Ruins of Fort C.F. Smith in the early 20th century
Tension and Monotony
During the fort’s brief existence, twenty-six men and one woman died violently. Several of those deaths arose from combat with hostile Indians, most of the casualties occurring during the Hayfield Fight on August 1, 1867. Also, the Bighorn River claimed its share of lives when unsuspecting individuals were swept away by raging waters. Mrs. Julia Roach (Doyle) has the distinct honor of being the only murder victim at the fort, a murder which went unpunished.
Constantly harassed by Red Cloud’s warriors, life at Fort C.F. Smith was a combination of tension and monotony. The military post was 300 hostile miles from the nearest settlement. Loneliness, disease, and mental breakdowns were the lot of the military and civilians who manned this remote outpost.
While desertions took place in August and September, by fall numerous supply trains had arrived at the fort making life a bit easier for the soldiers. The first women and children also arrived at the fort during this time. Under Colonel Bradley, the old temporary barracks and officers’ quarters used through the first winter came down. They were reconstructed incorporating significant improvements.
The outer walls of the quarters and barracks were part of an outer defensive wall. Pointed timbers were set upright between the houses. The work continued into early 1868. Mail deliveries were much more frequent, and the winter not as harsh. Living conditions at Fort C.F. Smith had improved considerably.
Peace Commission And Abandonment
In January 1868, the Indian Peace Commission and the Sioux agreed they both wanted peace, but the Sioux only wanted peace if the Bozeman Trail was abandoned and the troops withdrawn from Forts C.F. Smith, Phil Kearney, and Reno. On April 29th, the Peace Commission concluded a treaty with the Sioux agreeing to these terms. On May 7th, a treaty with the Crow established the Crow Reservation.
The coming abandonment of the fort stopped all work on improvements and started work on preparations for leaving. All that wouldn’t be taken with the soldiers was put up for public auction and sold for a very low price. Two of the companies left on June 18th. The men spent a busy July loading supplies and equipment.
Fort C.F. Smith was the first of the three forts to be abandoned. The Crow people, who had come to depend on the military post for safety and trade goods, gathered to bid these men goodbye. On July 29, 1868, with no martial band to thrill the heart, the members of the U.S. Army and their dependents, who had participated in the short life of Fort C.F. Smith, turned south on the trail home. The soldiers and civilians reached Fort Phil Kearney on August 2nd. Within thirty-six hours the combined forces abandoned it as well. Fort Smith was burned by the Sioux soon after it was abandoned
For the first time, the United States had failed to force its will on the Indians and make them accept its terms. Today, all that remains of Fort C.F. Smith is a marker that can be seen from the road. The site of Fort C.F. Smith is located on private property.