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Laramie Soup Kitchen and Mormon Handcart People

July 14, 2013

Wyoming – Friday, July 5

Tula and I started our day with a nearly 2 mile walk in the park where the festival was yesterday. It’s a big park, and it was totally different from yesterday! It was quiet, with just a few people out walking. Then I went shopping for the Laramie Soup Kitchen. I had called to make sure their wish list was up-to-date, and the lady told me it was, so I ended up getting coffee and tea, Kool-Aid and lemonade mix, flour, sugar and vegetable oil, butter and cheese slices, spaghetti sauce and salad dressing. I had a little trouble finding the soup kitchen, but found that it was in the basement of a local church, and the soup kitchen has its own entrance with a bright red door. This soup kitchen has been feeding people for 30 years, and it continues to grow. They provide lunch Monday through Friday, and a couple volunteers were finishing the clean-up from today’s lunch. She told me they usually feed between 60-80 people a day, and it can be a challenge knowing how much food to fix!

I eventually wanted to end up in Casper tonight, and I had to decide between taking a shorter route on smaller roads, or a scenic route which was partly on the highway. Because the weather was a little questionable, I figured I’d stick to the scenic highway route, and drive the extra miles. So I headed west into some wide open, kind of desolate land. There weren’t really any towns around – just wide open space. And out in the middle of nowhere was a big oil processing plant which looked really out of place. I took a short break at the Wagonhound Rest Stop, and I think everyone else on the road stopped there too! The winds were blowing like crazy over all the open space, but an informational sign said that was typical. There were a couple picnic tables, but they each had their own shelters around them due to the non-stop winds. I also saw a lot of big, heavy-duty snow fences – I’m guessing they help keep some of the blowing snow off the highway. There were also some really old tepee rings made of stone – it sounded like earlier Indians used stones to anchor down the tepee sides, and it’s one of the more common archeological finds because they’re found in a lot of different places.

After a while I got to the town of Rawlins, and it was time for some more walking. Nothing really stood out in this town – it was just one of those places to get out and do some walking because it was the only place to do so! There were a couple of big old mansions which were now Bed and Breskfast Inns, and Rawlins was also the home of the Wyoming State Penitentiary – right near one of the big mansions! After a couple miles, I put Tula back in the car, and I wanted to walk a bit more, and then Toni called, so I covered more ground than I expected while talking with her, even if I walked on some of the same streets more than once. At this point I was up to 6.7 miles for the day, and since I still had quite a distance to cover before getting to Casper, I figured I would use the miles I walked when I first crossed into Wyoming to get me up to 8 for the day.

So I started heading north to Casper, through more really isolated land. I had about 100 miles to go, and it’s kind of strange to drive that far without seeing much of anything, and there was hardly any traffic. It was beginning to get dark by the time I’d driven about 3/4 of the way, and all of a sudden I saw some buildings and cabins, and a sign that said something about Mormon Handcart people. Since the gate was open, I pulled in to see what I could see. The visitor center was closed of course, but I was very curious about the place – I had never heard of Mormon Handcart people. As I was looking at some pioneer gravestones that were fenced off, a couple with name tags pulled up in a van, and I explained I was just stopping by, and hoped that it wasn’t too late or anything, but I’d been following the Oregon Trail here and there, and I didn’t know anything about handcart people. It turned out they ran the place, and they offered to open up the museum for me! It was 8:30 at night, and I said they didn’t need to do that. But they said that’s what they were there for, and it was fascinating! It turned out most of the Mormon Handcart people were very poor people from Europe, who couldn’t afford to outfit themselves with a wagon and oxen. They had learned from missionaries in Europe that many Mormon people were heading to Zion (Salt Lake City) and they had been encouraged to make the trek as a chance to start over with a better life. Once they made it to Zion, there would be people there to help them and look after them while they got on their feet and found jobs and all. So they came in groups of roughly 500 and had passage in ships across the Atlantic and then a train to St. Joseph MO (I think that was their starting city). From there each family received a wooden cart that they had to pull themselves, and the groups usually set off by April or May, so they would be settled in Utah before the snow. The men pulled the carts with food and supplies, and the women carried 17# packs (they had to cut their personal belongings down to only 17#) and the children also walked. But the end of the Crimean War affected the travels of 2 groups, and because England’s ships had been tied up with the war, the 2 groups got a very late start, and against better advice, they started their trek in August, but were getting within a few hundred miles of Salt Lake City when there was an unusual warm spike in the weather, so they tossed out heavy blankets and things to lighten their loads to quickly finish the trip, and a few days later got caught in a blizzard, surrounded by snow and wind. They couldn’t go any further. Brigham Young eventually heard of their plight, and assembled rescue parties, but they were farther away than anyone realized – a few hundred miles on horseback is no easy journey. A lot of people died,but a surprising number of them survived – given the conditions, one would have thought the ratio of survivors vs those who died would have been reversed. When they got supplies, they moved to this very spot in Wyoming where I was (Martin’s Cove) because there was a great bluff to shelter them from the never-ending wind until they could finish their journey. And most of these 2 groups eventually did make it to Zion. In all, there were thousands of handcart people who followed the Mormon trail west, and I’d never heard of them before, so it was a fascinating piece of Oregon Trail history to add in. The lady who took me through the museum did a wonderful job of explaining all the exhibits to me, and I never would have expected a personal tour of such an interesting place when I pulled in! The Mormon church bought all the surrounding land from a hunter/trapper (and a room of the museum is dedicated to him) to preserve the memories of the handcart people, and also to serve as a site where thousands of young Mormon “trekkies” come to spend a few days in the shelter of the bluff and to reflect on their ancestors and church. They can only bring 17# worth of personal belongings, and the lady said they were expecting 3400 trekkies next week, and often see 22,000 in a summer – staggering numbers! I’m pretty sure non-Mormon people can take a trek too. I offered to make a donation to the museum, but they cannot accept donations, so she gave me a Mormon book and sent me on my way. I had a lot of new history to think about as I finished my drive to Casper in the dark!

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