At The California Trail Interpretive Center, we invite you to learn about Devil’s Gate in Wyoming, a trail landmark for westward traveling emigrants along the California Trail. Just five miles east of Independence Rock, Devil’s Gate is 370 feet deep, 1500 feet long, and boasts stories of mystery, tragedy, and struggle.
An Important Natural Landmark
Devil’s Gate gorge, or Devil’s Gate rock cleft, was too narrow for pioneer wagons to travel through, so emigrants had to divert south. However, they often camped nearby and explored the gorge. There are many of their inscriptions legible on the rocks, and people are still fascinated by the chasm today. Just a few interesting facts about this landmark include:
- Its name comes from a Native American myth.
- It’s near the oldest documented trail grave.
- It was the home of a former trading post.
- It’s part of the Mormon Handcart Disaster.
Born From Myth and Legend
The Shoshone tribe told travelers a story about the creation of Devil’s Gate. In their myth, an evil horned creature roamed the region and kept them from hunting, fishing, and camping. Eventually, warriors became so frustrated by the beast that they decided to kill it. They shot it with many arrows, and in a fit of rage, the beast used its horns to dig the gorge and escape, never to be seen again. And so the legend was born.
The Grave Of Frederick Fulkerson
The oldest documented grave on the trail is near Devil’s Gate. Frederick Fulkerson died on July 1st, 1847 from a mysterious illness after crossing the Platte River. To add to this tragedy, Frederick’s mother Mary died just two weeks later. The stone boulder that marks Frederick’s grave is a historic site.
Success And Wealth On The Trail
With thousands of emigrants traveling the trail each year, Charles Lajeunesse was a French trapper who saw an opportunity for commerce and took it. He built a thriving trading post, which eventually grew to 14 buildings. The last family to run the trading post, the Archambaults, left sometime in the summer of 1856, which contributed to the next tragedy.
The Mormon Handcart Disaster
In August of 1856, just over 1,000 Mormon settlers, in two companies, started on the trail to Utah pushing handcarts. However, August was too late to start the venture, and the Mormons soon found themselves trapped by an early winter. They sought help at the Devil’s Gate trading post, but found it abandoned, and eventually found shelter at a small cove, now known as Martin’s Cove. By the time they were rescued, more than 200 people had died from starvation or exposure.
Where California Trail History Comes Alive
Devil’s Gate and the westward expansion is something many of us can barely imagine. Visit The California Trail Interpretive Center in Elko, NV and learn more about the journeys along the California Trail. History comes alive when you experience pioneer life and food, real Native American culture, exciting exhibits and more. Plan your visit today.