Markers link past, present

Where pioneers once ferried on timber rafts across the often deep, swirling waters of the Green River in western Wyoming, interpretive monuments of history now stand as a link between the present and the past.

Elder L. Tom Perry of the Council of the Twelve dedicated four recently placed monuments at a ceremony here July 27.Some 150 people gathered for the ceremony on a bluff overlooking the principal crossing place of many thousands of Mormon, California and Oregon pioneers. The crowd, mostly seated on lawn chairs or blankets or standing, included Church members, historical trail enthusiasts, government officials, a few garbed in mountain man outfits and those in a modern Oregon Trail wagon train.

The remote site of the pioneer ferry - which later became known as the Lombard Ferry - is some 30 miles north of the present-day city of Green River, Wyo. The four monuments are located in a semi-circle near the Wyoming highway 28 bridge that spans the Green River.

Speakers at the ceremony included Elder Perry; Ray Brubaker, Wyoming state director of the Bureau of Land Management; John L. Spinks Jr., deputy regional director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service of the Mountain-Prairies Region; and Stanley B. Kimball, an LDS trails historian.

Other dignitaries in attendance included Elder William O. Nelson, regional representative for the area; Pres. Ronald E. Fowler and Pres. Paul M. Van Wagoner of the Rock Springs and Green River stakes, respectively; and Daron Dewey, group leader of the Rock Springs 4th Ward high priests. Brother Dewey and the high priests instigated the project, donated funds for the monuments, and saw the project through to completion.

The four markers commemorate the Green River crossing site with maps of the Mormon, Oregon, California trails and the Pony Express route, the Lombard Ferry, the Overland to Zion movement of the Mormon pioneers, and the Seedskadee National Wildlife Refuge, in which area the monuments are placed. Seedskadee is a Crow Indian term that means "river of the prairie hen."

At the dedicatory ceremony, the presence of an Oregon-bound covered wagon train seemed to bring pioneer history across the threshold of time to the present. The 1993 Historic Trails wagon train, which started from Independence, Mo., on May 2, pulled in at the site as part of its trek across the Oregon Trail to commemorate that trail's sesqui-centennial.

During the ceremony the people making the trek, dressed in pioneer clothing, sat in tall Conestoga wagons while powerful teams of horses switched at flies and pulled restlessly at their lines, a tangible exhibit of history.

Morris Carter, captain of the train, said leaving behind some of his family members helped him to realize the sacrifice of pioneers who left behind many family members to face the frontier.

As the wagons travel, "I can ride out in front and look back on the movement of the wagons. [In the open plainsT you do not feel alone; you feel there are travelers on both sides, and you can hear the jangle of the tug chains and the bellow of the cattle, you can hear the hollering of the drivers back and forth. It has been a tremendous experience."

He commended the Church in its efforts to preserve the historic trails.

In their remarks, Elder Perry and the other speakers emphasized that the same spirit of cooperation evident in pioneer times surrounded the placement of the markers.

Elder Perry expressed appreciation for the cooperation of Bureau of Land Management, the Seedskadee National Wildlife Refuge and the Church members for completing the project.

"It is these cooperative efforts that will keep alive the understanding and events that have occurred on these great trails west," he said.

"These noble pioneers bequeathed to us a great and exciting heritage," he explained. "They understood the blessings resulting from cooperatively working together to preserve the rich blessings that have been given to us in this beautiful western United States. They brought with them a code of values, a belief in God, honesty, integrity, morality, and a spirit of cooperation in support for each other.

"As we see erosions of these great pioneer virtues and values, events such as this, at this historic site, re-kindle within us an awakening of our great pioneer heritage."

Elder Perry traced the early roots of the settling of the New World, and observed that no colonies really thrived until the Puritans came. These people, who came for spiritual reasons, established communities and cooperatives and freedoms that became the "germ of the American spirit and the American friendliness."

Like the Puritans, the Mormon pioneers traveled by faith and established communities based on cooperation, he said.

"I think that is the thing that must be kept alive from this great pioneer heritage," continued Elder Perry. "We are people that enjoy each other. We have companionship, we build communities. We must keep them true to the pioneer traditions. May this occasion awaken within each of us a renewed determination to value the great legacy that is ours. May we have the desire, the boldness, the courage, and the fortitude to stand up for that which we believe and know to be right, and to preserve that with which we have been so richly endowed and blessed."

After speaking, Elder Perry offered a prayer dedicating the monuments.

Mr. Brubaker praised the cooperative effort behind the placing of the monuments. "History gave us lessons," he said. "One of the lessons is that people who traveled the trail had to help one another. They had to cooperate with one another. It took a lot of effort and cooperation from a lot of people to make these major river crossings.

"That is the point of the whole thing - this dedication ceremony came about as result of cooperation by a number of people."

Brother Kimball, history professor at Southern Illinois University, explained that the historic trails, such as the Oregon and Mormon Pioneer trails, were corridors within which some 300,000 people, including 70,000 LDS pioneers, migrated west.

Unlike the other pioneers, "We did not go west for furs, gold, land, or a new identity, or for adventure," he said. "We went west because we were driven west. Our faith motivated us - we were looking for a place to practice that faith."

The pioneer wagon train under the leadership of Brigham Young arrived at the Green River June 30, 1847. The day before, they had traveled 24 miles without water. Arriving at the Green River, they found it swollen with melting snows, and estimated the river to be 12 feet deep, "altogether too deep to be forded," noted William Clayton. The men cut cottonwood trees and built two small rafts to ferry the wagons across.

Brother Kimball explained that the site now known as Lombard Crossing, named for William Lombard who operated it from 1880 until a bridge was completed in the early 1900s, was often mentioned by pioneers. The following events at the site are mentioned in pioneer journals:

Samuel Brannan, who had sailed from New York on the Brooklyn with a party of Saints, met Brigham Young here and unsuccessfully tried to persuade him to continue on to California instead of settling in the Great Basin.

William Clayton and Wilford Woodruff fished here, and caught salmon weighing up to 71/4 pounds.

Wilford Woodruff, "the greatest Mormon diarist of all," was recording his experiences about salmon fishing when he commented: "I must stop writing, the mosquitoes have filled my carriage like a cloud and have fallen upon me as though they intend to devour me. I never saw that insect more troublesome."

Brigham Young and Heber C. Kimball returned to the river a few days later. They were to help ferry five men back across the Green River. The five were returning east to serve as guides to other emigrant companies. At Green River, they met an advance group from the sick detachment of the Mormon Battalion that had wintered near what is now Pueblo, Colo. The advance group had been riding hard to intercept the pioneer company. The Battalion members soon joined the pioneer company. (See related story on page 5.)

Jedediah M. Grant, captain of the third company of LDS pioneers that left Winter quarters in June 1847, wrote upon reaching the Green River: "Our soaring spirits were soon to return, and we wanted to hug the ground in silence, for joys seemed to ebb and flow with the sorrows of the present."

One of the most dramatic events at the crossing occurred in 1850 when a woman and her two children were among those on a ferry that sank in mid-stream. All the men evidently panicked and swam ashore, said Brother Kimball. The wagon floated free of the ferry with the woman and two children still inside, and the current carried it rapidly downstream. Two men raced along the bank, then dashed into the river and wrestled against the current to bring the wagon ashore. When they finally succeeded, they found the woman inside had lashed one child to her body, and held tightly to the infant. All were brought ashore safely.

In the mid-1850s, many handcart companies forded the river here. The men pulled the handcarts across. The women formed a line and chained their hands; they were led by one of the stronger men through the swift current.

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