Fort Laramie
Park History, 1834-1977
NPS Logo

FORT LARAMIE, 1834 - 1890

Chapter XIV:

Fort Laramie in the 1880s was in marked contrast to the small post that in 1849-1850 had sprouted around the new parade ground adjoining the adobe trading post. As dictated by military exigencies and spasmodic Congressional appropriations the fort structural complex had gradually evolved into a sprawling assemblage of adobe, stone, frame and lime-grout buildings. In an inventory of 1888 about 70 Army buildings and civilian appendages are identified, being the most recent or the most durable of a total of over 180 buildings constructed here between 1849 and 1885.

In its fourth decade as a military post Fort Laramie had assumed the size and somewhat the appearance of a respectable town. Indeed it was a stabilizing influence, resembling a county seat, in a region which was shifting rapidly from its wild frontier character to the beginnings of permanent settlement. Range cattle and cowboys were replacing buffalo and Indians. Mines and ranches became the nuclei of communities sinking roots into the land. Stage lines faded away as new railroads, trunk lines and branches, advanced. But Fort Laramie, guardian of the trails and the precursor of civilization for a vast wilderness, was doomed when that civilization was assured. Even as the fort seemed to grow and achieve its greatest glory as a structural complex, the seeds of its destruction were planted.

During this decade the post, under the successive commands of Colonels Wesley Merritt of the Fifth Cavalry, and John Gibbon and Henry C. Merriam of the Seventh Infantry, had a regular command of of six companies with an average complement of 350 men. However, except for occasional assistance to civil authorities in upholding law and order, field exercises, maneuvers, and target practice, military activity was at low ebb, while grand balls, celebrations, dress parades, theatricals, picnics, pink lemonade, and tree-planting became the dominant preoccupations. This is not the stuff of which epic history is made. Fort Laramie's star, which had shone so brilliantly in the western sky, was on the wane.

In 1886 General J. M. Schofield of the Adjutant-General's Office, noted that the Elkhorn Valley (later the Chicago, Northwestern) Railroad would reach Fort Robinson, but would bypass Fort Laramie. That same year Colonel Merriam acknowledged that, "this post has lost its significance as a military location," and therefore further expenditures for construction and repairs of buildings would not be justified. It appears that the top-level decision to abandon was deferred for three more years because of influence exerted by Wyoming officials who were reluctant to part with the benefits, both economic and protective, that accrued from the presence of this post in Eastern Wyoming. The inevitable came to pass on August 31, 1889 when General Schofield announced that, "the garrisons of Fort Laramie, Wyoming Territory; Fort Hays, Kansas; and Fort Lyon, Colorado will be withdrawn, and the several military posts will be abandoned."

The actual demise of Fort Laramie was spread over a period of one year. From May 1889 to March 1890 various units of the Seventh Infantry were transferred to Fort Logan, Colorado. A detachment from Fort Robinson stripped buildings of doors, windows, fixtures, and accessories. On April 9 Lieutenant C. W. Taylor presided over a public auction of buildings and furniture rejects. On June 10 the War Department issued its final order when it transferred to the Secretary of the Interior the military reservation, and the wood and timber reservation at Laramie Peak, "the same being no longer required for military purposes."

<<< Previous <<< Contents >>> Next >>>
Last Updated: 01-Mar-2003