Tag Archives: Overland Trail

It’s Never Too Late: Epitaphs at Devil’s Gate

This little gem is just too wonderful not to share.

The original note from the Coutant Collection  (WSA H74-9, folder 77)

The original note from the Coutant Collection, ca 1889
(WSA H74-9, folder 77)

During the summer of 1852, the cholera prevailed at the Devil’s Gate on the Sweetwater and along the Overland Trail. Among the victims of this terrible disease was a young girl from Tennessee who died of the plague and was buried near the Big Rock. At the head of the grave a board was placed and on it was written:

Isabella Reemer
Born July 4, 1832
Gone to her Redeemer
August 13, 1852

Several years after someone [supposedly] a solider  wrote under the epitaph:

Which shows that redemption is never too late,
She went to her Redeemer from the Devil’s Gate.

__________

But wait… the Pioneer Cemetery and Grave Inventory Project (1980s) lists two burials near Devil’s Gate with similar epitaphs. Isabella Reemer is one, and Carline Todd is the other.

Devil's Gate was a prominent landmark for travelers on the Oregon, Mormon and California Trails. Entrepreneurial settler Tom Sun established his ranch at the base of the cleft and catered to travelers in the later part of the 19th century. (WSA DG02, photo by HJ Rogner)

Devil’s Gate was a prominent landmark for travelers on the Oregon, Mormon and California Trails. Entrepreneurial settler Tom Sun established his ranch at the base of the cleft and catered to travelers in the later part of the 19th century.
(WSA DG02, photo by HJ Rogner)

According to their notes, Frank Mockler wrote in his History of Natrona County:

Alvin G. Cone of Waynetown, Indiana, who visited with his two daughters in Casper during the summer of 1921, passed over the Trail in June 1863. “We camped at Devil’s Gate,” says Mr. Cone, “and four of us started to climb the north wall, and when about half way up there was a loud roaring coming out of a large hole between two huge boulders, which we took to be the roar of a lion. We were not long in getting down, and as we reached the base we noticed a grave with a wooden slab at the head, with this inscription:

Here lie the bones of Caroline Todd,
Whose soul has lately gone to God;
‘Ere redemption was too late,
She was redeemed at Devil’s Gate.

“The girl at the time of her death was eighteen years of age. She, with four women, had climbed to the top of the ridge, and the girl told her companions that she was going to look over. They warned her not to try it, for she would fall if she did, but she went to the edge of the chasm, became dizzy and fell to the bottom. A company of soldiers was stationed near there at the time, and they cared for the grave as long as they remained.”

The inventory notes are a bit confusing but Todd’s marker may still have been legible in 1983. Reemer’s marker was not found, and they cited Coutant’s notes for its existence. It could be that the facts were garbled through the years and both stories refer to the same grave site. Or it could be that two women met their fate here and the poetic possibilities were just too irresistible.

_________

Or…. Could it be that BOTH stories have it slightly wrong? Take a look at the excerpt from Levi Savage’s 1856 trail diary. He mentions that a Caroline Reeder, age 17, died and was buried near Devil’s Gate. Unfortunately, Savage does not mention a catchy epitaph being composed for Ms. Reeder.

Could it be that all of these stories are about the same young woman who met her untimely end at the landmark?

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Greetings From… Fort Bridger!

Fort Bridger is one of the oldest permanent white settlements in what is now Wyoming. This bit of land has seen it all. From Native Americans to Trappers and mountain men, religious militias to the US Army, trading post and commissaries to modern convenience stores, game trails to emigrant trails to interstates.

This monument was placed as Fort Bridger when it became a State Historic site in 1933. Nearly 7,000 people attended the festivities and several dignitaries spoke, including Wyoming Governor B.B. Brooks and LDS President Herbert Grant.  (WSA P72-70/4-9)

This monument was placed as Fort Bridger when it became a State Historic site in 1933. Nearly 7,000 people attended the festivities and several dignitaries spoke, including Wyoming Governor B.B. Brooks and LDS President Herbert Grant.
(WSA P72-70/4-9)

In the 1840s, mountain men camped, hunted–and a few even died- in the Valley in their quest for beaver and other furs. In 1842/3, Jim Bridger saw the end of one way of life and decided to settle down and build a trading post with his partner Louis Vasquez. The location he chose was strategically placed in an oasis like valley on the edge of the Wyoming badlands, on the Oregon and California Trails and at the head of the canyon leading into the fertile Salt Lake Valley. In  this remote spot, Bridger built his trading empire.

In 1847, Brigham Young and a group of Mormon settlers established Great Salt Lake City in the neighboring valley. The two parties disagreed on many issues. In 1853, an armed militia out of Salt Lake attempted to arrest Bridger for selling alcohol to the local tribes. Bridger abandoned the fort and the Mormons established their own Fort Supply nearby. The LDS church claimed that they had purchased the fort, through a power of attorney, from Vasquez and Bridger for $8000. By 1858, hostilities between the LDS church in Salt Lake and the US Government in Washington DC had become so heated that the US Army was sent to depose Brigham Young from his position as governor of Utah Territory. The walls of the fort were reinforced but ultimately, both Fort Supply and Fort Bridger were burnt by the retreating Mormons. (You can still see a portion of the “Mormon Wall” today) The US Army took possession of the ruins and occupied the site almost continually until 1890 when all of the frontier posts were abandoned.

Commissary and ruins of the old trading post, surrounded by the fortified "Mormon Wall". (WSA P81-45/240)

Commissary and ruins of the old trading post, surrounded by the “Mormon Wall”.
(WSA P81-45/240)

In addition to a trading post, the site has served as a pony express stop, terminal on the first transcontinental telegraph line, and a stop on the first transcontinental highway (Lincoln Highway). Fort Bridger was also the second post office established by the Federal Government in what is now Wyoming. It was established in August 1850, only 5 months after the post office at Fort Laramie. In 1933, the site was transferred to the State of Wyoming and is still administered as a State Historic Site by the Department of Parks & Cultural Resources. It has been a popular tourist attraction since then. Visitors can explore the remains of the fort, several restored buildings, and the museum housed in the old barracks building.

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