Mormon Handcart Visitor Center and Museum: Second Most Visited Wyoming Tourist Site

We drove past 287, the road that takes you to the Devil's Gate and Martin's Cove, two historic sites of my ancestors. If we had realized our mistake five minutes after the fact, it would have been one thing - but it wasn't until fifty miles down the road that my dad and I agreed that, "Hey, we must have missed that turn."

Wyoming in general is not very forgiving; the combination of scarcity of roads, vast open land, and high altitude make for long, windy, lonesome journeys. We literally missed one turn, and that cost us nearly three hours: accidentally going too far, turning around, only to retrace our steps when we were done being tourists.

It was worth every second.

I am a direct descendant of Mary Hurren, Mormon pioneer. She was 7 when she trekked out west with the ill-fated Willie Handcart Company.

The full-time senior couple missionaries had a book full of memoirs of various pioneers. Somewhat dubious of anything actually turning up, I flipped to the "H" section of the book, which, if I am not mistaken, was a version of "Tell My Story, Too" (A collection of biographical sketches of pioneers and rescuers of the Willie, Martin, Hodgett, and Hunt Companies 1856) by Jolene S. Allphin of Layton, UT.

There was an entire page about Mary Hurren. The sister missionary photocopied it for me. Here is an excerpt:

"One day, Mary and her friends, Agnes Caldwell, came to a section inhabited by rattlesnakes. They would hold hands and jump over the snakes, thinking it great fun. Agnes later wrote: "It seemed to me we were jumping for more than a mile. Due to the protecting hand of the Lord, we were not harmed."

"...When they had to climb Rocky Ridge, there were eighteen inches of snow on the ground. It was very cold and the wind was blowing hard. Mary and her best friend, Bodil Mortensen, climbed together. After arriving at camp, little Bodil died and was burried in a common grave with 12 other people who had died that day. Mary's father lifted her up so she could see the body of her friend lying among the dead.

"The weather grew colder each day, and Mary's feet eventually froze. When the family finally arrived in the Valley, their first concern was little Mary's frozen feet. They took her to a doctor and he said her legs would have to be amputated or she would die. Her father protested, "This little girl didn't walk a thousand miles to have her legs cut off. If she dies, she will die with her legs on."

"The family moved to Brigham City to make their home and an elderly lady, Mrs. Snider, told them to get some fresh steak and wrap her feet in it and call after three days. Fresh meat was not available where they lived, so Mary's father walked 20 miles to Ogden, gota steak, and walked back. When the beefsteak was removed after three days, Mrs. Snider applied homemade ointment on Mary's legs and feet. Within a few days the rotten flesh dropped off. Mary was able to walk again in two years. Her feet hurt her all her life."

The rest of the story goes that Mary's last words were the proclamation,"My feet don't hurt me anymore!" That may be family lore, but the part about my ancestors being pioneers isn't.

It's a big deal. Do you realize how far these pioneers had to walk? What they suffered? That over 70,000 Mormon pioneers left the country to seek a place where they could worship freely? I had an incredible feeling at Devil's Gate, and later, as we crossed Sweet River.

By far, the most powerful feeling was surveying the valley from the top of Independence Rock. It's an enormous rock in the middle of a valley surrounded by mountains and plains. Thousands of emigrants passed through, including California-bound gold-diggers, Oregon Trail people, and Mormon Pioneers.

They carved their names into the face of this rock. It's hard to climb to the top, but the feeling of seeing the thousands of names beneath my feet, and starting to comprehend the vastness of the journey was worth a three hour detour.

I took away from the experience that at some point, before it gets too cold, my friends and I should come camping here.


  1. I too am a direct ancestor of Mary, (g-g granddaughter) thanks for the post, I had heard the story about the beef, good to read it again. Amazing people they were.
    Caryn Barrett Clayton, living in Hawaii

  2. Hello cousins, it's great to find people from my own line. I too am a direct descendant. My father is
    Jack Hurren and my grand father is David Hurren. I grew up on a farm in Nampa Idaho near my grandparents who came from Hyde Park, Utah. I am so proud of my pioneer heritage and great, great grandma Mary!


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