FREMONT COUNTY, Wyoming
Sitting high above the Sweetwater River along a rural stretch of Wyoming’s Fremont County is a rustic yet majestic building that seems to beckon all who pass by to stop what they’re doing and step inside.
Missionaries and visitors alike agree this structure — the Church’s Sixth Crossing Visitors’ Center — is more than an attractive conglomeration of wood, glass and stone. It’s a testament of gospel devotion and selfless love. It’s a tribute to the pioneers of the ill-fated Willie and Martin handcart companies and to those who answered a prophet’s rescuing call.
On Thursday, June 15, Elder Ulisses Soares of the Presidency of the Seventy dedicated the Sixth Crossing Visitors’ Center. Elder Mervyn B. Arnold, a General Authority Seventy, along with scores of missionaries and local members joined him at the event. Also participating were dozens of youth passing through the historic locale while on a Church-sponsored pioneer trek.
The visitors’ center includes exhibition galleries, screening rooms for a short film telling the story of the Willie Handcart Company and administrative offices for the Wyoming Mormon Trail Mission.
A brief history of Sixth Crossing: On October 19, 1856, a severe snowstorm hit central Wyoming, waylaying the Salt Lake Valley-bound Martin and Willie handcart pioneer companies. The Willie Handcart Company continued their treacherous push toward their sixth crossing of the icy Sweetwater River. They were in dire straits with no food or reliable shelter.
Two days later, a rescue team from Salt Lake City, dispatched by President Brigham Young in early October, arrived at Sixth Crossing. They brought with them food, supplies and hope. They fed the Willie pioneers, built warming fires and lifted the pioneers’ spirits by singing and dancing
Many pioneers from the Willie company were lost along their trek – but many more reached the Salt Lake Valley thanks largely to the selfless actions of the rescue teams.
In his remarks at Thursday’s dedication, Elder Soares spoke of the faith that defined the Martin and Willie handcart companies. Even in their most desperate moments, the pioneers knew the Lord would provide a way to support His people.
“If we do not waver in our faith we will receive all of the blessings that the Lord has in store for us,” he said.
Such faith develops the capacity to move beyond seemingly overwhelming obstacles. “We can overcome anything — even ourselves, the natural man that is within us.”
It is essential that today’s Latter-day Saints follow the examples of their pioneer predecessors, he said. “We are all pioneers because we are all inviting people to gather in Zion through our example and through our love.”
In his dedicatory prayer, Elder Soares called the Sixth Crossing Visitors’ Center “a place of historical interest and spiritual strength.”
The facility, he added, would be a gathering place of faith that inspires and uplifts.
“May Thy spirit attract many people to this site with the desire and the interest to learn more about this wonderful gospel of Thy Son, Jesus Christ.”
Elder Arnold said his visit to the Wyoming trail sites allowed him to visualize the suffering handcart pioneers — and the angels and rescuers who succored them in a time of need.
“You too can rescue,” he said to the youth gathered for the event.
Elder Arnold spoke of being a teenager and falling in with the wrong sort of friends. He was at a treacherous spot in his young life. Then another group of young people befriended him. They cared about him. They encouraged him to make healthy choices.
“My new friends came to my rescue,” he said.
Elder Arnold marveled at the faithful tenacity of his own pioneer ancestors “who just kept going” even in their most difficult moments.
Jesus Christ, he concluded, is the ultimate Rescuer. “He is there to rescue us ... . His only goal is to get us home.”
Wyoming Mormon Trail Mission President Lonny Pace and his wife, Sister Carolyn Pace, offered their testimonies at the dedication, along with Riverton Wyoming Stake President Vince Irene.
Missionaries also performed pioneer-themed musical numbers and narratives.
The Sixth Crossing Visitors’ Center is open daily through Labor Day.
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