Big Sandy Crossing - Atlas Obscura

Big Sandy Crossing

Farson, Wyoming

This remote river crossing was a popular campground on American westward expansion trails, and a former Pony Express station. 


The American West seems vast and unending, but for much of its history, only a few locations promised safe travel. During the era of western expansion, Indigenous guides and mountain men would find safer areas to ford rivers and traverse the dangerous landscape. Near what is now present-day Farson, Wyoming, the Big Sandy Crossing was a hub of transportation, commerce, and communications during its 19th-century heyday.

The Big Sandy River’s banks afforded weary travelers a crossing to the nearby Green River. This crossing became a popular point on the Oregon Trail, as well as those heading to California and Utah. The path forward was arduous–fifty waterless miles through the Little Colorado Desert. Nonetheless, by 1846, you could see hundreds of wagon trains line up as they set camp. The Donner Party rested here on July 24, 1846, just before they made their ill-fated decision to follow a new route to California. Brigham Young met Jim Bridger at the Big Sandy River the next year, while following what would become known as the Mormon Trail.

By 1858, the location was a post office, and in 1860, Big Sandy became a station on the Pony Express route. For nearly 18 months, Farson was a waypoint on the fastest East-West communication route, until the intercontinental telegraph made the Pony Express obsolete. A series of historical markers along US-191 commemorate this time in history, and a nearby marker on the shoulder of State Highway 28 marks the crossing’s actual location.

Farson is now less essential to American travel than in the heady days of Western expansion, but the Big Sandy Crossing remained a waypoint for some time after the age of trails came to an end. In 1908, a mercantile store opened up at the highway crossing that had replaced the trail. The business burned down in September 1929, leading to the death of the proprietor’s wife and $30,000 in property damage, but it was later rebuilt.

Farson Mercantile has since changed hands through the years, and it remains open today as a novelty store with a focus on souvenirs and ice cream. Notably, it is the home of the “Big Cone,” a half-gallon behemoth that’s become the store’s claim to fame. It’s a long way from the Donner Party and threats of potential starvation to oversized Huckleberry Heaven ice cream cones, but maybe in its own way, that tells the American story.

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