In 1852, Charles "Seminoe" Lajuenesse established a trading post on the Oregon Trail near Muddy Gap and Devil's Gate in Natrona County. The fort was abandonded in fall 1855.
The Mormons used this post as a place of refuge in 1856 while they were caught in an early blizzard at Horse Creek, located to the east of Independence Rock. This was in November 1856. The fort’s roofs provided shelter for some, and wood from collapsed buildings helped warm many others. But the small trading post was not big enough to support 500 people through a single winter storm. An unknown number of people died in the storm, most of the others reached Salt Lake City by the end of November.
The fort burned down in 1862 and the site became part of the Tom Sun Ranch after 1872. The actual fort site, discovered in 2001, was excavated under the direction of the Mormon Church. Nearby at Martin's Cove is the Mormon Handcart Historic Site and Visitor Center, which manages the fort site.
Fort Seminoe was rebuilt in 2002 near its original location. Inside are exhibits that tell the story of the French trapper’s trading post and the story of the disastrous adventures of the Martin Handcart Company. Besides the main trading post, Fort Seminoe included a blacksmith shop, a horse corral, a cattle yard, storerooms, and living quarters.
One of the most interesting parts of this site is the view of the thousands of young people who come here each summer to participate in “handcart treks”. These young people come from all around the western United States, dress in pioneer clothing, and spend a few days and nights experiencing life as a handcart pioneer.
This site contains Martin's Cove, Devil's Gate, Prairie Park and Homestead Site, Rattlesnake Pass, Fort Seminoe and the Willie Center. The site and grounds, with hiking available, are open to the public to learn more about the Mormon Trail.
Text sources: northamericanforts.com, lds.org, allaroundthewest.com
Photo: Historic Fort Seminoe, by J. Stephen Conn, license CC BY-NC 2.0