Central Wyoming Area
Independence Rock was close to the mid-way point in the westward journey. Travelers wanted to reach this point by the 4th of July, hence the name "Independence Rock", in order to ensure that they would complete their journey before the winter snows began.
This was a welcome rest spot for the weary travelers because of the available grazing for their livestock and water from the Sweetwater River.
This is a replica of a "Prairie Schooner", a wagon that was popular with many of the travelers. As seen here, the box was usually painted blue and the wheels, red. The wagon carried food, supplies, and the possessions of the travelers, no more than 3,000 pounds worth. Travelers did not usually ride in the wagons, they walked along behind them.
Below is a drawing of what the wagon encampment might have looked like, and the journal entries of a few of the travelers have been posted on a sign for historical interest. Click on them to enlarge them.
Mom and I walked the path out to Independence Rock and then rested a bit before moving on down the trail. The travelers use to carve their names in the rock, or write them on the rock in tar from the wagons. Most of the names have weathered away over time.
Devil's Gate lies a mile or so west of Independence Rock. It was a major landmark for the travelers. Carved over centuries by the waters of the Sweetwater River, it is a fissure 370 feet high, and 1,500 feet long.
The legend of Devil's Gate, according to the American Indian, says that "a powerful evil spirit in the form of a tremendous beast with enormous tusks ravaged the Sweetwater Valley, preventing the Indians from hunting and camping. A holy man told the tribes that the Great Spirit wanted them to destroy the beast. The Indians launched an attack from the mountain passes and ravines, shooting countless arrows into the evil monster. Enraged, the beast with a mighty upward thrust of its tusks, ripped a gap in the mountain and disappeared, never to be seen again." (From Robert L. Munkres, "Independence Rock and Devil's Gate" in Annals of Wyoming, April 1968.)
A few miles northwest of Devil's Gate is Martin's Cove. Here, the ill-fated group of Morman handcart travelers, led by Captain Edward Martin, took shelter from the early winter snows of October 1856. At the start of their journey the group numbered 576. By the time the group reached Salt Lake City in November, 145 members of their party had perished along the trail.
Split Rock was an important landmark to the Oregon Trail travelers. It could be seen for an entire day both ahead of, and behind, them. At one time there was a crude Pony Express station and Overland Stage stop at the base of the rocks.
Ice Slough is a marsh under which the travelers were able to find a thick mat of ice, even in the summer. This was a welcome treat for the hot and weary travelers, offering them a cool drink and a chance to preserve some of their meat.
After visiting all these places, I was pooped and ready for a nap. So, I took one while mom drove us on down the trail!