Hi Family and Friends,
Well we have just completed our second day of training at the Mormon Historical Handcart site in Wyoming, and it has been inspiring to say the least. The people here are the sweetest, most loving group of Saints anywhere. They have gone out of their way to make us feel welcome and to help us appreciate the sacred nature of this place. When you hear the stories about the pioneers who passed this spot and the trials they endured, you can't help but have love and compassion for them. One of my favorite experiences was at the end of a handcart trek to the cove and back (about 5 miles pulling a handcart). As we started back toward the visiters center we came to a big hill where they had all the men leave the handcarts and walk to the top of the hill and wait for the wives to pull the handcarts up the hill. We were to wait in silence and remove our hats in honor of the challenge these women were going through. The women represented the pioneer women who had lost their husbands and had to continue on the trail on their own. It was an emotional experience for me to see my sweet wife struggling up the hill pushing on a cart. As we reunited both of us had tears in our eyes. We truly felt the spirit of those great ancestors and I felt a greater love for my wife as I imagined her in that same role.
Today we recieved our first work assignments. Sister Leavitt's (Peggy) was voluntary, and she elected to serve in the kitchen. Mine was assigned, I was assigned to lay-out and install a new water system for watering the several acres of lawn surrounding the visitors center, (suprise) But really its kind of fun to get back into game. Tomorrow is Sunday, and the Cove has its own Chapel right here on the grounds. After Church we will have a great meal that Sister Leavitt helped to prepare. Breaded chicken breasts, au-gratin potatoes, homemade rolls, great salad, and candied carrots.
We had a great Sunday service today. We had the opportunity listen to a couple of General Authorities from Salt Lake, Elder Genho, head of the Farmland Reserve witch governs this Mission and Elder McMullin of the Presiding Bishopric. After our meeting we gathered in the barn (cafeteria) for lunch, after which we were entertained by our own Bluegrass band made up of missionaries. It was great as they played all the old favorites,ie; You Are My Sunshine etc.
I would like to tell all our family and friends how much we love and appreciate them and all their support. I would like to tell my children and grandchildren how much we love them and miss them. And let them know that first and foremost we are serving a mission because of our love for our Savior and Redeemer Jesus Christ.
Before I sign off I wanted to explain why Sister Leavitt and I chose to serve a Mission at this location. It started back when we were on vacation last summer. We stopped by Martin's Cove on our way from Sheridan, Wyo. on our way back to Las Vegas so we could attend a good friends funeral in California. After visiting the Cove and the visitors center we felt such a strong spirit here that we decided we wanted to serve here. In order to better understand the history of Martins Cove and what happened here, we need to take a moment and go back to Oct. 19, 1856. On that day the Martin Handcart Company, (named after their leader Edward Martin their leader) on foot, were pushing and pulling handcarts the 1300 miles from Iowa City, Iowa to Salt Lake City and crossed the North Platte River near where Casper Wyo. is now located. This was the day a big early snow storm hit. They pulled up the bluff, a little less than a mile above the river, and camped for the night. There was no fuel for a fire, they were cold , their clothes were wet and frozen, most of their tents were frozen, the ground was frozen, so they just crawled into their tents on the ground to try to get some protection for the night. As many as thirteen out of the 500 pioneers died from exposure before morning. The next day they traveled 5 miles up to the foothills, but they still had to go 1/2 mile for fuel for fires.
On Oct. 28, three men from the rescue party who traveled some 300 miles out from Salt Lake arrived in camp. These men had been sent ahead from the main rescue party to find the Martin Company and assess their condition. It was reported to these men that 56 people had died since they had crossed the North Platte River. The people had been down to a ration of 4 oz. of flour per day to keep from running out, and were starving. The pioneers were immediatley given a ration of 1 lb of flour per person, and told to kill any beef they still had and if they had any meat left on them to give each person a pound. They were them told they had to keep moving to reach the rescue wagons. The next day they traveled 8 miles to the Avenue of the Rocks. The rescuers reported , "The train was strung out for three or four miles. There were old men pulling and tugging their carts, sometimes loaded with a sick wife or children, women pulling along sick husbands, little children struggling though the mud and the snow. There were only 3 rescuers in the lead scouting party and hundreds needing help. This was a very cold night and several more died. During the next 2 days they pulled the handcarts 17 miles. They met the rescue wagons near Horse Creek. The boys from Salt Lake (The Valley Boys) had large fires going, helped pitch tents, and provided them a meal.
The next day Nov. 1, they traveled to Independence Rock. On Nov. 2, they arrived at the abandoned stockade at Devil's Gate. One of the rescuers knocked down one of the cabins to provide firewood, it was 13 below zero, thirteen died that night. A council was held to decide whether to try to winter here or get to Salt Lake. More storms were coming and the stockade could only hold 20 or 30 people. On Nov. 4 the Martin Company was to be taken about 2 miles to a natural cove in the rocks to get them out of the bitter winds and where there was wood for fires. This meant crossing the Sweetwater River. Many remembering the terrible experience of crossing the North Platte, fell to the ground and sobbed, saying, "We cannot do that". Four young Valley Boys along with others jumped into the water and began carrying the Martin Company across the river. Many times they were told to get out of the river or they would die, but they continued for the best part of the day. Following the river crossing they moved the people up into the Cove. Although the Cove help protect some of the company during the four days and five nights while waiting out the storm, it was still very cold and many more lost their lives. The Great Miracle of the Martin Company was that any of them survived from the last crossing of the North Platte River through Martins Cove. Most of the pioneers made it to Salt Lake but there were more deaths on the trip.
My family, the Leavitts, traveled this same trail about 9 years earlier than those who got stranded in Martin's Cove and although they didn't face the bitter winter storms the Martin Company did, they suffered a number of deaths from exposure and disease! That's why I feel such an affinity for Martin's Cove and for the great sacrifice these early pioneers paid for us. Sister Leavitt and I will be telling the stories of these valient pioneers and will be assisting the 60,000 or so youth who come here in the summer to re-enact the hand cart treks.
Hi everyone -- Well, Elder Leavitt has done a great job of summarizing our few days here -- although it seems like we have been here alot longer. It hasn't been too much of an adjustment living in the motor home. We live in Missonary Village which is about 10 miles from Martin's Cove. As I have already told several of you, we are surrounded by hundreds of antelope and sagebrush. Today felt like a heat wave when the temperature hit 59 degrees :) It is almost always windy.
For the women out there -- I haven't rec'd my first hair cut yet -- hopefully this week. I'll have to let you know how Charlie does at cutting it.
Our cell phones do work here although they sometimes cut out. We feel very fortunate as some people don't get reception al all.
If you need to mail something to us our address is :
Elder Charles and Sister Peggy Leavitt
Martin's Cove Site
47600 West Highway 220
Alcova, WY 82620
We love you all and thank you for your support and love,
Elder and Sister Leavitt