Pioneer Heritage

Pioneer Heritage

Martin's Cove/Devil's Gate:

Having started late from Iowa and suffered innumerable mishaps and miscalculations along the way, two handcart companies under the leadership of Captains Edward Martin and James G. Willie were caught in early snows near the Continental Divide in 1856. In one of the greatest tragedies in overland trail history, hundreds died of exposure and starvation before rescuers from the Salt Lake Valley brought them to this location a few miles west of Devil's Gate in early November.

Winter Quarters

In the early 1850’s, as Latter-day Saint pioneers migrated west to the Salt Lake Valley, they settled temporarily on both the Nebraska and the Iowa sides of the Missouri River – in the vicinity of what is now Omaha, Nebraska. The place became known as Winter Quarters and became a prominent stopover for Latter-day Saints and other pioneers as they made preparations to face the harsh realities of a severe overland trek west across the Rocky Mountains to the Salt Lake Valley and beyond. Enduring a harsh Midwest winter with minimal supplies and very rough shelters, Winter Quarters was at once a place of refuge and indescribable suffering for those early pioneers. Many did not survive that first winter. 

Mormon Pioneer Cemetery

The original Winter Quarters cemetery was laid out in a very organized fashion in a very specific, well defined area with each grave properly measured out and documented. Unfortunately, many of the new graves introduced after the departure of the pioneers, were scattered about in a much less organized fashion and many lacked proper documentation. As a consequence, when the modern LDS church made preparations to break ground on the new temple slated to be constructed atop the hill adjacent to the old pioneer cemetery in the year 2000, it became necessary to conduct an extensive professional archaeological study to ensure that all graves were properly protected. 

The LDS church employed a professional team to come in and identify with the use of radar all of the existing graves and burial plots. Because of the somewhat haphazard placement of some of the newer graves, several of the graves had to be moved and reinterred under the supervision of the Nebraska State Archaeologist and with the permission of surviving family descendents where possible.

Winter Quarters Temple

On June 14, 1999, President Gordon B. Hinckley, the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon) announced that the church would construct the Winter Quarters Nebraska Temple. The new temple was to be constructed on the hill overlooking the original Winter Quarters town site (now Florence, Nebraska). The temple was to be located immediately adjacent to the old Winter Quarters pioneer cemetery. 

The ground breaking ceremony for the Winter Quarters Nebraska Temple occurred on November 28, 1999, just prior to the dawn of the new millennium. The construction was to be completed in 16 months in time for a proposed dedication date of April 22, 2001. 

Because of the historic nature of the Winter Quarters temple and the site on which it was built, particular care was taken to ensure that the temple adequately reflected the historic setting. Stained glass windows depicting specific historical scenes were commissioned and the construction and finish work were of the highest quality. 

As the temple construction drew to a close, the LDS church hosted an open house for residents and community leaders. In all, over 60,000 people came to participate in the open house. Then, on Sunday, April 22, 2001, President Gordon B. Hinckley, President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, formally dedicated the Winter Quarters Nebraska temple. In his dedicatory prayer he referenced the immense sacrifices that occurred over a century and a half before and the tremendous spiritual significance of the newly constructed temple.