some families that just had the habit of moving west every five or ten years to follow the frontier. They liked the extra freedom of life on the frontier, but civilization kept catching up to them. It seemed to them like emigrating to Oregon would be the last move they would ever have to make. Others were in search of opportunity -- there were hard times back East, but in the 1840s married settlers could claim a square mile of the Oregon Country, 640 acres, at no cost. Oregon had a reputation not only for having good farmland and vast forests of huge, ancient trees, but also for being free of disease. This made the Oregon Country even more attractive, since epidemics were common in the East and little was known about the causes of disease and infection. The idea of allowing such valuable land to fall into the hands of the British inspired patriotic Americans to head for Oregon, and gold strikes in southern and eastern Oregon during the 1850s inspired other sorts of Americans."

Didn't that make the Indians angry?
"Some of them, yes -- very angry. The Pacific Northwest had its share of theft, violence, and massacres as Europeans and Americans arrived and took control of the land from the Indians. However, most of the Indians in the Oregon Country welcomed the white settlers. Their experience with British and American traders led them to see the settlers as a new source of wealth, as tribes which traded with whites became rich and powerful compared with their neighbors. When American settlers began arriving, Indians often guided them through the mountains or let them stake a claim on tribal lands in exchange for gunpowder, food, clothes, or horses. Unfortunately, the traders and settlers also brought new diseases to the Indians, diseases like smallpox and measles which killed whole tribes. A single sick sailor on a trading ship killed almost the entire 800-member Multnomah tribe, and by the mid-1840s the Willamette Valley had been largely cleared of Indians not by fighting, but by plagues."

Why didn't the Indians try to ride the settlers out?
"A lot of the credit for keeping the peace goes to Dr. John McLoughlin of the Hudson's Bay Company, whose word was law for twenty years until Americans began arriving in great numbers. McLoughlin was a wise man and often generous to those in need, even penniless American settlers. Lewis and Clark -- not to mention Sacajawea -- also deserve credit for their skill and good luck in dealing with the Indians. The good relations begun in 1805 between whites and the Nez Perce tribe when the Lewis and Clark expedition passed through their lands lasted for 70 years. The Nez Perce did well during a time when their neighbors were decimated by disease, alcoholism, and skirmishes with the settlers, and by the 1870s they were the last major tribe left intact in the region. Sadly, that ended when the government decided that the Nez Perce would be better off on a reservation after gold was discovered on their land."

So Lewis and Clark paved the way for the settlers?
Hmm... yes and no. Remember that Lewis and Clark made their trip about 35 years before the Oregon Trail came into use, and they took a completely different route through the Rocky Mountains -- South Pass, where the Oregon Trail crossed the Continental Divide, was named "South Pass" because it's south of the pass used by Lewis and Clark. Really, Lewis and Clark paved the way for the fur trappers who explored the West, the trappers paved the way for missionaries who tried to convert the Indians to Christianity, and the missionaries paved the way for the settlers who broke the British claim to the Pacific Northwest.

What were the British doing there, anyway?
"Mostly, they were trapping beavers. Fur was worth big money to the British because of a fad among the wealthy for beaver top hats, and through the Hudson's Bay Company and the North West Company, the British fielded a small army of French Canadian and half-Indian trappers. There were so many skilled trappers that they could quickly "trap out" entire valleys, forcing them to push farther and farther afield to find the furs they needed to make a living. After conflicts over territory turned violent in the 1810s, the British government restored the peace in 1821 by allowing the Hudson's Bay Company to take over the North West Company. The NWC had arrived in the Oregon Country as far back as 1807, so the Hudson's Bay Company inherited its forts there in 1821. By the 1840s, when the Oregon Trail came into use, the beaver were mostly trapped out and the HBC was shifting its goals to settling the prairies in the Willamette Valley and around Puget Sound. Most of the British settlers were former trappers who had married Indian women and decided to settle down in Oregon, and they were soon outnumbered by Americans. For a short time, the British Empire thought about going to war against the United States over the question of who ruled the Oregon Country. They even sent spies into Oregon to scout the land for the army and find out if the settlers would raise a militia. The spies reported that the terrain would make for hard marching and the American settlers were not only patriotic enough to resist a British invasion, but they had enough guns to put up a real fight, as well. That was the end of any talk about another war."

So the British were trappers and the Americans were farmers?
Yeah, that's about the size of it. The British saw the Oregon Country as just another territory in their empire, a land to be exploited for whatever resources were worth the most money. In India, it was tea; in Oregon, it happened to be fur. The Americans, on the other hand, were in it for the long haul: Oregon wasn't a colony to them, it was going to become part of the United States (there were some people who wanted to make Oregon an independent country, but most of the settlers considered themselves Americans and were proud of it -- even some of the Brits who had to apply for citizenship after Oregon was declared a federal Territory in 1848 became flag-waving, fireworks-shooting Americans). Of course, California beat them to it, but only because of the Gold Rush.

Now that you mention it, isn't there a California Trail, too?
"There are lots of trails out here in the West. Offhand, there's the Lewis and Clark Trail, the Oregon Trail, the California Trail, the Mormon Trail, the Santa Fe Trail, the Bozeman Trail, the Southern Route (or Applegate Trail), the Free Emigrant Road, the Cherokee Trail, the Pony Express Trail(s), the Nez Perce Trail, and too many shortcuts and military roads to even try to list here. Still, the California Trail is one of the big ones: it followed the Oregon Trail across the Great Plains and over the Continental Divide, and then cut off from the Oregon Trail near Fort Hall to follow two or three major routes to the gold fields. Tens of thousands of prospectors, miners, and carpetbaggers followed the California Trail west after gold was found at Sutter's Mill in 1848. However, this Web site belongs to the Oregon Trail Foundation..."

It followed the Oregon Trail... so the Oregon Trail came first?
"Actually, as an emigrant road, the Oregon Trail is exactly as old as the California Trail. A party of about a hundred families was headed for California in 1841, but they split at Fort Hall when half of them decided to settle in Oregon, instead. Before gold was discovered in California, most settlers were Oregon bound, so the entire length of the trail is generally called the Oregon Trail, not just the leg that led to Oregon. On the other hand, the route across the plains, which followed the Platte River for most of its length, was used by thousands of Mormons headed for Utah as well as overlanders headed for Oregon and California, so it's sometimes called "the Great Platte River Road" to avoid any confusion about who was following it."

How long did it take to get to Oregon?
"At least four months. Emigrants who finished the trip in five months were thought to have made good time. Stragglers who needed six or seven months to reach Oregon risked running into winter weather in the mountains -- and after the 1846 ordeal of the Donner-Reed Party, the thought of being that slow was enough to frighten anyone into action."

What was the trip like?
"Exhausting, boring, dangerous, frightening, and exciting -- probably in about that order. It was exhausting because the emigrants had to walk almost the entire way, though a few of them rode horses. They didn't ride in their wagons because they wanted to spare the oxen pulling the wagons, but sometimes the women and children would pile into the wagons when the weather was foul. Even without the extra weight of people in the wagons, the trip was so long that even the sturdiest ox could die from exhaustion or go mad from thirst. Boredom came from the daily routine of breaking camp, walking, making camp again in the evening, and eating the same thing day after day, all in the midst of a cloud of dust and grit thrown up by the wagons and animals. Every once in a while, the boredom was broken by a dangerous river crossing or a steep hill. Historians estimate that one in every ten people on the Oregon Trail died on the way to Oregon. Most of them were killed accidentally: guns went off because someone wasn't paying attention to what they were doing, children fell and were crushed by wagon wheels, people were hurt trying to round up frightened or injured livestock, and so on. At least one person is known to have been struck by lightning. Disease was the single biggest killer on the Trail, especially during a cholera epidemic around 1850. The nightmare most feared by the overlanders -- being attacked by Indians -- was usually the last thing they had to worry about. Still, it wasn't all bad: there were marriages, births, and holidays (especially the Fourth of July) to celebrate along the way, and it was always a big day when a major landmark like Chimney Rock came into view for the first time."

How many people came west on the Oregon Trail?
"At least 80,000 emigrants followed the Oregon Trail to settle in the present-day states of Oregon, Washington, and Idaho. That estimate has been creeping upwards over the years, and as many as 200,000 people may have traveled the Trail by wagon.

When was the Oregon Trail in use?
"The Trail was in regular use from 1843 until the 1870s. When the Union Pacific completed the first railroad link to the West Coast in 1869, the preferred route became by train to San Francisco, then north to Oregon by ship, but wagon trains could still be seen on the Oregon Trail as late as the 1880s. The last wagon widely known to have traveled the length of the Trail was driven in 1906 by Ezra Meeker, an aging Oregon Trail emigrant who was conducting a one-man publicity campaign to remind people of the historic significance of the Oregon Trail. However, we've had visitors at the End of the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center who recalled that because their family couldn't afford the train fare, they traveled the Trail by wagon as late as 1912."

Author: End of the Oregon Trail Interpretative Center Website
Source: End of the Oregon Trail Interpretative Center Website
Educational Material/Non Commercial

Yes Wyoming Map

Indian Reservations and Federal Lands in Wyoming

11:15AM Fort Casper Museum, WY
4001 Fort Caspar Road
Casper, Wyoming 82604
Phone: 307-235-8462
E-Mail: ryoung@cityofcasperwy.com 

Core Curriculum K-4 Standards
Core Curriculum K-5-12 Standards
Core Curriculum Historical Thinking K-5-12
Utah Core Curriculum K3-6 (New Core Curriculum)
Utah Core Curriculum K 7-12

History of Fort Casper and the Area, Wyoming:

Trails West
Native Americans, mountain men, traders, emigrants, and the U.S. Army all visited or lived in the Casper area – the Upper Platte Crossing – during the mid-1800s. The North Platte River valley was the pathway for the Oregon/California/Mormon Pioneer/Pony Express trail corridor and transcontinental telegraph line.

Wyoming was home to the Shoshone, Crow, Lakota, Cheyenne, Arapaho, and Utes in the 1840s when wagon after wagon of west-bound emigrants followed the North Platte to this area, crossed the river, and continued west along the Sweetwater River to South Pass.

Mormon Ferry

In 1847, Brigham Young led the Mormons from Winter Quarters in present-day Nebraska to their new home in the Great Salt Lake Valley. The Pioneer Party arrived at present-day Fort Caspar Museum on June 12. Faced with a flooding North Platte, Young commissioned the construction of a ferry boat to ensure a safe river crossing. The completed ferry consisted of cottonwood dugout canoes, planking for a deck, two oars, and a rudder.

Other trains of emigrants contracted with the ferrymen to carry them across. On June 19, Brigham Young named nine men to remain and operate the ferry while the rest of the party continued the journey west. Through the 1852 season, Mormon men returned to the Casper area to operate the ferry business. Eventually utilizing a rope and pulley system, the Mormon ferry could float a loaded wagon across the river in just 5 minutes. Because of the heavy emigrant traffic, other ferry businesses operated in the Casper area as well.

Reshaw Bridge

John Baptiste Richard (Reshaw) arrived at present-day Evansville in 1852 and built the first permanent structures in the area. His wooden toll bridge and trading post served trains of emigrants and other travelers. The bridge’s popularity put the ferry operations out of business.

In the late 1840s and early 1850s, Native American and emigrant conflicts were few along the trails. By 1855, hostilities increased and U.S. troops established a fort at Richard’s bridge. Lieutenant Deschler and members of the 6th Infantry, 10th Infantry, and 4th Artillery staffed Fort Clay in November 1855. Named Camp Davis in March of 1856, the outpost of Fort Laramie was abandoned in November 1856.

Soldiers were also stationed there in 1858-59 because the army needed to maintain a route to supply troops involved in the Mormon War. Captain Joseph Roberts of the 4th Artillery established Post at Platte Bridge nearby in July 1858. This camp, informally known as Camp Payne, was abandoned in May 1859.

Guinard Bridge

The first permanent occupation at the Museum was in 1859 when Louis Guinard built a bridge and trading post. Guinard’s post also became an Overland Stage Company stage stop from 1859-1862 and a Pony Express relay station in 1860-1861. The completion of the transcontinental telegraph line in October 1861 added a Pacific Telegraph Company office to the site.

Platte Bridge Station/Fort Casper

Companies A, B, C, and D of the First Battalion of the 6th Ohio Volunteer Cavalry (O.V.C.) reached Fort Laramie on May 30, 1862. Regimental commander Lieutenant Colonel William O. Collins received orders on June 3 to proceed with three companies west along the trail to South Pass. His purpose was to protect the employees and property of the Overland Mail Company and the Pacific Telegraph.

During the first week of June 1862, the troops from Company D, 6th O.V.C. began establishing an outpost near Guinard’s bridge. Soldiers spent much of the summer repairing the telegraph line damaged by raiding Shoshone, Lakota, Cheyenne, and Arapaho. The raiding was so successful that on July 11, 1862, the Postmaster General of the United States ordered all mail carriers to abandon this portion of the route in favor of the Overland Trail through southern Wyoming.

By the end of 1862, Platte Bridge Station had taken shape. On October 27, Captain Peter Van Winkle reported that he had 28 men, completed quarters and stabling, and rations to last until April. On November 1, Van Winkle reported three officers and 60 men for duty, two on detached service, one sick, three absent sick, and four awaiting discharge. He had 62 serviceable horses.

In July 1863, Collins organized a Second Battalion of Ohio Volunteer Cavalry consisting of Companies E, F, G, and H. The State of Ohio consolidated it with the first battalion to form the 11th Ohio Volunteer Cavalry. Because his regiment was 50 men short when he recruited the new companies in 1863, Collins gave Confederate prisoners of war a chance to join. Men enlisted in this manner were known as "Galvanized Yankees." By October 10, the troops arrived at their new posts.

Companies A, B, C, and D of the 11th O.V.C. were scheduled to muster out at Omaha, Nebraska, in April 1865. To fill the gap, the 11th Kansas Volunteer Cavalry was sent out. The Kansas troops arrived in the area April 19 and established regimental headquarters about six miles from Platte Bridge Station at a temporary tent camp called Camp Dodge. Additional reinforcements in the region included members of both the 3rd and 6th U.S. Volunteer Infantry Regiments, made up of “Galvanized Yankees.”

In response to the 1864 Sand Creek Massacre of Black Kettle’s Cheyenne by Colonel Chivington’s militia in Colorado Territory, Plains tribes increased raids along the trails the following spring. In July 1865, Lakota, Cheyenne, and Arapaho gathered to attack Platte Bridge Station. On July 26, Lieutenant Caspar Collins led a small detachment from Platte Bridge Station to escort an army supply train traveling from Sweetwater Station. Less than a mile from the bridge, Collins’ men were ambushed and had to fight their way back to the fort. Five soldiers including Collins were killed in the Battle of Platte Bridge. Sergeant Amos Custard and 24 men with the supply wagons were attacked later that day five miles west of the fort. Only three soldiers survived the Battle of Red Buttes.

On October 26, new troops from Company A, C, F, and G of the 6th West Virginia Volunteer Cavalry arrived at Platte Bridge Station. The October post return for 1865 reported the following troops on duty: nine officers and 82 men of the 6th West Virginia, two officers and 149 men of the 11th Ohio, and three officers and 11 men of the 6th Infantry.

More troops necessitated a new fort, which the army began building in the fall of 1865. Over the next two years, the army built more than 20 new buildings to house 400-500 soldiers. By Special Order 49 dated November 21, 1865, Major General John Pope changed the name of Platte Bridge Station to Fort Casper, misspelling the fallen lieutenant’s name. Pope chose the lieutenant's first name because there already was a Fort Collins in Colorado named for his father.

On June 28, 1866, Captain Richard Morris of the 18th U.S. Infantry took command of Fort Casper. The first post return indicated that one officer and 50 men of Company A and one officer and 65 men of Company C were in residence. On October 3, new troops from Company E, 2nd U.S. Cavalry arrived to reinforce the garrison.

A factor in the decline of Fort Casper was the construction of the Union Pacific Railroad and with it a new transcontinental telegraph line. It reached Cheyenne in the fall of 1867 and would soon spell the end of organized migration along the Oregon/California/Mormon Pioneer Trail corridor. As a result, the army began to establish new military installations to protect the railroad route across southern Wyoming. Hostilities had also increased along the Bozeman Trail, and a new post was being constructed near present-day Douglas, Wyoming. When orders were issued to abandon Fort Casper on October 19, 1867, troops and “all useful materials,” including buildings, were transferred to Fort Fetterman.

Homesteaders and ranchers arrived in the Casper area by the late 1870s, and the grounds of Fort Casper became part of the CY Ranch. In 1936, Casper citizens and the Works Progress Administration reconstructed Platte Bridge Station using sketches made by Caspar Collins and others in the 1860s. Reconstructions of the Mormon ferry and a section of the Guinard bridge are also part of the site.

Author: Fort Casper Museum Website
Source: Fort Casper Museum Website
Educational Material/Non Commercial


Yes Wyoming Map

Indian Reservations and Federal Lands in Wyoming

2:30AM Mormon Handcart Historic Sites, WY
47600 W. U.S. Hwy. 220
Alcova, WY 82620-8803
Phone: 307-328-2953

E-mail: llongson@martinscove.org

- Historical Pioneer Journals

- Pioneer Collection of Pictures and Resources

Core Curriculum K-4 Standards
Core Curriculum K-5-12 Standards
Core Curriculum Historical Thinking K-5-12
Utah Core Curriculum K3-6 (New Core Curriculum)
Utah Core Curriculum K 7-12

History of the Mormon Handcart:
"The large backlog of needy LDS converts awaiting passage from Europe and reduced tithing receipts at home persuaded Brigham Young in 1855 to instruct that the "poor saints" sailing from Liverpool to New York and taking the train to Iowa City should thence "walk and draw their luggage" overland to Utah. In 1856 five such mormon pioneer handcart companies were organized to make the 1,300-mile trip on foot from the western railroad terminus at Iowa City to Salt Lake City (see Immigration and Emigration; Mormon Trail).

Success seemed assured when the first two companies, totaling 486 immigrants pulling 96 handcarts, arrived safely in Salt Lake City on September 26, 1856. They accomplished the trek in under sixteen weeks. The third company, and presumably the last of the season, made up of 320 persons pulling 64 handcarts, arrived on October 2. But at that point the two remaining companies, totaling 980 people and 233 handcarts, were still on the way, having started dangerously late. One of these companies, under James G. Willie, left Iowa City on July 15, crossed Iowa to Florence (Omaha), Nebraska, then, after a week in Florence, headed out onto the plains. The last company, under Edward Martin, departed Florence on August 25. Three independent wagon companies, carrying 390 more immigrants, also started late.

A week after the departure of the Martin Company, Franklin D. Richards, an apostle who had organized the handcart effort as president of the European Mission, also departed Florence with sixteen other returning missionaries. This party, on horseback and in fast carriages, passed the Martin Company on September 7, the Willie Company on September 12, and arrived in Salt Lake City on October 4.

Richards's report that many more immigrants were coming was a shock: the late-starting immigrants would not be adequately clothed for the cold weather they would surely experience; they, like those in all previous lightly supplied handcart companies, would be perilously short of food; and, as they were unexpected, the last resupply wagons, which were routinely dispatched into the mountains to meet immigrant companies, had already returned.

Anticipating the worst, President Young mobilized men and women gathered for general conference and immediately ordered a massive rescue effort. A party of twenty-seven men, led by George D. Grant, left on October 7 with the first sixteen of what ultimately amounted to 200 wagons and teams. Several of the rescue party, including Grant, had been among the missionaries who had ridden in from the East five days before.

Two weeks later, one of the earliest blizzards on record struck just as both the handcart companies and the independent wagon companies were entering the Rocky Mountains in central Wyoming. After several days of being lashed by the fierce blizzard, people in the exposed handcart companies began to die.

Grant's rescue party found the Willie Company on October 21—in a blinding snowstorm one day after they had run out of food. But the worst still lay ahead, when, after a day of rest and replenishment, the company had to struggle over the long and steep eastern approach to South Pass in the teeth of a northerly gale. Beyond the pass, the company, now amply fed and free to climb aboard empty supply wagons as they became available, moved quickly, arriving in Salt Lake City on November 9. Of the 404 still with the company, 68 died and many others suffered from severe frostbite and near starvation.

Those of the Martin Company, three-fourths of them women, children, and the elderly, suffered even more. When the storm hit on October 19, they made camp and spent nine days on reduced rations waiting out the storm. Grant's party, after leaving men and supplies with the Willie Company, plunged farther east through the snow with eight wagons in search of the Martin Company. A scouting party sent out ahead of the wagons found them 150 miles east of South Pass.

The company, already in a desperate condition, was ordered to break camp immediately. The supply wagons met them on the trail, but the provisions were not nearly enough and, after struggling 55 miles farther, the company once again went into camp near Devil's Gate to await the arrival of supplies.

In the meantime, the rescue effort began to disintegrate. Rescue teams held up several days by the raging storm turned back, fearing to go on and rationalizing that the immigrant trains and Grant's advance party had either decided to winter over or had perished in the storm.

The Martin Company remained in camp for five days. When no supplies came, the company, now deplorably weakened, was again forced out on the trail. It had suffered fifty-six dead before being found, and it was now losing people at an appalling rate.

Relief came barely in time. A messenger ordered back west by Grant reached and turned around some of the teams that had abandoned the rescue. At least thirty wagons reached the Martin Company just as it was about to attempt the same climb to South Pass that had so sorely tested the Willie Company. Starved, frozen, spent, their spirits crushed, and many unable to walk, the people had reached the breaking point.

But now warmed and fed, with those unable to walk riding in the wagons, the company moved rapidly on. The Martin Company, in a train of 104 wagons, finally arrived in Salt Lake City on November 30. Out of 576, at least 145 had died and, like the Willie Company, many were severely afflicted by frostbite and starvation.

Elements of the three independent wagon companies and the rescue effort straggled into Salt Lake City until mid-December—except for twenty men, under Daniel W. Jones, who remained for the winter at Devil's Gate to guard freight unloaded there by the independent wagon companies, in part to make room for exhausted members of the Martin Company. The Jones party suffered misery and starvation at Devil's Gate. At one point they were reduced to eating rawhide until friendly Indians gave them some buffalo meat.

The decision to send out the Willie and Martin companies so late in the season was extremely reckless. In mid-November President Brigham Young angrily reproved those who had authorized the late start or who had not ordered the several parties back to Florence when they still had the opportunity, charging "ignorance," "mismanagement," and "misconduct." Though terrible, the suffering could have been far worse. Had the rescue effort not been launched immediately—well before the storm struck—the handcart companies would probably have been totally destroyed.

Six more handcart companies crossed the plains after 1856. To demonstrate that the idea was still viable, seventy missionaries made the trip in the opposite direction in the spring of 1857. Five companies, totaling 1,076 immigrants with 223 handcarts, crossed west with little difficulty: two in 1857, one in 1859, and two in 1860. In all, 2,962 immigrants walked to Utah with handcarts. About 250 died along the way—all but about 30 of those in the Willie and Martin companies.

For Latter-day Saints, the handcart story, particularly the account of the Willie and Martin companies, has darkened the collective memory of the "westering" saga. But that episode is also remembered for the unparalleled gallantry exhibited by so many, immigrants and rescuers alike. Of particular note is the superb performance of the women; their courage and mettle contributed enormously to the eventual survival of both companies. It was at once the most ill-advised and tragic, the most heroic, and arguably the proudest single event in the Mormon pioneer experience."

Author: Mormon Pioneer Handcart Website
Source: Mormon Pioneer Handcart Website
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Indian Reservations and Federal Lands in Wyoming

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  Support Readings:

U.S. History, The West Timeline
Utah History and Ute History Timeline

Wyoming History Timeline
Plains Indians History Timeline
South Dakota History Timeline
Nebraska History Timeline
Core Curriculum
Suggested Primary Source:
Indian Affairs Laws and Treaties


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