The Devil’s Gate is a picturesque feature a few miles south of Independence Rock. John Bidwell doesn’t mention it. He only says:
Tuesday, 6th. . . . Went upstream about 8 miles and encamped on Sweet Water.
Which means they would have camped near Devil’s Gate. But it is impossible to get wagons through the narrow passage. Luckily just to the left is an easy way around the end of the rock formation.
Wednesday, 7th. As we journeyed, the mountains were high and naked; passed a pond that was nearly dried up, perfectly white with Glauber Salts.
Father DeSmet, in describing the Sweetwater River, says:
But suddenly changing its course, we see it or rather hear it rushing impetuously through a long cleft in a chain of mountains. These mountains, which harmonize well with the torrent, exhibit the most picturesque scenes; travelers have named this spot the Devil’s Entrance. In my opinion they should have rather named it Heaven’s Avenue, for if it resembles hell on account of the frightful disorder which frowns around it, it is still a mere passage, and should rather be compared to the way to heaven on account of the scene to which it leads.
I imagine Father DeSmet had the words of Jesus in Matthew 7:14 in mind: “Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way that leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.”
Travelers on the Oregon Trail often remarked on this unusual cut in the rock as they passed around it. Some would wade on foot or ride their horses through the Gate, just for the fun of it, while the wagons went around to the south.
Today the Devil’s Gate is on private land. The LDS Church has a Visitor’s Center on the south side of the Gate. The Mormon Handcart Historic Site at Martin’s Cove commemorates the two pioneer handcart companies that were trapped here by bad weather in October and November 1856. An interpretive display just off the freeway tells the story of the Oregon Trail and the handcart companies.