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The Handcart Trail: Part 8 - Handcarts Discarded for Wagons

The Handcart Trail 1
Larry E. Heck | Writer
Posted August 17, 2013

The Oregon Trail

The information panel for the Parting of the Ways reads: "The trail to the right is the Sublette or Greenwood Cutoff and to the left is the main route of the Oregon, Mormon, and California Trails." In the summer months, this was a place where tears were shed and hugs were exchanged. It was a place where people who had traveled 1,000 miles together in a wagon train said goodbye and would never see each other again. It truly was a parting of the ways.

During the past few months, this series has been following the path taken by Butch Cassidy’s mother when she was only 9 years old. On November 22, 1856, the wagon train she was a part of passed this point along with nearly 1,000 other Mormon pioneers, but it wasn’t summer. The only ones parting ways were those who were buried in the frozen ground beside the trail.

At this point, we must insert a correction. In the past issues, we said Ann Gillies was traveling with her mother, father, one older brother, and two younger brothers. We acquired that information from immigration records found online. A review of the book written by Butch Cassidy’s sister, titled My Brother Butch Cassidy, revealed a mistake in the immigration records. They list the youngest child as a boy named Christian. In reality, the youngest sibling was a girl named Christiana. Another correction is that Ann Gillies was actually named Annie. That book was narrated to the author by Lulu Parker Bentenson. She was a baby when Butch Cassidy left home and Christiana was her aunt. The stories she tells about Butch Cassidy (Robert LeRoy Parker) in her book were passed down from generation to generation, but she was the first to put them into writing. It is a book we highly recommend.

We left the Parting of the Ways and followed the trail to the crossing of the Little Sandy River. The wagon Annie rode in (or walked beside) passed that point on November 23, 1856. For them, it was just another milepost, but that location had become a point of historical significance nine years earlier.

On a Monday evening, June 26, 1847, Brigham Young was on his way to see the Salt Lake Valley for the first time. His caravan camped on the banks of the Little Sandy and received a visitor named James Bridger. Bridger had established a trading post in 1842 on the Green River and the caravan was headed in that direction.

Young told Bridger his intention of settling a large population in the Salt Lake Valley. Bridger told him it was not possible to raise anything in that valley and that he would give them $1,000 for the first bushel of corn that was harvested. That was only the beginning of a rocky relationship between Young and Bridger. In 1853, Young sent his militia to arrest Bridger for selling alcohol and firearms to the Indians. Bridger got away but sold Fort Bridger to the Mormons two years later in 1855.

The pioneers of 1856 had no interest in history when they crossed the Little Sandy. Their only thoughts involved reaching the valley alive. Covered wagons provided very little cover and those still pulling handcarts were exposed to all the elements thrown at them by a Wyoming winter.

We stopped for gas and snacks in the little town of Farson. The town is located on the banks of the Big Sandy River, a short distance from where the pioneers camped on November 24. Although we enjoyed a warm September night on the banks of the Big Sandy, Annie Gillies had spent a freezing cold November night under a blanket of new snow.

On November 27, the three companies made up of the Hodgett Wagon Train, the Hunt Wagon Train, and the Martin Handcart Company arrived at the crossing for the Green River. They paused a couple days before crossing on November 29. There is no mention in the diaries of using a ferry, but the Lombard Ferry was the most common means to cross the river during those years. It was expensive and the pioneers were there at a time when the river would be at its lowest point. They could have forded the river. Perhaps some forded and some used the ferry.

We stopped at the roadside park. It has several panels with historical information listed and also a replica of the Lombard Ferry. The ferry was built in 1997 for the 150th anniversary celebration of the Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail. It was used to transport several wagons across the river as part of the activities.

Sickness still plagued the pioneers. Members were dying, with the cause listed as diarrhea. Most of the handcarts had been abandoned. No doubt the Gillies' wagon was packed full of people who could no longer keep up on foot.

The pioneers reached Fort Bridger on December 4. They were greeted by wagons full of supplies from the valley and spent about a week resting up for the final leg of their journey to the Salt Lake Valley.

Following the original route used by the wagons is very scenic and relaxing. Although some parts are paved, most of the miles consist of two-track dirt that is kept active by ranchers and hunters who travel it every year.

Join us next month as we finish our story about the journey traveled by Butch Cassidy's mother. The last leg of her journey took her to Salt Lake City, where her parents settled in for the remainder of the winter.

We are using numerous sources for this series, but our primary source for this issue was and the book titled My Brother Butch Cassidy. For more information about this series, visit or email

Navigation: GPS Positions
There are so many turns in this trail that we have decided to use only the major waypoints. If you have DeLorme Topo USA, you can find the trail on their map and use your GPS to follow it. Otherwise, you can use these waypoints like a treasure hunt and find your own path to each one. There are a lot of trail markers that will help you stay on the trail. If you need all the turns, email and they will be emailed to you.

Latitude North Longitude West Comments
N42 15.4625 W109 13.6137 This is the panel for the Parting of the Ways.
N42 11.8305 W109 21.5431 Turn left on the paved road at the T. The trail is now cutting across private lands. The roads are in squares and keep crossing it.
N42 7.3513 W109 27.2588 Turn left on the Lower Farson Cutoff on the north side of Farson.
N42 4.5920 W109 31.0601 Before reaching the highway, a faint two-track crosses the ditch to the right. Turn there and you will see a trail marker post that sits beside the original road.
N42 4.6384 W109 31.1034 Turn left so the marker is behind you. This is the wagon road. Continue straight across all intersections until it connects back to Highway 28.
N42 1.0872 W109 35.4421 This is the Simpson Hollow Marker where the Mormon Militia confronted soldiers on their way to the valley.
N42 0.1496 W109 36.9574 Jog left off the highway at a tall post onto a two-track. There are two forks. Make a right toward the trail marker and then follow alongside the highway to the backside of a prominent rest area with several historical information panels.
N42 59.8780 W109 37.3283 Park beside this trail marker to visit the panels.
N41 58.6505 W109 39.1554 The trail crosses a major gravel road. The other side of the crossing is on the west side of the marker post. Then take the left fork.
N41 57.4795 W109 41.2920 Take the right fork for the Mormon and Pony Express Trails. The Oregon Trail splits at this point.
N41 52.8308 W109 48.6043 Turn left into the Lombard Ferry site. Drive around the circle and back to the road with the kiosk. Turn left and reset the meter. This goes into the park and follows the original trail.
N41 49.2652 W109 49.3901 Watch for the concrete marker post on the left side of the highway. Turn onto that two-track.
N41 46.4620 W109 52.8952 Continue straight and drive under the high wires. There will be numerous intersections, but historical marker posts verify you are on the right track.
N41 35.4539 W109 58.1926 This is the South Bend Pony Express Station built in 1850. Follow Spruce SE across the bridge following a graded gravel road.
N41 30.3155 W110 8.2408 Church Rock was another milepost for pioneers.
N41 23.1113 W110 13.0104 Go under I-80 and turn right.
N41 21.1721 W110 14.3519 Turn right on the paved road. Follow the signs to Fort Bridger.

Step By Step

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  • Crossing the Dry Sandy will test your traction in sand.

  • The Little Sandy Bridge marks the location where Brigham Young first met Jim Bridger. This is the crossing for the Little Sandy River. The Hodgett Wagons crossed it on November 23, 1856.

  • These graves have been maintained to demonstrate how many dozens of pioneers were left behind. Diarrhea was a major killer among wagon trains, but many of them simply froze to death in 1856.

  • Much of the original wagon road still exists due to the simple fact that explorers, ranchers, and hunters still use them. If not for that, the forces of nature would wipe away the trail.

  • Markers such as this one have been placed across Wyoming to help travelers find their way across wide-open lands.

  • The Big Sandy River offers some scenic locations for a tailgate lunch break.

  • This replica of the Lombard Ferry was built in 1997 for the 150th anniversary celebration of the Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail. It was used to transport several wagons across the river as a part of the activities.

  • The Green River is a beautiful site, snaking its way across the arid lands of Wyoming. History has recorded that some wagons actually forded the river. No doubt, many of them never made it across.

  • The Pony Express Trail, the Oregon Trail, the California Trail, and the Mormon Trail all used the same tracks in many areas.

  • The South Bend Stage Station in Granger was built in 1850.

  • Church Rock was another milepost for travelers on their way to Fort Bridger. The pioneers used landmarks such as this to gauge their progress. Some such landmarks were assigned dates, meaning if they were not reached by a certain time of year, they were sure to be faced with winter weather ahead.