By Paul Carter
Martin's Cove Sale Bill Stirs Debate
CASPER, WYOMING -- Proposed legislation to sell to the Church of
Jesus Christ the Martin's Cove historic site 50 miles southwest of
Casper is raising the objections and interest of government, American
Indian, conservation and archaeology groups.
The site being proposed for sale is currently owned by the US Bureau
of Land Management and is a national historic site. Located on the
Sweetwater River near where the Oregon, California, and Mormon trails
all converged, Martin's Cove is named for the leader of a group of
handcart pioneers who were stranded in the Winter snows of 1856 as
the group made their way to Salt Lake City. The Willey handcart
company also took shelter in the same area from the same storms.
Many of the pioneer Saints in the group died in extreme cold, without
adequate clothing, fuel and food. All the travelers in the groups
likely would have perished if not for rescuers leaving their secure
homes in the Salt Lake Valley and taking wagons and supplies to
revive them and carry them to their destination.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints maintains a visitors
center on the Sun Ranch, private land the Church owns adjacent to
Martin's Cove. During the past four years and until recently,
representatives of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints
have been in discussions to obtain the Martin's Cove site for church
ownership, by seeking a land swap with the Bureau of Land Management
for another historic site. These talks have broken down and Wyoming
legislators in both the US House and Senate have written a draft bill
to require the BLM to sell the property to the Church.
Representatives of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints
have expressed the concern that, given trends of the past 25 years in
how government agencies limit access to public lands, the general
public might not be able to visit the Martin's Cove site if it
remains under BLM jurisdiction. The Church seeks to keep access open
to the public through the purchase of the 640 acre parcel. Never
before has a private organization attempted to buy a national
The Bureau of Land Management has gone on record saying that the
forced sale of Martin's Cove would set a precedent for other special
interests to obtain other government lands. An internal memo from the
BLM office in Lander, Wyoming, states, "The transfer of Martin's
Cove, due to its importance to the Mormon Church, establishes a
potentially complex precedent. Other groups, such as Native
Americans, could make the same point for a land transfer of
(properties) they feel are central to their belief systems."
In addition, the BLM has stated that it is the best steward of the
land for the American people.
American Indian groups have recently stated that they would see the
sale of Martin's Cove through federal legislation as a door opening
for their groups to purchase lands sacred to their tribes. These
groups have also sought control of sites important to them or to at
least control access to these sites. Private ownership would be
desirable in providing total control.
Archeaological groups have also weighed in on the controversy,
concerned that the sale of Martin's Cove might eliminate the
possibilitity of performing archealogical analysis of the site.
The Sierra Club also has joined the fray. Liz Howell of the Wyoming
chapter notes that there are several places in Wyoming alone that are
sacred to American Indians. Among them are Devil's Tower National
Monument, the Medicine Wheel National Historic Site and parts of the
Red Desert in southwest Wyoming. Says Ms Howell, "This is a big-time
trade-off. Congress can't work with one religion and not with
others," she said.
Citizen groups in Casper have expressed concern that a decision that
impacts land close to them might be carried out by legislators in
Washington DC who do not have an understanding of what is best for
the local citizenry.
In response to all of the opinions being voiced or asking to be
heard, the office of US Representative Barbara Cubin has stated that
public hearings on the proposed legislation will be held within two
weeks. "No bill will be introduced by me unless adequate public
comment has taken place. The people of Wyoming have my assurance of
that," stated Wyoming's only Representative in the US House.
Wyomings two US Senators, Craig Thomas and Mike Enzi, have worked
with Representative Cubin to draft identical legislation for both
legislative bodies in Washington, proposing the sale of Martin's Cove
to the Church.
Martin's Cove Proposal in Limbo
Salt Lake Tribune 16Nov01 D6
Thomas and Cubin assure public say in Martin's Cove
Casper WY Tribune (AP) 16Nov01 D1
Tourism up at Mormon Handcart Center
Casper WY Tribune (AP) 14Nov01 D1
Martin's Cove -- a local land use perspective
Uinta co WY Herald 14Nov01 D1
By Paulette Stevens: Herald Reporter
Where is Martin's Cove?
Casper WY Star-Tribune 9Nov01 N6
By Brodie Farquhar: Star-Tribune staff writer
Indians Say If LDS Can Buy, They Can, Too
Salt Lake Tribune 7Nov01 N6
Tribes look at Martin's Cove sale
Casper WY Tribune (AP) 6Nov01 D6
Devil's Gate given protective status
Casper WY Tribune (AP) 1Nov01 D6