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Title: Fort Laramie National Monument, Wyoming - National Park Service Historical Handbook Series No. 20
Author: Hieb, David L.
Language: English
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    [Illustration: U. S. DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR · March 3, 1849]

                     Stewart L. Udall, _Secretary_

                         NATIONAL PARK SERVICE
                      Conrad L. Wirth, _Director_


This publication is one of a series of handbooks describing the
historical and archeological areas in the National Park System
administered by the National Park Service of the United States
Department of the Interior. It is printed by the Government Printing
Office and may be purchased from the Superintendent of Documents,
Washington 25, D. C. Price 25 cents.

                              FORT LARAMIE
                      NATIONAL MONUMENT · WYOMING

                            by David L. Hieb

    [Illustration: Cavalry hat and gloves]

                                                 WASHINGTON, D. C., 1954
                                                          (Reprint 1961)


_The National Park System, of which Fort Laramie National Monument is a
unit, is dedicated to conserving the scenic, scientific, and historic
heritage of the United States for the benefit and enjoyment of its


  EARLY FUR TRADE ON THE PLATTE, 1812-30                                1
  FORT WILLIAM, THE FIRST “FORT LARAMIE,” 1834                          3
  FORT PLATTE AND FORT JOHN ON THE LARAMIE                              4
  THE FIRST EMIGRANTS                                                   4
  THE MORMON MIGRATIONS, 1847-48                                        6
  FORT LARAMIE BECOMES A MILITARY POST                                  6
  THE CALIFORNIA GOLD RUSH                                              7
  THE FORT LARAMIE TREATY COUNCIL, 1851                                 9
  THE EMIGRANT TIDE AND INDIAN TROUBLES, 1852-53                        9
  THE GRATTAN AND HARNEY MASSACRES, 1854-55                            11
  HANDCART TO PONY EXPRESS, 1856-61                                    12
  PEACE TALK AND WAR ON THE BOZEMAN TRAIL, 1866-68                     17
  THE TREATY OF 1868                                                   21
  THE FIGHT FOR THE BLACK HILLS                                        24
  LAST YEARS OF THE ARMY POST, 1877-90                                 27
  THE HOMESTEADERS TAKE OVER                                           31
  EFFORTS TO PRESERVE THE FORT                                         32
  GUIDE TO THE AREA                                                    32
  HOW TO REACH FORT LARAMIE                                            42
  ADMINISTRATION                                                       42
  RELATED AREAS                                                        42
  FACILITIES                                                           42

    [Illustration: _Fort William, the first Fort Laramie, in 1837._ From
    a painting by A. J. Miller. Courtesy Mrs. Clyde Porter.]

    [Illustration: Fort building]

_On the level land near the junction of the Laramie and North Platte
Rivers stands Fort Laramie, long a landmark and symbol of the Old West.
Situated at a strategic point on a natural route of travel, the site
early attracted the attention of trail-blazing fur trappers, who
established the first fort. In later years it offered protection and
refreshment to the throngs who made the great western migrations over
the Oregon Trail. It was a station for the Pony Express and the Overland
Stage. It served as an important base in the conquest of the Plains
Indians, and it witnessed the development of the open range cattle
industry, the coming of the homesteaders, and the final settlement which
marked the closing of the frontier. Perhaps no other single site is so
intimately connected with the history of the Old West in all its

                _Early Fur Trade on the Platte, 1812-30_

American and French Canadian fur traders and trappers, exploring the
land, traveled the North Platte Route intermittently for over two
decades before the original fort was established at the mouth of the
Laramie River. First to mention the well-wooded stream flowing into the
North Platte River from the southwest was Robert Stuart, leader of the
seven “Returning Astorians” on their path-breaking journey from Astoria
at the mouth of the Columbia River to St. Louis, by way of South Pass in
the Rockies and the valley of the Platte, during the winter of 1812-13.
They journeyed eastward over what was to become the greatest roadway to
the West, thus entitling them to recognition as the discoverers of the
Oregon Trail.

Records of actual fur trade activity in this area for the next 10 years
are extremely meager, but many geographical names bear witness to the
gradual westward movement of the beaver hunters, some of them
undoubtedly of Canadian origin. Among them was Jacques La Ramee who,
according to tradition, was killed by Indians in 1821 on the stream
which now bears his name and which was destined to become the setting of
Fort Laramie. Famous only in death, his name was to be given also to a
plains region, a peak, a mountain range, a town, a city, and a county in

In 1823, Jim Bridger, Jedediah Smith, and other enterprising trappers of
the Rocky Mountain Fur Co., going overland from the upper Missouri,
rediscovered South Pass and the lush beaver country west of the
Continental Divide. In 1824, while taking furs back to “the States,” a
band of “mountain men” under Thomas Fitzpatrick became the first
Americans of record to pass the mouth of the Laramie after the
Astorians. For 15 years thereafter the St. Louis traders sent supply
trains up the North Platte route to the annual trappers’ rendezvous,
usually held in the valleys of the Green or Wind Rivers. In 1830,
William Sublette, with supplies for the rendezvous on the Wind River,
took the first wagons over the greater part of what was to become the
Oregon Trail.

    [Illustration: _The Interior of Fort William in 1837._ From a
    painting by A. J. Miller in the Walter’s Art Gallery.]

The Laramie and its tributaries were also the homes of the prized
beaver, and much trading was done at the pleasant campsites near its
mouth. Here, too, was the junction with the trappers’ trail to Taos.

             _Fort William, the First “Fort Laramie,” 1834_

The advantages of the site were readily apparent to William Sublette and
Robert Campbell, when, in 1834, they paused en route to the annual
trappers’ rendezvous to launch construction of log-stockaded Fort
William. This fort, named for Sublette, was the first fort on the

In 1835, Sublette and Campbell sold Fort William to Jim Bridger, Thomas
Fitzpatrick, and Milton Sublette, and a year later these men in turn
sold their interests to the monopolistic American Fur Co. (after 1838,
known officially as Pierre Chouteau, Jr. and Company).

Rev. Samuel Parker and Dr. Marcus Whitman, early missionaries to Oregon,
traveling with a company of fur traders, paused at “the fort of the
Black Hills” in July 1835. Reverend Parker has left a vivid description
of activities at the fort, including near-fatal fights between drunken
trappers, a council with the chiefs of 2,000 Oglala Sioux gathered at
the fort to trade, and a buffalo dance, regarding which Parker
commented, “I cannot say I was much amused to see how well they could
imitate brute beasts, while ignorant of God and salvation....”

Marcus Whitman again traveled westward in 1836 with a fur traders’
caravan, this time accompanied by his bride and Rev. and Mrs. Henry H.
Spalding. The ladies, the first to travel the Oregon Trail, were
extended all possible hospitality at Fort William. Especially remembered
were chairs with buffalo skin bottoms, no doubt a most welcome change
from the ordeal of saddle or wagon box.

To an artist, A. J. Miller, who traveled with Sir William Drummond
Stewart, we are indebted for the only known pictures of Fort William.
Made during his visit to the fort in 1837, these paintings depict a
typical log stockade which Miller’s notes describe further as being

  of a quadrangular form, with block houses at diagonal corners to sweep
  the fronts in case of attack. Over the front entrance is a large
  blockhouse in which is placed a cannon. The interior of the fort is
  about 150 feet square, surrounded by small cabins whose roofs reach
  within 3 feet of the top of the palisades against which they abut. The
  Indians encamp in great numbers here 3 or 4 times a year, bringing
  peltries to be exchanged for dry goods, tobacco, beads and alcohol.
  The Indians have a mortal horror of the “big gun” which rests in the
  blockhouse, as they have had experience of its prowess and witnessed
  the havoc produced by its loud “talk”. They conceive it to be only
  asleep and have a wholesome dread of its being waked up.

The fur traders came to be more and more dependent upon the fort on the
Laramie as a base of supplies and a refuge in time of trouble.
Similarly, early travelers and missionaries found it a most welcome
haven in the wilderness. In 1840, the famous Father de Smet paused at
this “Fort La Ramee” where he was favorably impressed by a village of

               _Fort Platte and Fort John on the Laramie_

Late in 1840 or early in 1841, a rival trading post appeared. This was
Fort Platte, built of adobe on the nearby banks of the North Platte
River by L. P. Lupton, a veteran of the fur trade in what is now
Colorado, but later operated by at least two other independent trading

Abandonment of the rendezvous system after 1840 increased the importance
of fixed trading posts. The deterioration of Fort William prompted the
American Fur Co. to replace it in 1841 with a more pretentious
adobe-walled post which cost some $10,000. Christened Fort John,
presumably after John Sarpy, a stockholder, the new fort, like its
predecessor, was popularly known as “Fort Laramie.”

Competition in the declining fur trade led to open traffic in
“fire-water,” and the debauchery of the Indians around Forts Platte and
Laramie was noted by many travelers of the early 1840’s. Rufus B. Sage
vividly describes the carousals of one band of Indians which ended with
the death and burial of a Brule chief. In a state of drunkenness, this
unfortunate merrymaker fell from his horse and broke his neck while
racing from Fort Laramie to Fort Platte.

Trade goods for the rival posts came out in wagons over the Platte
Valley road from St. Joseph or over the trail from Fort Pierre on the
upper Missouri. On the return trip, packs of buffalo robes and furs were
sent down to St. Louis. In addition to wagon transportation, cargoes
were sent by boat down the fickle Platte, which often dried up and left
the boatmen stranded on sandbars in the middle of Nebraska.

                         _The First Emigrants_

Up to 1840, traders, adventurers, and missionaries dominated the scene.
The first party of true covered-wagon emigrants, whose experiences were
recorded by John Bidwell and Joseph Williams, paused at Fort Laramie in
1841. The following year Lt. John C. Fremont visited the fort on his
first exploring trip to the Rocky Mountains. Recognizing its strategic
location and foreseeing the covered-wagon migrations, Fremont added his
voice to those recommending the establishment of a military post at the

In 1843, the “cow column,” first of the great migrations to Oregon,
reached the fort under the guidance of Marcus Whitman. This group
numbered nearly 1,000 persons. Thereafter, the emigrants with their
covered wagons became a familiar sight each May and June. Impressions of
the swift-flowing Laramie River, the white-walled fort, the populous
Indian tepee villages, the “squawmen” at the fort, and the dances held
on level ground beneath nearby cottonwoods were frequently recorded by

More than 3,000 Oregon-bound emigrants paused at the fort in 1845,
intermingling peacefully with the numerous Sioux Indians encamped there.
Later that summer, peace still prevailed when Col. Stephen Watts Kearny
arrived with five companies of the First Dragoons, encamped on the
grassy Laramie River bottoms, and held a formal council with the Indians
between the two forts. Here the Indians were warned against drinking
“Taos Lightning” or disturbing the emigrants and were assured of the
love and solicitude of the Great White Father. They were also duly
impressed with his power as symbolized in a display of howitzer fire and

While Fort Platte was abandoned by its owners in 1845, trade was brisk
at Fort Laramie during the winter of 1845-46, and it is recorded that
during the following spring a little fleet of Mackinaw boats, under the
leadership of the veteran factor P. D. Papin, successfully navigated the
Platte with 1,100 packs of buffalo robes, 110 packs of beaver, and 3
packs of bear and wolf skins. Thus, it was a moderately prosperous Fort
Laramie in the waning days of the fur trade which the young historian
Francis Parkman visited in the spring of 1846 and described so vividly
in his book _The Oregon Trail_:

  Fort Laramie is one of the posts established by the American Fur
  Company, which well-nigh monopolizes the Indian trade of this region.
  Prices are most extortionate: sugar, two dollars a cup; five-cent
  tobacco at a dollar and a half; bullets at seventy-five cents a pound.
  The company is exceedingly disliked in this country; it suppresses all
  opposition and, keeping up these enormous prices, pays its men in
  necessities on these terms. Here its officials rule with an absolute
  sway; the arm of the United States has little force, for when we were
  there the extreme outposts of her troops were about seven hundred
  miles to the eastward. The little fort is built of bricks dried in the
  sun, and externally is of an oblong form, with bastions of clay in the
  form of ordinary blockhouses at two of the corners. The walls are
  about fifteen feet high, and surmounted by a slender palisade. The
  roofs of the apartments within, which are built close against the
  walls, serve the purpose of banquette. Within, the fort is divided by
  a partition: on one side is the square area, surrounded by the
  storerooms, offices, and apartments of the inmates; on the other is
  the corral, a narrow place encompassed by the high clay walls, where
  at night or in the presence of dangerous Indians the horses and mules
  of the fort are crowded for safekeeping. The main entrance has two
  gates with an arched passage intervening. A little square window, high
  above the ground, opens laterally from an adjoining chamber into this
  passage; so that, when the inner gate is closed and barred, a person
  without may still hold communication with those within through this
  narrow aperture. This obviates the necessity of admitting suspicious
  Indians for purposes of trading into the body of the fort, for when
  danger is apprehended the inner gate is shut fast, and all traffic is
  carried on by means of the window. This precaution, though necessary
  at some of the company’s posts, is seldom resorted to at Fort Laramie,
  where, though men are frequently killed in the neighborhood, no
  apprehensions are felt of any general designs of hostility from the

While here, Parkman also witnessed the arrival of the Donner party, who
paused at the fort to celebrate the Fourth of July. Many of this party
later met a tragic fate in the snow-locked passes of the Sierras.

                    _The Mormon Migrations, 1847-48_

While many of the early visitors to Fort Laramie were missionaries, mass
emigration motivated by religion was not in evidence until 1847. That
spring the pioneer band of Mormons, led by Brigham Young, passed up the
north bank of the Platte to its confluence with the Laramie, and crossed
near the ruins of Fort Platte. They paused there for a few days to
repair wagons and record for future emigrants the facilities available
at Fort Laramie, of which James Bordeaux was then in charge. This party
of 143 men, 3 women, and 2 children seeking a new Zion in the Salt Lake
Valley were but pathbreakers for more than 4,000 Mormons who almost
monopolized the trail in 1848.

Like emigrants of all sects, the Mormons enjoyed a respite from travel
on arrival at the great way station of Fort Laramie. A variety of
activities engaged the emigrants during their brief stopover. Men
engaged in blacksmithing and general repair, traded at the fort, or went
fishing. The women busied themselves with washing and baking or gathered
chokecherries or currants.

The Mormons at this time conceived a plan which was used for several
years at Fort Laramie. Wagon supply trains from Utah, drawn by teams
acclimated to mountain travel, met emigrating “Saints” from the East,
and teams were exchanged. Thus, they avoided the serious losses of stock
often resulting when tired low-country teams encountered the high
altitudes of South Pass and the rough mountain trails into Utah.

Meanwhile, despite a moderately brisk business with the emigrants,
trading at Fort Laramie continued to suffer from the general decline of
the fur market and the competition of independent dealers in “Taos
Lightning.” Conditions were now ripe for the early retirement of the
American Fur Co.

                 _Fort Laramie Becomes a Military Post_

For some years the Government had considered establishing military posts
along the Oregon Trail for the protection of emigrants, and this site at
the mouth of the Laramie had often been recommended. In December 1845,
such action was proposed by President Polk and in May 1846 the Congress
approved “An Act to provide for raising a regiment of Mounted Riflemen,
and for establishing military stations on the route to Oregon.” Funds
were provided to mount and equip the troops, to defray the expenses of
each station, and to compensate the Indian tribes on whose lands these
stations might be erected.

The Mexican War delayed the projected building of forts on the Oregon
Trail, but in 1847 a battalion of Missouri Mounted Volunteers was
recruited. Early in 1848 this battalion established Fort Kearny, the
first of the posts on the trail, on the south bank of the Platte near
the head of Grand Island. In November, they were mustered out, being
relieved by the Mounted Riflemen.

During the following winter the news of the discovery of gold in
California was published throughout the land, and the resulting fevered
preparations to trek westward the next spring increased the urgency of
completing the chain of forts.

In March, United States Adj. Gen. Roger Jones directed Gen. D. E. Triggs
at St. Louis to carry out establishment of the second post “at or near
Fort Laramie, a trading station belonging to the American Fur Company.”
Lt. Daniel P. Woodbury, of the Corps of Engineers, was authorized to
purchase the buildings of Fort Laramie “should he deem it necessary to
do so.” Companies A and E, Mounted Riflemen, and Company G, Sixth
Infantry, were designated as the first garrison of the new post with
Maj. W. F. Sanderson, Mounted Riflemen, in command.

Major Sanderson with 4 officers and 58 men of Company E, Mounted
Riflemen, left Fort Leavenworth early in May and arrived at the Laramie
on June 16 without incident. On June 27 he wrote to the adjutant general
reporting that after making a thorough reconnaissance of the
neighborhood he had found this to be the most eligible site and that at
his request Lieutenant Woodbury had, on June 26, purchased Fort Laramie
from Bruce Husband, agent of the American Fur Co., for $4,000. He
reported further that good pine timber, limestone, hay, and dry wood
were readily available and that the Laramie River furnished abundant
good water for the command.

Company C, Mounted Rifles, consisting of 2 officers and 60 men, arrived
at the post on July 26, and on August 12 the 2 officers and 53 men of
Company G, Sixth Infantry, completed the garrison and joined in the work
of preparing additional quarters.

                       _The California Gold Rush_

Meanwhile, these troops had been preceded, accompanied, and followed
over the trail by some 30,000 goldseekers bound for California, a few
thousand Mormons en route to Utah, and additional troops of Mounted
Riflemen pushing west to establish a post at Fort Hall in Idaho.

Many of those who trekked westward from the Missouri did not even reach
Fort Laramie. The dread Asiatic cholera took a terrible toll along the
banks of the Platte. Fresh graves, averaging one and a half to the mile,
marked the 700-mile trail from Westport Landing to the Laramie. Beyond
Fort Laramie the ravages of disease abated, but already many trains were
short of men and stock. These conditions and the rougher roads ahead
frequently forced the abandonment of wagons, personal property, and
stocks of provisions. However, not all of the westward surging throng
reached Fort Laramie with surplus supplies. Many were thankful to be
able to replenish dwindling supplies at the commissary as well as to
obtain fresh draft animals, repair failing wagons, and mail letters to
“the States.”

    [Illustration: _Fort Laramie in 1849._ From _An Expedition to the
    Valley of the Great Salt Lake of Utah_ by Howard Stansbury.]

While purchase of the adobe trading post provided the Army with a
measure of shelter for men and supplies, it was far from adequate. In
late June 1849, Major Sanderson reported that the entire command was
already employed in cutting and hauling timber and burning lime. Stone
was also quarried and a horse-powered sawmill placed in operation. By
winter, a two-storied block of officers’ quarters (to become known as
“Old Bedlam”), a block of soldiers’ quarters, a bakery, and two stables
had been pushed near enough completion to be occupied.

That winter was mild and uneventful at Fort Laramie, but by early May
1850 the high tide of westward migration began. Goldseekers and
homeseekers bound for California, Oregon, or Utah thronged the trails on
both sides of the Platte and converged on the fort, where, by August 14,
a record had been made of 39,506 men, 2,421 women, 2,609 children, 9,927
wagons, and proportionate numbers of livestock. Also, 316 deaths en
route were recorded, for cholera again raged along the trail in
Nebraska. The graves along the trail east of Fort Laramie were only
outnumbered by the bodies of dead draft animals and piles of abandoned
property westward toward South Pass.

Meager blacksmithing and repair facilities were available to the
emigrants at Fort Laramie. Supplies could be purchased at the commissary
and at the sutler’s store, whose adobe walls were first noted that year.
The sutler, John S. Tutt, also had brisk competition from numerous
oldtime mountain men who set up shop along the trails nearby.

The post commander reported further progress in new construction during
1850. The stonewalled magazine was probably completed that year, “Old
Bedlam” neared completion, and a two-storied barracks was begun. Lured
by gold, however, troops as well as civilian artisans deserted the post
to such an extent that Mexican labor was imported for building and
experimental farming.

In 1851, the gold fever subsided somewhat, but Mormon emigrations
increased and in all probability 20,000 emigrants trekked westward past
the fort. Cholera was not epidemic and emigration was less eventful, but
the fort was busy preparing to play host to other visitors.

                _The Fort Laramie Treaty Council, 1851_

Early in 1851, the Congress had authorized holding a great treaty
council with the Plains Indians to assure peaceful relations along the
trails to the West. D. D. Mitchell and Thomas Fitzpatrick, the
commissioners, chose Fort Laramie as the meeting place and summoned the
various Indian tribes to come in by September 1. For days before that
date, Indians gathered at the fort. The Sioux, Cheyennes, and Arapahoes
mingled freely, but tension mounted as their enemies, the Snakes and
Crows, made their appearance. Peace prevailed, however, and the sole
major difficulties were a grazing problem and the late arrival of a
wagon train of gifts. The countless ponies accompanying 10,000 Indians
required so much forage that the vast assemblage had to move to the
meadows at the mouth of Horse Creek, 30 miles east of the fort. Chiefs
representing many other tribes arrived. Parades of Indian hordes in full
array were held, speeches made, presents distributed, the pipe of peace
smoked, and by September 17 it had been agreed that peace should reign
among the red men and between them and the whites. The white men were to
be free to travel the roads and hold their scattered forts, and the
Indians were to receive an annuity of $50,000 in goods each year. The
council was considered a great success and gave promise of a lasting
peace on the plains.

            _The Emigrant Tide and Indian Troubles, 1852-53_

In 1852, the emigrant tide again swelled to nearly 40,000, over 10,000
of which were Mormons. The emigrants were encouraged to depend on
supplies available at Fort Laramie and other posts along the trail. A
toll bridge over the Laramie River, a mile below the fort, eliminated
one obstacle on the trail, and disease took a much lighter toll of

    [Illustration:              FORT LARAMIE
                              INDIAN TERRITORY
                     FROM A MAP BY LIEUT. A. J. DOWLSON
                             CORPS OF ENGINEERS
                                                  APRIL 1954 NM-LAR-7003]

  FORT JOHN (OLD ADOBE FORT) 123′ × 168′

Beginning in 1850, many of the emigrants on the north bank, or Mormon
Trail, stopped crossing to the south bank trail at Fort Laramie and
followed a rough, but shorter, route westward along the north side of
the river. Those who did not cross with their wagons, however, still
found the old ferry across the North Platte a welcome means of visiting
the fort for mail and supplies. In 1853, this ferry figured in the first
serious Indian trouble near the fort.

The Sioux were becoming alarmed by the great numbers of whites using the
Oregon Trail, with resulting destruction of game, and the ravages of new
diseases among the tribes. On June 15, a group of Sioux seized the ferry
boat, and one of them fired on Sergeant Raymond, who recaptured it. Lt.
H. B. Fleming and 23 men were dispatched to the Indian village to arrest
the offender. The Indians refused to give up the culprit and fired on
the soldiers. In the resulting skirmish, 3 Indians were killed, 3
wounded, and 2 taken prisoner. The Miniconjou Sioux were incensed by
this action, but after a full explanation by Capt. R. Garnett, commander
of the fort, they accepted their annuities from the Indian agent and no
further hostilities resulted that year.

In spite of this incident and considerable begging and thievery by
Indians, the emigrants had been in little real danger of Indian attack.
All this was changed by an unfortunate occurrence late in the summer of

    [Illustration: _Fort Laramie in 1853._ From a sketch by Frederick

              _The Grattan and Harney Massacres, 1854-55_

Until August 18, summer emigration in 1854 appears to have been
unaffected by trouble with the Indians. On that day a Mormon caravan
passed a village of Brule Sioux 8 miles east of Fort Laramie, and a cow
ran into the village where it was appropriated by a visiting Miniconjou
brave. This matter was reported at the fort by both the Mormons and the
chief of the Brules. Lt. John Grattan, Sixth Infantry, with 29 soldiers,
2 cannon, and an interpreter, was dispatched to the village to arrest
the offending Indian. Unfortunately, the interpreter was drunk and the
young officer was arrogant. The Indian offender refused to give himself
up and a fight was precipitated in the Indian village, resulting in the
annihilation of the military party.

The enraged Indians then pillaged Bordeaux’s nearby trading post and
helped themselves to both annuity goods and company property at the
American Fur Co.’s post 3 miles up the river. Fortunately, no attack was
made on the small remaining garrison of Fort Laramie to which
neighboring traders and others rushed for protection. All Sioux
immediately left the vicinity of the fort, and the Cheyennes and
Arapahoes waited only for the distribution of treaty goods before moving

During the following year, Indians committed many small-scale
depredations along the Oregon Trail. However, despite greatly
exaggerated alarms, the emigrants of 1855 were for the most part
unmolested. Meanwhile, the Army had become convinced that the Indians
must be punished, and a force of 600 men under Gen. W. S. Harney marched
westward from Fort Leavenworth. The Indian agent at Fort Laramie warned
all friendly Indians to come to the south side of the Platte—a warning
heeded by many bands. On September 2, General Harney arrived at Ash
Hollow, 150 miles below Fort Laramie, and located Little Thunder’s band
of Brule Sioux some 6 miles north on the Blue Water. Early the next
morning, after rejecting protestations of friendship by Little Thunder,
his troops attacked the village from two sides, killing 86 Indians and
capturing an almost equal number of women and children. At Fort Laramie,
General Harney issued a stern warning to other Sioux bands, then
proceeded overland through Sioux territory to establish a military post
at Fort Pierre on the upper Missouri River.

                  _Handcart to Pony Express, 1856-61_

In 1856, in an effort to reduce the cost of emigration to Utah, the
Mormons introduced the handcart plan. Two-wheeled handcarts, similar to
those once used by street sweepers, were constructed of Iowa hickory and
oak. One cart was assigned to each four or five converts who walked and
pushed or pulled their carts over the long trek from the railhead at
Iowa City to the Salt Lake Valley. Livestock was driven with the parties
and at times 1 ox-drawn wagon to each 100 emigrants was provided to
carry additional baggage and supplies. The first handcart parties were
very successful, but the last two, in 1856, started too late in the
summer and were snowed in near Devil’s Gate. There, more than 200 of the
1,000 or more in the two parties perished from cold and hunger before
the survivors could be rescued by wagon trains sent out from Utah. From
1856 to 1860 some 3,000 Mormons made the journey to Utah in 10 handcart
companies, and to these footsore travelers Fort Laramie was indeed a
haven in the wilderness.

Early in 1857, the War Department decided to abandon Fort Laramie, but
events forced the cancellation of the order before it could be carried
out, and the fort again demonstrated its strategic importance. First, it
served as a supply base for a punitive expedition led by Col. E. V.
Sumner against the Cheyennes between the Platte and Arkansas Rivers.
Then, as that campaign drew to an inconclusive end, the fort became a
vital base for the Army which marched toward Utah that fall to subdue
the reportedly rebellious Mormons.

By the next year, the Utah Campaign involved some 6,000 troops, half of
whom were in or near Utah, with Fort Laramie their nearest sure source
of supply.

In spite of this warlike activity, thousands of emigrants continued to
roll westward by covered wagon, the great travel medium of the plains.
To these the fort was a vital way station, as it was to the great firm
of Russell, Majors, and Waddell, freighting contractors who carried
supplies to the Army in Utah. In 1858, this enterprise alone involved
3,500 wagons, 40,000 oxen, 1,000 mules, and 4,000 men.

Beginning in 1850, mail service of varying frequency and reliability
linked Fort Laramie with the States to the east and Salt Lake City to
the west. Interrupted in the summer of 1857 by the Utah Campaign, a new
and improved weekly mail service was organized in 1858 bringing news
only 12 days old from the Missouri River to the fort.

In 1858, the discovery of gold at Cherry Creek, 200 miles south of Fort
Laramie, precipitated the Colorado gold rush. That winter Fort Laramie
was the nearest link between the gold miners clustered about the site of
Denver, Colo., and the outside world. An informal mail express to the
fort was organized and carried by old trappers.

These developments were soon overshadowed by the spectacular pony
express. The first westbound rider galloped into Fort Laramie on April
6, 1860, just 3 days out from St. Joseph, Mo. This remarkable system of
relays of riders and ponies carried up to 10 pounds of mail from St.
Joseph to San Francisco in 13 days, at the rate of $5 in gold for a
half-ounce letter. Later, a Government subsidy, begun on July 1, 1861,
reduced the rate to $1 for one-half ounce. On that same date daily
overland mail coaches began operating from St. Joseph to San Francisco,
via Fort Laramie, on an 18-day schedule.

Meanwhile, the poles and wires of the first transcontinental telegraph
were stretching out across the plains and mountains. Reaching Fort
Laramie in September, the telegraph was completed to Salt Lake City and
connected with the line from the west coast on October 24, 1861. That
date also marked the end of the pony express which, although a financial
failure that cost W. H. Russell his fortune, had proved the
practicability of the central route to California for year-round travel.

         _The Civil War and the Uprising of the Plains Indians_

The outbreak of the Civil War led to the reduction of garrisons at all
outposts. This, coupled with a bloody uprising of the Sioux in Minnesota
in 1862, inspired the Plains Indians, nursing many grievances, to go on
the warpath. In the spring of 1862, many stage stations along the Platte
route were raided and burned. To meet this threat, volunteer cavalry
from Utah rushed east to the South Pass area, and the Eleventh Ohio
Volunteer Cavalry under Col. Wm. O. Collins was ordered west to Fort
Laramie. These raids also prompted the moving of the overland mail and
stage route south to the Overland Trail and the establishment of Fort
Halleck 120 miles to the southwest. During this period, troops at Fort
Laramie continued to protect the vital telegraph line through South Pass
and a still considerable volume of travelers, principally to Utah.

The next winter was fairly peaceful at Fort Laramie, and of social life
at the post young Caspar Collins wrote to his mother: “They make the
soldiers wear white gloves at this post, and they cut around very
fashionably. A good many of the regulars are married and have their
wives and families with them.” He also indicated that they had a
circulating library, a band, amateur theatricals, and an occasional
ball. However, the dangers of the frontier were ever present, and, later
that winter, troops en route from Fort Laramie to Fort Halleck
encountered weather so severe that several were frozen to death.

Indians continued to steal horses from the overland mail stations,
freighters, and ranchers, and incidents provoked by both whites and
Indians piled up until the whole region was in a state of alarm. Efforts
were made to call the Indians into the forts to treat for peace, but
with little success.

At this time the difficulty of detecting the movements of Indian war
parties was demonstrated at Fort Laramie. Returning from a 3-day scout,
without finding a sign of hostile Indians, a large detachment of troops
unsaddled their horses and let them roll on the parade grounds.
Suddenly, at midday, a daring party of 30 warriors dashed through the
fort, drove the horses off to the north and escaped, with all but the
poorest animals, despite a 48-hour pursuit. The fort’s commander, Major
Wood, was described by his adjutant as “the maddest man I ever saw.”

    [Illustration: _Fort Laramie in 1863. Note “Old Bedlam” to the right
    of the flagpole._ From a sketch in the University of Wyoming
    Archives by Bugler C. Moellman, 11th Ohio Volunteer Cavalry.]

Later in 1864, after another attempt to make peace with the northern
Indians had failed, Gen. R. B. Mitchell ordered the strengthening of the
defenses along the road to South Pass. Several former stage and pony
express stations were strengthened and garrisoned. Fort Sedgwick, near
Julesburg, and Fort Mitchell, at Scottsbluff, were among those
established. Fort Laramie became headquarters of a district extending
from South Pass east to Mud Springs Station. Meanwhile, Indian raids
along the South Platte River virtually cut off Denver from the east for
6 weeks.

Continuing efforts to seek peace with the Indians were made unsuccessful
by the Sand Creek Massacre in November 1864, which united the southern
bands of Sioux, Cheyenne, and Arapahoe on the warpath. Early in January
1865, they raided Julesburg, sacking the station, carrying off great
quantities of foodstuffs, and almost succeeding in destroying the
garrison of Fort Sedgwick. Efforts to burn out the Indians by setting a
300-mile-wide prairie fire brought them swarming back to the attack,
destroying the South Platte road stations and miles of telegraph line,
sacking and burning Julesburg a second time, and driving off great herds
of livestock. While troops from Fort Laramie arrived at Mud Springs
Station in time to fight off the Indians there, all efforts by troops
from Fort Laramie and the east failed to prevent the Indians from
escaping with their booty across the North Platte, near Ash Hollow.

Termination of the Civil War in April 1865 released many troops for
service against the Indians, and plans were laid for extensive punitive
expeditions, especially in the country to the north of the North Platte

In May, the fort’s commander, Col. Thomas Moonlight, led 500 cavalrymen
on a 450-mile foray into the Wind River Valley, but failed to find the
Indians. Meanwhile, there were several raids on stations westward to
South Pass. An effort to move a village of friendly Brules from Fort
Laramie to Fort Kearny resulted in a fight at Horse Creek where Captain
Fouts and four soldiers were killed as these Indians escaped to join the
hostiles. In pursuing them, all of Colonel Moonlight’s horses were
stolen, and he returned to Fort Laramie in disgrace.

The major Indian raids of the summer centered on Platte Bridge Station,
130 miles above Fort Laramie, where late in July a large force of
Indians wiped out a wagon train and killed 26 white men, including Lt.
Caspar Collins who led a small party from the station in a valiant
rescue effort.

    [Illustration: _Group on the porch of “Old Bedlam” in 1864._
    Courtesy Newberry Library.]

In the meantime, a great campaign against the Indians, known as the
Powder River Expedition, got under way with 2,500 men, directed by Gen.
R. E. Connor. Of three columns planned to converge on the Indians in the
Powder River country, the first, under Colonel Cole, started from Omaha,
marched up the Loup River Valley, thence east of the Black Hills and on
to the Powder River in Montana. The second, under Lieutenant Colonel
Walker, left Fort Laramie, marched north along the west side of the
Black Hills, and joined Colonel Cole’s column as planned. The third,
under General Connor, marched about 100 miles up the Platte from Fort
Laramie, then north to the headwaters of Powder River where a small
fort, Camp Connor, was established; thence, down the Powder River, where
he destroyed the village and supplies of a large band of Arapahoes, but
failed to meet the other two columns. The other commanders, lacking
adequate supplies and proper knowledge of the country, lost most of
their horses and mules in a September storm and, beset by fast-riding
Indians, were forced to destroy the bulk of their heavy equipment. They
were finally found and led to Camp Connor just in time to prevent heavy
losses by starvation and possible destruction by Indians. The expedition
straggled back to Fort Laramie, a failure.

           _Peace Talk and War on the Bozeman Trail, 1866-68_

Officials at Washington now decided to try peaceful measures with the
Indians of the Fort Laramie region, and General Connor was succeeded in
command by General Wheaton. Emissaries were sent to the tribes, inviting
them to a general peace council at Fort Laramie in June 1866.

In March of that year, Col. Henry Maynadier, then in command at Fort
Laramie, reported, as auguring success of the peace council, that
Spotted Tail, head chief of the Brule Sioux, had brought in the body of
his daughter for burial among the whites at Fort Laramie. Her name was
Ah-ho-ap-pa, which is Sioux for wheat flour, although modern poets have
referred to her as Fallen Leaf. In the summer of 1864, she was a
familiar figure at Fort Laramie. While she haughtily refused the
crackers, coffee, and bacon doled out to the Indian women and children
at that time, she spent long hours on a bench by the sutler’s store
watching the white man’s way of life. She was particularly fond of
watching the guard mount and the dress parade, and the officer in charge
was often especially decked out in sash and plumes for her benefit. She
refused to marry one of her own people, attempted to learn English, and
told her people they were fools for not living in houses and making
peace with the whites. When the Sioux went on the warpath in 1864,
however, Spotted Tail and his daughter were with them and spent the next
year in the Powder River country. There the hard life weakened her, and
she sickened and died during the following cold winter.

Having promised to carry out her express wish to be buried at Fort
Laramie, her father led the funeral procession on a journey of 260
miles. Colonel Maynadier responded gallantly to Spotted Tail’s request.
In a ceremony which combined all the pageantry of the military and the
primitive tradition of the Sioux, her body was placed in a coffin on a
raised platform a half mile north of the parade grounds. Thus, a long
step had been taken toward winning the friendship of a great chief.

    [Illustration: _The grave of Spotted Tail’s daughter near Fort
    Laramie, about 1881._ Courtesy Wyoming Historical Department.]

    [Illustration: _Fort Laramie in 1867._ From a sketch by Anton

By June, a good representation of Brule and Oglala Sioux being present,
the commissioners set about negotiating a treaty. In the meantime,
unfortunately, the War Department sent out an expedition instructed to
open the Bozeman Trail through the Powder River country to the Montana
gold mines. Colonel Carrington and his troops arrived at Fort Laramie in
the midst of the negotiations and caused serious unrest among the
Indians. One chief commented, “Great Father send us presents and wants
new road, but white chief goes with soldiers to steal road before Indian
say yes or no,” and a large faction, led by Red Cloud and
Man-Afraid-of-His-Horses, withdrew in open opposition to all peace talk.
Nevertheless, the remaining Indians agreed to a treaty which provided
for the opening of the Bozeman Trail.

In late June the troops under Colonel Carrington marched up the trail,
garrisoned Camp Connor (later moved and named Fort Reno), and began
building Fort Phil Kearny at the foot of the Bighorn Mountains and Fort
C. F. Smith farther north in Montana. Immediately, it became evident
that the peace treaty was meaningless. Fort Phil Kearny was the scene of
almost daily Indian attacks on traders, wagon trains, wood-cutting
parties, and troops. These attacks were climaxed on December 21 when
Capt. William Fetterman and 80 men were led into an ambush and
annihilated by Indians led by Crazy Horse and Red Cloud. The fort and
its remaining garrison were in danger of being overwhelmed, and the
nearest aid lay at Fort Laramie, 236 miles away. At midnight, John
“Portugee” Phillips, trader and scout, slipped out into a blizzard on
the colonel’s favorite horse and in 4 days made his way across the
storm-swept, Indian-infested plains to Fort Laramie in one of the truly
heroic rides of American history. While his gallant mount lay dying on
the parade ground, Phillips interrupted a gay Christmas night party in
“Old Bedlam” to deliver his message, and a relief expedition was soon on
its way.

The severe weather made an attempted winter campaign against the Indians
unsuccessful, and there was no important fighting until summer. On
August 2, 1867, the Indians again attacked a woodcutting party near Fort
Phil Kearny, but the small detachment led by Captain Powell was armed
with the new 1866 Springfield breech-loading rifles and fought off
repeated charges by the Indians in the famous Wagon Box Fight.

    [Illustration:              FORT LARAMIE
                                GENERAL PLAN
                             (FROM AN OLD MAP)
                                                  APRIL 1954 NM-LAR-7004]


                          _The Treaty of 1868_

Again, the peace advocates in Washington were in the ascendancy, and in
the summer of 1867 the Congress provided a commission to treat with the
Indians, but authorized recruiting an army of 4,000 men if peace was not
attained. Treaties with the southern tribes were concluded at Fort
Larned in October, and the commissioners came to Fort Laramie in
November to treat with the northern tribes. However, few came in and the
hostiles, led by Red Cloud, sent word that no treaty was possible until
the forts on the Bozeman Trail and in the valley of the Powder River
were abandoned to the Indians. They did agree to cease hostilities and
to come to Fort Laramie the next spring. In April 1868, the
commissioners came again to Fort Laramie and were prepared to grant the
Indians’ demands, including abandonment of the Bozeman Trail. By late
May, both the Brule and Oglala Sioux had signed the treaty, but Red
Cloud refused to sign until the troops had left the Powder River country
and his warriors had burned the abandoned Fort Phil Kearny to the

    [Illustration: _The Peace Commissioners in council with Indians at
    Fort Laramie in 1868._ From a photograph by Alexander Gardner in the
    Newberry Library.]

    [Illustration: _Indians at the North Platte Ferry in 1868._ From a
    photograph by Alexander Gardner in the Newberry Library.]

    [Illustration: _Dress parade at Fort Laramie in 1868. Note “Old
    Bedlam” at the extreme right._ From a photograph by Alexander
    Gardner in the Newberry Library.]

This treaty gave the Indians all of what is now South Dakota west of the
Missouri River as a reservation. It also gave them control and hunting
rights in the great territory north of the North Platte River and east
of the Bighorn Mountains as unceded Indian lands. The Indian agencies
were to be built on the Missouri River. Many of the Indians, however,
objected to giving up trading at Fort Laramie as had been their custom,
and, in 1870, a temporary agency for Red Cloud’s band was established on
the North Platte River 30 miles below the fort, at the present
Nebraska-Wyoming line. Finally, in 1873, after he and other chiefs had
twice been taken to Washington and New York to view the numbers and
power of the white man, Red Cloud agreed to having his agency moved
north to a site on White River away from Fort Laramie and the Platte

    [Illustration: _Indians and whites at Fort Laramie in 1868._ From a
    photograph by Alexander Gardner in the Newberry Library.]

In the meantime, peace prevailed on the high plains, and, in 1872, it
was reported that not a white man was killed in the department of the

Later in 1873, however, the attitude of many Indians toward their agents
at the Red Cloud and Spotted Tail agencies became so hostile that the
agents requested that troops be stationed at the agencies. Although the
Indians protested this as a violation of their treaty rights, Camp
Robinson and Camp Sheridan were established at these respective agencies
in 1874. At the same time, funds were obtained for an iron bridge over
the North Platte at Fort Laramie. Its completion, early in 1876, gave
the troops there ready access to the Indian country.

    [Illustration: _Fort Laramie in 1868._ U. S. Geological Survey
    photograph by William H. Jackson.]

                    _The Fight for the Black Hills_

    [Illustration: _Fort Laramie in 1876._ Illustration: Courtesy D. S.

Rumors of gold in the Black Hills of South Dakota had persisted for many
years, which induced the Government to send an expedition under Col.
George A. Custer from Fort Abraham Lincoln on the upper Missouri to
investigate the area. Proceeding without opposition from the Indians,
the expedition confirmed the presence of gold in the hills and sent out
word of their discoveries to Fort Laramie in August 1874. The resulting
rush of prospecting parties was at first forbidden by the military, who
rounded up several and imprisoned some of their leaders at Fort Laramie,
while other parties were attacked by the Indians for flagrant violation
of the treaty of 1868.

A second expedition, led by Col. R. I. Dodge and Prof. W. P. Jenney, set
out from Fort Laramie the next spring to explore and evaluate the gold
deposits in the Black Hills. Miners also thronged the hills, and efforts
to make them await negotiations with the Indians were only partly
successful. Meanwhile, the Government did make an effort to buy the
Black Hills from the Sioux; but the Indians, led by Chief Spotted Tail,
set a justly high price on the area, which the Government refused to
meet. Moreover, the wild bands of Sitting Bull and other chiefs refused
to sell at any price and warned the whites to stay out. No longer
restrained by the Army, the miners now swarmed into the hills, which
became a powder keg.

Ignoring existing treaties, the Government decided to force the wild
Sioux onto their reservation, and when the order for them to come in was
not instantly complied with, the Army prepared for action. A double
enveloping campaign was planned, to be led by Gen. George Crook with
troops based at Fort Laramie and Fort Fetterman, and by Gen. Alfred H.
Terry with Custer’s Seventh Cavalry from Fort Abraham Lincoln and Col.
John Gibbon’s command from Fort Ellis, Mont. In March, Crook marched
north from Fort Fetterman, 80 miles northwest of Fort Laramie, with 12
companies of soldiers. His cavalry surprised a large village of Sioux
and Cheyenne on the Little Powder River in Montana, but Crazy Horse
rallied the Indians and forced the troops to retreat. Again in late May,
Crook moved north with 20 companies of men plus 300 friendly Shoshones
and Crows, and once more, on June 17, on the Rosebud, he was defeated by
a great array of warriors led by Crazy Horse. Retreating to his supply
camp, Crook again decided to send for reinforcements.

Meanwhile, General Terry’s command had marched west from Fort Abraham
Lincoln and met Colonel Gibbon’s detachment on the Yellowstone River.
Again dividing his forces, Terry sent Custer and the entire Seventh
Cavalry up the Rosebud River, while he and Gibbon, with 12 companies of
infantry and four troops of cavalry, proceeded up the Bighorn River.

On the morning of June 25, 1876, Custer’s scouts sighted the Indian
village in the valley of the Little Bighorn. He divided his command to
attack the village from three directions. The Indians, however, first
met Maj. Marcus A. Reno’s contingent of three troops in the afternoon in
overwhelming numbers and forced them to retreat to a defensive position,
where they were joined by a similar detachment under Capt. Frederick W.
Benteen and the pack train. Meanwhile, the great part of the Indians had
swung away to meet and wipe out Custer’s personal command of five
troops. Again the warriors attacked Reno, but since he was on favorable
ground he was able to fight them off until the next day when their
scouts detected the approach of General Terry. Firing the grass, the
Indians moved off into the Bighorn Mountain, leaving over 260 soldiers
dead on the battlefield. It was an empty victory, however, as the
Indians were compelled to scatter to hunt for food. By winter,
reinforced armies under General Crook and Colonel Miles had defeated
bands led by Dull Knife and Crazy Horse, forcing them to return to the
reservation and surrender, while Sitting Bull’s band fled north into

In the meantime, the Government had decreed that no annuities should be
paid to the hostile bands or to any Sioux until they had ceded the
coveted Black Hills to the whites. A commission succeeded in getting the
Sioux to sign an agreement effecting that end when it became law in
February 1877.

The Northern Cheyennes were taken south to the Indian territory in 1877,
but they broke away the next year, led by Dull Knife and Little Wolf,
and headed north for their old home in the Dakotas. After hard
campaigning by troops from Fort Laramie and other posts, many of Dull
Knife’s band were killed and all others were captured. These, however,
were permitted to remain on the northern reservation.

    [Illustration: _In 1888, officers’ row featured boardwalks, picket
    fences, and family gatherings on vine-shaded verandas._ Courtesy
    Col. Louis Brechemin.]

The rush to the Black Hills gave new importance to Fort Laramie, for,
with its bridge across the North Platte, it was the gateway to the
gold-mining region via the trail leading north from Cheyenne, whose
merchants advertised the route as being well guarded. Although the
troops from the fort were virtually all engaged in the effort to combat
Indian depredations and provide escorts, travel to the gold fields was
in fact extremely hazardous. Regular service by the Cheyenne and Black
Hills stage line was impossible, until conditions improved in the fall
of 1876. But no sooner had Indian raids on the trail lessened than the
activities of “road agents” threatened the traveler. Even armored
coaches with shotgun guards failed to deter the bandits seeking gold

                 _Last Years of the Army Post, 1877-90_

Beginning in the late 1870’s, other changes took place around Fort
Laramie. With the Indians removed to reservations, ranchers and other
settlers came in, and great herds of cattle replaced the buffalo on the
Wyoming plains. To many of these settlers the fort on the Laramie was a
supply center, as well as insurance against Indian outbreaks and lawless
white men.

    [Illustration:              FORT LARAMIE
                                PLAN OF POST

   2       ”    ”
   3       ”    ”
   4       ”    ”
   5       ”    ”
   6       ”    ”
   7       ”    ”
   8       ”    ”
   9       ”    ”
  10       ”    ”
  11       ”    ”
  12       ”    ”
  15       ”    ”
  16       ”    ”
  17       ”    ”
  18       ”    ”
  19       ”    ”
  22    LIBRARY
  24    BARRACKS
  28    OIL HOUSE
  30    BARRACKS
  32       ”    ”    ”
  33       ”    ”    ”
  36    GRANARY
  37    BAKERY
  38    Q.M. STORE HOUSE
  41    Q.M. STORE HOUSE
  42       ”    ”    ”
  43    Q.M. SHOPS
  44       ”    ”
  46    Q.M. SHOPS
  47       ”    ”
  48       ”    ”
  51    STABLES
  52       ”
  53       ”
  54    SAW MILL
  57    HOSPITAL

    [Illustration: _Officers’ row in the winter of 1889._ Courtesy U. S.
    Signal Corps.]

During these same years, Fort Laramie was assuming a false air of
permanence as many of the old buildings of frame, log, and adobe
construction were replaced by sturdy new structures with lime-concrete
walls. A water system changed the parade ground from a gravelly flat to
a tree-shaded greensward. The last cavalry unit to be stationed at the
fort rode away in 1883 with Col. Wesley Merritt. Part of the Seventh
Infantry, commanded by Colonel Gibbon, then garrisoned the post.

    [Illustration: _General view of Fort Laramie in 1889._ Courtesy U.
    S. Signal Corp.]

Fort Laramie’s importance had been threatened by construction of the
Union Pacific Railroad 100 miles to the south. Its fate was now sealed
by construction, in the late 1880’s, of the Northwestern Line 50 miles
to the north. This made Fort Robinson the logical guardian of the Indian
reservations to the north, and by 1886 Col. Henry Merriam, then
commanding officer of the Seventh Infantry and Fort Laramie, was ready
to agree that further development of the old post was unwise. Not until
August 31, 1889, however, was abandonment of the proud old fort decreed.
At the request of Wyoming’s Governor Warren, troops remained at the post
until March 2, 1890, when the last two companies of the Seventh Infantry
marched away. A few men were left to ship movable property, while a
detachment from Fort Robinson dismantled some of the structures and on
April 9, 1890, auctioned off the buildings and fixtures. At that
auction, Lt. C. M. Taylor of the Ninth Cavalry sold the buildings of
historic Fort Laramie at prices ranging from $2.50 to $100. Thirty-five
lots of buildings and much miscellaneous furniture and fixtures brought
a total of $1,395.

                      _The Homesteaders Take Over_

In June 1890, the military reservation of some 35,000 acres was turned
over to the Department of the Interior and opened to homesteading. John
Hunton was appointed custodian of the abandoned military reservation for
the General Land Office. He first came to Fort Laramie in 1867 to work
for the sutler. Later, he became a ranch operator, and in 1888 he
succeeded John London as post trader. Hunton was a major buyer at the
final auction and managed to homestead the northwest side of the old
parade grounds of the fort, continuing to operate the sutler’s store
briefly, and living next door in the former officers’ quarters for
nearly 30 years.

Another of the major purchasers at the auction was one Joe Wilde, who
also homesteaded part of the fort grounds, including the commissary
storehouse and the cavalry barracks. He converted the buildings into a
combination hotel, dance hall, and saloon and operated them as a social
center for North Platte Valley residents for over 25 years. The west end
of the parade grounds and the site of the old adobe trading post which
the Army had demolished in 1862 was homesteaded by the widow of Thomas
Sandercock, a civilian engineer at the fort, who made her home in the
officers’ quarters which had been built in 1870.

A dozen or more buildings used by these civilian owners were preserved
with some alterations; but the bulk of the buildings were soon
dismantled for lumber by their purchasers, and the old fort became a
part of many a ranch home, homestead shack, or barn.

    [Illustration:               A GUIDE TO
                                FORT LARAMIE
                             NATIONAL MONUMENT
                                                  APRIL 1954 NM-LAR-7006]

                     _Efforts to Preserve the Fort_

John Hunton and a few other citizens recognized the historic importance
of the old fort and expressed regret at its decay. In 1913, despairing
anything better, they erected a monument commemorating its long service
as a military post on the Oregon Trail.

Lands and buildings changed hands. Absentee landlords, tenants, and
souvenir hunters contributed much to the destruction of the historic
buildings and to the scattering of priceless relics. Creation of the
Wyoming Historical Landmark Commission in 1927 initiated efforts to
achieve public ownership and to protect this historic site. Ten years
later the State of Wyoming appropriated funds for the purchase and
donation to the Federal Government of 214 acres of land, including the
surviving buildings. By Presidential proclamation, this became Fort
Laramie National Monument on July 16, 1938, under the administration of
the National Park Service of the United States Department of the

                          _Guide to the Area_

At Fort Laramie, the National Park Service is endeavoring to preserve
the surviving features of the military period and, after exhaustive
research, to restore standing buildings and related portions of the
grounds to their appearance around 1888. Certain of the older structures
provide glimpses of the fort scene as early as 1849.

The numbers in the following guide section correspond to numbers on the
guide map.


It is suggested that you stop first at the Information Center in the
former cavalry barracks. Here information and free literature are
provided and a variety of publications are on sale. Some exhibits will
aid you to visualize the appearance and significance of the fort at
various periods in its long career. The structure is also being utilized
temporarily for National Park Service headquarters, utility shops, and
residential units.

The cavalry barracks, as originally constructed in 1875, provided
quarters, kitchens, messhalls, washrooms, reading rooms, and other
facilities for two 60-man units of troops.


Walking 100 yards southwest, past a commemorative monument and the site
of the sutler’s residence, you reach the sutler’s store. Erected in 1849
or early 1850, the adobe section of this structure housed a general
store. The stone section was added about 1852 and used in part as
quarters for the sutler. During the next three decades, many other
additions were made, all of which had disappeared by 1883. At that time,
the present lime-concrete section was constructed. This addition housed
the officers’ club, storage rooms, and a public saloon which connected
with a poolroom in part of the stone section. The balance of the stone
section then housed the sutler’s office and the post office connecting
with the original general store. Operated by the sutler, or post trader
as he was officially known after 1867, under a permit from the War
Department, this versatile institution served many notable western
travelers, residents, and warriors—both red and white—during its 40
active years.

    [Illustration: _The sutler’s store in 1875._ Courtesy University of
    Wyoming Archives and Western History Department.]

    [Illustration: _“Old Bedlam” in 1875._ Courtesy H. C. Bretney.]


With mansard roof and lime-concrete walls, there stands next to the
sutler’s store the last officers’ quarters erected at Fort Laramie in
1884. After the abandonment of the fort, it became the home of the last
post trader, John Hunton.

    [Illustration: _The sutler’s store and officers’ row, 1954._]


Next in “Officers’ Row” stands a lime-concrete walled duplex. Erected
during the building boom at Fort Laramie in 1875-76, it is typical of
the officers’ quarters of that day.


Turning your back to “Officers’ Row,” you see the stone foundations of a
long, three-company barracks erected in 1868 which faced one end of the
historic parade ground, and had behind it messhalls and kitchens for
each company.

    [Illustration: _“Old Bedlam” in 1889._ Courtesy E. A. Brininstool.]

    [Illustration: _“Old Bedlam” in 1938, prior to restoration._]


To the rear of “Officers’ Row” stands a rough stone-walled structure
originally built by 1850 as post magazine. In later years it served as
an outbuilding under several types of roofs.


    [Illustration: _Officers and children in front of now-missing units
    of officers’ row, about 1889._ Courtesy Gen. G. W. McIver.]

Passing the sites of missing units of “Officers’ Row,” you reach this
two-storied frame structure which has dominated the scene since the late
summer of 1849, when it was partially completed of lumber sawed locally
by horsepower and millwork hauled overland from Fort Leavenworth. While
post headquarters—home of the commanding officer until 1867 and often
the stronghold of bachelor officers—countless notables, including
soldier, civilian, and Indian sat at its dinner and council tables. It
has been intimately associated with many historic events, among the most
dramatic of which was John “Portugee” Phillips’ 236-mile, 4-day ride
through December blizzards with the news of the Fetterman disaster at
Fort Phil Kearny in 1866. Its brick-filled, clapboard walls echoing to
historic tumult and social gaiety, it early acquired the name “Old
Bedlam,” which was immortalized in Gen. Charles King’s novel _Laramie,
or the Queen of Bedlam_, first published in 1889. As originally
constructed, it had side wings and outside stairways. These were removed
and the present rear wing added in 1881.

    [Illustration: _The cast of an amateur tableau in 1889 featured Col.
    H. C. Merriam, the commanding officer._ Courtesy Col. Louis


Three sets of crumbling lime-concrete walls are all that remain of two
commodious duplexes and a spacious veranda-rimmed mansion for the
commanding officer, which were erected in 1881. They are stark reminders
of the dismantling of many fine buildings for lumber after the public
auction of 1890.


Turning the corner of the parade ground by the remains of a small brick
fountain and passing the site of another now-missing officers’ quarters,
you reach the site of the fort built in 1841 by the American Fur Co.
Located on high ground in a bend of the Laramie River, it dominated the
then treeless valley from bluff to bluff. Many historians believe this
was also the site of log-stockaded Fort William, erected in 1834, but
conclusive evidence as to its location is lacking.

    [Illustration: _Guard mount, about 1885, facing officers’ quarters,
    now in ruins._ Courtesy Wyoming Historical Department.]


Occupying part of the site of Fort John is a large frame building used
as officers’ quarters and built in 1870. Originally designed for one
family, it was later divided into a duplex with two kitchen wings and
verandas on three sides.


Turning the far corner of the parade ground where once stood several
minor buildings, including a printing office, you reach the ruins of the
fine administration building erected in 1885 to house not only the
headquarters offices but the post theater and a schoolroom for officers’


Facing the shallow stream, which is all that modern irrigation
reservoirs have left of the rushing Laramie River, are the stone walls
and barred windows and doors of the guardhouse, or prison, built in
1866. The upper floor was used largely by the post guard contingent,
while prisoners, regardless of the degree of their offense, languished
in the basement room where remains of a solitary cell suggests the
probable harshness of military penal discipline. Bricked-up windows and
doorway are evidences of later use of this structure for ordnance


The long, low mound on the southeast side of the parade ground marks the
site of another two-company barracks behind which were kitchens and
messhalls. These also were built in 1866.

    [Illustration: _Barracks for five companies and the new guardhouse
    viewed across the parade grounds about 1889._ Courtesy U. S. Signal


At the east angle of the parade ground stands the walls of a guardhouse
erected in 1876 to improve the lot of both guards and prisoners. To the
right are the foundations of the general sink, and, to the left, the
barracks foundations described under No. 5.

    [Illustration: _The administration building at Fort Laramie shortly
    after its completion in 1885._ Courtesy U. S. Signal Corps.]


One hundred yards to the east, this brick and lime-concrete structure,
built in 1876 to replace an earlier bakehouse, has been restored to its
condition as a granary, the use to which it was put after 1885 when a
new bakery, now in ruin to the east, was constructed.

    [Illustration: _The restored commissary-storehouse, the old bakery,
    and ruined new bakery, 1954._]


This large, lime-concrete walled structure was erected in 1883 and
included offices, issue rooms, and storerooms for the variety of
clothing, foodstuffs, and supplies controlled by the commissary. In one
large section of this structure are displayed vehicles, implements,
stoves, and furnishings, either relics of the fort or acquisitions for
eventual refurnishing of certain of the historic structures.

You have now returned to the parking area and Information Center, but
may continue your tour to additional sites.


On the hill to the north stand the ruins of the post hospital erected in
1873. The hospital contained a 12-bed ward, dispensary, kitchen, dining
room, isolation rooms, surgeon’s office, rooms for orderlies and
storage, but no laboratory or operating rooms. It was the first
lime-concrete building erected at Fort Laramie. There is good evidence
that this building stands in the midst of the Cemetery used by the fur
traders before 1849 and by the Army before 1868. These early burials,
probably including that of Milton Sublette in 1836, remain undisturbed.


East of the hospital is the ruin of a long, one-story building. Built in
1884, it consisted of six four-room apartments for married
noncommissioned staff Officers.

Looking west from “Hospital Hill,” you may gaze down on the sites of the
Cheyenne-Black Hills Stage Co.’s stables and the Rustic Hotel, another
of the post trader’s enterprises during the Black Hills rush. Farther
west stand the ruined walls of a sawmill-pumphouse erected in 1887 to
replace a predecessor destroyed by fire.


Outside the present boundaries of the national monument, but closely
related to the historic fort, are several other points of interest.

    [Illustration: _A view of Fort Laramie, 1954._]

    [Illustration: _The cavalry barracks, 1954, partially restored._]

When approaching the fort, the visitor crosses the North Platte River on
a picturesque iron truss bridge which was built by the Army in 1875-76
with materials hauled by ox team from Cheyenne. A short distance above
the bridge, on the south bank of the river, is the site of old Fort
Platte, rival of the second Fort Laramie (Fort John). Farther on, to the
left of the road, is a modern cemetery which includes a few marked
burials of soldiers and civilians of the late military period. The
remains of enlisted men once buried here, along with remains of soldiers
slain in the Grattan massacre, have been removed to Fort McPherson
National Cemetery in Nebraska.

Just beyond the boundary fence to the northeast, adjoining the cavalry
barracks and commissary storehouse, once stood numerous utility shops,
stables, corrals, the Indian agent’s office, and the telegraph office.
On the opposite side of Laramie River were other structures associated
with the fort, including a laundresses’ quarters and the Brown’s Hotel.

In historic times there were various bridges across the Laramie for the
accommodation of soldiers and civilian travelers. The abutments of one
of these may still be seen to the east of the old bakery.

                      _How to Reach Fort Laramie_

Fort Laramie National Monument is on a paved country road 3 miles
southwest of the town of Fort Laramie, Wyo., which is on U. S. 26 midway
between its junctions with U. S. 85 and 87.

The Burlington Railroad and Bus Lines offer service to the town of Fort
Laramie, but there is no public transportation between the town and the
monument. You must arrange your own transportation between these points.


Fort Laramie National Monument is administered by the National Park
Service of the United States Department of the Interior. A
superintendent, whose address is Fort Laramie, Wyo., is in immediate

                            _Related Areas_

Included in the National Park System are many other important areas
connected with various periods in American history. In addition to Fort
Laramie National Monument, those commemorating related phases of Western
history include: Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, Mo.; Homestead
and Scotts Bluff National Monuments, Nebr.; Custer Battlefield and Big
Hole Battlefield National Monuments, Mont.; Grand Teton National Park,
Wyo.; Whitman National Monument, Wash.; Lava Beds National Monument,
Calif.; Pipe Spring National Monument, Ariz.; and McLoughlin House
National Historic Site, Oreg.


Fort Laramie National Monument has no facilities for camping parties.
Trailer parks, motels, hotel accommodations, and restaurants may be
found in the nearby towns of Torrington, Lingle, Fort Laramie, and

The area is open the entire year. Historical information and literature
are available at the administrative office and museum, which is open
every day during the summer. Special interpretive service is available
to groups making prior arrangements with the superintendent.

                         NATIONAL PARK SERVICE
                       HISTORICAL HANDBOOK SERIES

   (Price lists of National Park Service publications may be obtained
       from the Superintendent of Documents, Washington 25, D.C.)

  Chickamauga and Chattanooga Battlefields
  Custer Battlefield
  Custis-Lee Mansion, the Robert E. Lee Memorial
  Fort Laramie
  Fort McHenry
  Fort Necessity
  Fort Pulaski
  Fort Raleigh
  Fort Sumter
  George Washington Birthplace
  Guilford Courthouse
  Hopewell Village
  Jamestown, Virginia
  Kings Mountain
  The Lincoln Museum and the House Where Lincoln Died
  Manassas (Bull Run)
  Montezuma Castle
  Morristown, a Military Capital of the Revolution
  Petersburg Battlefields
  Scotts Bluff
  Statue of Liberty
  Vanderbilt Mansion

    [Illustration: Endpaper]

                          Transcriber’s Notes

—Retained publication information from the printed edition: this eBook
  is public-domain in the country of publication.

—Corrected a few palpable typos.

—In the text versions only, text in italics is delimited by

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