Fort Laramie
Park History, 1834-1977
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FORT LARAMIE, 1834 - 1890

Chapter V:

Prior to 1841 Fort Laramie visitors consisted exclusively of trappers and traders, Plains Indians, missionaries bound for the Northwest, and random adventurers. That year, however, saw the arrival of the Bidwell-Bartleson expedition, the first avowed settlers bound for the west coast. They were followed in 1842 by the White-Hastings expedition to Oregon, the journalist of which mentions "Fort Laramy, the great central trading post of the American Fur Company." Both of these expeditions utilized the services of Thomas Fitzpatrick, veteran mountain man, as guide.

Though Oregon (present Oregon, Washington, and Idaho) was still British territory, it was claimed by the United States, and Americans interested in settling there were spurred by stories of its natural wealth. The year 1843 saw the first great migration to Oregon, about 1,000 persons led by the zealous Marchus Whitman and Peter Burnett, who would become the first American governor of California. They crossed the swollen Laramie by improvised ferry, and obtained supplies at the post.

Another 1,000 Oregonians paused here to camp in 1844. Among them was James Clyman, one of Fitzpatrick's starving trappers who had visited the virgin site in 1824, and now beheld "the white battlments of Fort Larrimie."

The trickle of migration to Oregon became a respectable stream of 5,000 souls in 1845, and for twenty years thereafter Fort Laramie would witness the annual emigrant cavalcade, at times becoming a flood of humanity moving westward on wagon wheels. Camping, repairing equipment, buying provisions at the fort, and mingling with its swarthy employees and gaudily clad Indian customers became standard trail procedure.

In 1846 Edwin Bryant noted "two brass swivels" defending it's gate. He also observed that buffalo meat and venison formed the staple diet of fort personnel. Another emigrant party pausing at the fort that year was the Reed-Donner wagon train, destined for disaster in the snows of the Sierra Nevadas because of fatal mis-judgements on their choice of routes west of South Pass. From the parapet of the fort Parkman observed the arrival of this ill-starred company, as well as the barbaric spectacle of Sioux Indian bands with naked warriors, gaily attired squaws, horse-drawn travois, and packs of noisy children and dogs.

In 1847 Brigham Young led his band of Mormon Pioneers (143 men, 3 women, 2 children, 72 wagons) west from Winter Quarters at Council Bluffs to the new Zion which became Salt Lake City. Fort Laramie was the only sign of civilization on their 1,000 mile journey. On June 1 Young and a delegation of elders crossed the Platte by their own expedition boat, explored the ruins of Fort Platte, and then visited Fort Laramie where they plied Bordeaux for information. Later they ferried the wagons over by rented flat-boat and, while the company rested and made repairs, clerk Thomas Bullock and official journalist William Clayton measured both adobe structures.

In addition to 2,000 Mormons who followed the Pioneers later in 1847 an estimated 5,000 non-Mormons travelled to Oregon. In 1848 there was a decline in the numbers of "gentiles" going to Oregon, but an upsurge of 4,000 "Saints" to Salt Lake.

There was a moderately brisk business with the emigrants in provisioning, ferrying, and exchange of stock and equipment, but the Indian trade at the fort continued to decline. Conditions were now ripe for the retirement of the American Fur Company from the scene, and the advent of a new owner better attuned to the music of Manifest Destiny.

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Last Updated: 01-Mar-2003