5. David L. Hieb, Custodian/Superintendent, 1947-1949
Dave Hieb was Custodian/Superintendent of Fort Laramie National Monument for eleven full years, from May 1, 1947 to May 31, 1958. He had been Park Ranger at Scotts Bluff National Monument, so it was a short trip to his new assignment. The Hieb family occupied quarters in the Cavalry Barracks throughout their tenure, this being the longest on-site residency of the Old Fort by any one family after the pre-park John Hunton period. Dave left the Fort to become Regional Chief of Boundary Studies in Omaha, and later served as Superintendent of George Washington Carver and Wilson's Creek Battlefield, in Missouri, and Herbert Hoover Birthplace in Iowa, before retiring to live at Estes Park, Colorado, scene of his earlier employment, beginning in 1930, as a Rocky Mountain National Park ranger. 
On January 1, 1949 the title "Custodian", as applied to the manager of a "national monument" created by Presidential Proclamation under authority of the Antiquities Act of 1906, was changed throughout the National Park system to that of "Superintendent." The duties were the same as always, but the new title conferred a degree of respect that did not always go with the ambiguous "Custodian", a term more commonly applied by the general public to those with merely caretaker or janitorial functions. Whereas "Superintendents" were formerly only those in charge of big scenic national parks, now everyone in charge of any kind of an area in the National Park system parks, monuments, historic sites, memorials, battlefields, whatever was suddenly a "Superintendent."
It was during the Hieb incumbency that Fort Laramie finally blossomed out with an effective rehabilitation! restoration program that made the public sit up and take notice. This success, of course, was primarily the result of a general loosening of Government purse strings, but the Service could not have picked a man more ideally suited to implement the Fort Laramie rehabilitation program. Dave Hieb was the model of a conscientious, energetic, and skillful project manager. He was a well-informed and alert historian, a highly competent master of many building crafts, an effective leader of work crews, and a talented and tireless writer of essential memoranda and valuable technical reports. During a period of intensive construction activity, the results of which brought uniformly high praise from his associates and superiors, Dave also found time or made time to make many significant contributions to historical research, long-range planning, and community public relations. He was a Superintendent, construction supervisor, and research man all wrapped up in one package, actually doing three jobs for the price of one.
There were two phases of maximum intensive rehabilitation/restoration at Fort Laramie, one under Dave Hieb and the other under Charlie Sharp. During the Hieb period, 1947-1958 rehabilitation or restoration work was done in some degree on all Government-owned historic structures and ruins including Old Bedlam, and Dave made important contributions to research and planning for that project, completed later by others. To fully understand and appreciate this period it must be treated as a chronological unit or continuum. Therefore we must first look at Hieb's period of orientation and preparation, 1947-1949. This period was characterized by administrative innovations, intensified maintenance of buildings and grounds, new break-throughs in research, and efforts to firm up long-range planning.
Art Darnall of Fort Laramie town, who was "Acting Custodian" for the few months in 1947 before Hieb's arrival, continued on as a "6-months laborer," and there was a succession of part-time clerk-typists, so the personnel situation began to improve under Hieb, however so slightly.  Despite an upswelling of attendance from a war time low of 1,300 in 1943 to 12,000 in 1946 and 19,000 in 1949, there were yet no rangers, historians, or technicians, either permanent or temporary, to assist Hieb in handling visitors. Although he was always available to answer questions, visitors were pretty much on their own with a rudimentary self-guided tour aided by a leaflet and markers. Of course no historic buildings interiors were yet open except for the small lobby of the Cavalry Barracks, with token exhibits.
When Hieb arrived, conditions were still on a primitive level. Gradual improvements were made to the liveability of the quarters and administrative facilities in the Barracks, even to the extent of bringing in television from Cheyenne and Scottsbluff, but these quarters at their peak of improvement could never be described as luxurious. The thick walls ensured cool conditions in the warm summertime, but there was no way to insulate against penetrating cold, particularly during frequent high winds. While the weather at Fort Laramie can be balmy at times, when it gets rough it seems to focus all of its fury on that spot. In June, 1947 occurred "the wettest June" on record. In June, 1948 came "the worst hail in 40 years," shattering over a hundred window panes. And January, 1949 was the time of the "Great Blizzard," which isolated towns and paralysed highway and railway traffic throughout the Northern Great Plains. As to its impact on the Fort, Hieb reported on January 6 to the Coordinating Superintendent at Rocky Mountain:
Shortly after his occupancy of the Barracks, in May, 1947, Hieb was treated to the same fireworks that afflicted Borreson, when a heavy wet snow broke down the Monument power line, bringing it into contact again with the Bureau of Reclamation's 33,000 volt line. However, this time the Regional Office agreed that drastic correction of the dangerous set-up, with wires on the same poles "so susceptible to entanglement", was needed to safeguard the historic property as well as life and limb. Funds were conjured up from somewhere and by December 1947 there was a changeover to a new and safer R.E.A. powerline. Another change for the better was the 1948 installation of a new casing for the well at the south end of the Barracks which restored running water for domestic purposes after intermittent use of an old pitcher pump which froze up regularly in the winter. While the new system was being installed the Hiebs went into the pioneer routine, being obliged to obtain their water from the historic well back of Officers Row, which they carried in buckets. Yet another giant step forward, so to speak, was the incorporation into the quarters of a modern bathroom, complete with tub and flush toilet (for which Hieb, for lack of help, had personally to install the sewer tile). Previously the occupants had to rely on the "outdoor plumbing" of a screened satellite privy, an inconvenient and unsanitary as well as uncomfortable arrangement, particularly under conditions when the chill factor fell below zero. 
In 1947 there were extensive repairs by the County on the Old Army "bow bridge" across the Platte, involving new braces, tie rods, stringers, and planking. The ancient structure had been in such condition that Fort personnel, as well as visitors and neighboring ranchers, rumbled across it at their peril. During these repairs it was necessary to close the bridge to traffic and, since there was no other bridge in that vicinity, traffic was routed across the river by means of an improvised ford. This was possible during the summer months because the channel flow was at low ebb and could be diverted through a series of parallel culverts heaped over with bulldozed gravel and dirt. This, too, enhanced the pioneer experience of visitors that year, as did the rough dusty approach road to the Fort which now resembled "one long sand dune." A promise by the County to grade and oil the road went unfulfilled when bids submitted for the project were too high. Finally, in 1948, for the first time, the road was graded and oiled. 
Before Dave Hieb assumed office, in February 1947 Canfield visited the Omaha office in an effort to resolve the Master Plan in favor of his preference for a separate south side modern facility, with a pedestrian bridge to the Old Fort. In his April 7 summary of the office conference, Howard Baker stated that "the approaches to the Monument from either the North or the South side of the Laramie River seemed to have about equal value from the historical point of view." He then indicated that both alternate plans would be drawn up in detail, including all development costs and, in both cases, "minimum and maximum boundaries." By memo of April 10 Canfield expressed indignation that the proposal for a northside approach, with its adaptation of historic buildings, was still being given equal treatment. "It was my impression," he wrote, "that everyone at the conference with the exception of Mr. Merriam was pretty well of a mind that the approach south of the Laramie River was the preferable one." He denied that there had been a consensus to continue serious study of the northside approach. He protested that, "the consensus as presented in the summary from your office reads mighty lukewarm to me." In his reply of April 23 Merriam explained that, though the Master Plan "was pretty well crystallized back in 1941-1942," certain questions had been subsequently raised by officials of the Washington Office. "In view of the support which the alternate scheme has had," he wrote, "I do not feel that we are in a position to disregard it or cast it aside until the analysis is complete."
In February 1948, after Dave Hieb had a chance to get his feet wet, there was another heavy planning session in the Omaha office, with both Canfield and Hieb present. The weighty conclusions of the Regional planners are summarized by Regional Historian Olaf T. Hagen in a March "Memorandum to the Files." First of all, it was the consensus that preservation must have priority over any development, and that it would take at least five years and $100,000 to perform the essential preservation work, before any plans for modern development could be implemented. (Little did Hagen or any one else realize that 30 years after 1948 they still wouldn't have been implemented in any visible way!) Nevertheless, in rehashing Scheme A (the south approach) versus Scheme B (the north approach) he reported that "the conferees were unanimous in preferring Scheme A." This was a moral victory for Dave Canfield, thanks in large part to Hieb's thoughtful agreement in principle with Scheme A. The engineers calculated that both development schemes would cost about the same, $350,000, since the careful adaptation of the historic buildings would cost about as much as brand new ones. It was the conclusion of the conferees that historical significance or orientation was not a deciding factor either, partly because of the scrambled cultural topography over the last century, and partly also because of the preponderant survival of late-period buildings. However, Scheme A offered the superior advantage of interpretation of the historic buildings unsullied by modern alterations and segregated from modern roads and buildings. Finally, Hagen proclaimed that it was also the group's concern that "the object of stabilization and restoration should be to hold to the general appearance of the Fort as nearly as possible to that presented at the time of its abandonment, when all the surviving structures existed contemporaneously." However, he fuzzed up this basic principle by stating a further principle that, "Restoration of structures to an earlier period might be justified in special cases," without offering guidelines as to what would constitute a special case. 
Boundary status reports on file for 1947 and 1948 reflect consideration of both development schemes, each of which required boundary extensions of 300 to 400 acres which roughly coincided. Subsequently A. E. Demaray, Associate Director, expressed himself force fully against Scheme A on the grounds that visitors would have too far to walk, and as late as November 1949 Mattes was objecting to Jerry Millers deletion of Scheme B as an alternate on the Master Plan, on the grounds that a decision had been made that neither plan would be finally settled upon for a period of five years.  In 1953 the debate would be revived, although it would remain academic throughout Hieb's incumbency in the absence of funds for new development.
Far more pertinent for the moment was the interim treatment of the old buildings until sizeable funds were appropriated for some meaningful and enduring restoration work. In June 1947 Hieb played host to a delegation consisting of Canfield, Hagen and Mattes, plus Landscape Architect Chuck Krueger and Architect Halsey Davidson of Omaha, and Chief Architect Dick Sutton of the Washington Office. This group was convened not to dream about long-range plans but to make recommendations as to just how to spend a pitiful $4,500. available in Fiscal Year 1948 for buildings and grounds. It was difficult to choose priorities in view of the generally "sad state of maintenance" inherited by Hieb. In addition to the bare essential improvements to provide creature comforts for the Custodian and family, the delegation gave highest priority to repairs to the boundary fence, replacement of Old Bedlam siding, "repairs to the repairs" of the Old Bedlam porch, and re-glazing or shuttering of cracked and missing windows generally. As to the Sutler's Store, pessimism prevailed among the architects that anything could be done to the original structure in view of its advanced state of decay, so nothing was recommended other than keeping it shored up for the time being. (Sutton flatly predicted that it would be necessary to dismantle the ancient building, saving what few pieces were worth saving, and then constructing a replica of the original). 
Another small chunk of around $5,000 was included in the 1949 budget. With these modest sums Hieb was able to undertake a few rock-bottom repairs to the most precarious of the historic structures, in addition to the fixing up needed to make his office and quarters more habitable.
The most urgent and most important repair work was performed on Old Bedlam, pertaining to exterior siding and front double porch or verandas. The perennial problem of upkeep on the vulnerable Fort Laramie structures is pointed up by the fact that within eight years, 1940-1948, the Canfield-Lombard treatment of the Bedlam verandas, including most new wooden components, was itself now askew and rotting, so that levelling, re-setting and selective replacement of specially milled and dimensioned lumber was required. In 1939-1940 it was felt that the original lapped siding or weatherboards of pine on the structural block, even though dried and curled, was too preciously original to be tampered with, so few boards were replaced, and it was mostly a case of re-nailing and application of preservative. By 1948, however, the boards had disintegrated so hopelessly that there was no choice but to remove them and replace them with new siding boards of equivalent special cut. White lead paint was applied liberally to the new work. The supposedly precious old siding was stored in dead space in the Cavalry Barracks. Finally, despite the new foundations installed by Lombard, Old Bedlam developed an alarming tilt, due presumably to deterioration of interior structural framework and the pressure thereon of prevailing winds from north and west. Thus it was necessary to rig up timbers as bracing for the southeast (or right hand side, facing front) wall to ensure against the distinct possibility of total collapse in the next violent wind. 
Other repairs undertaken during 1948-1949 included replacing late-period board siding on Officers Quarters A dormers with correct contemporary horizontal lapped pine siding, and some elementary repairs to and replacement of rotted joists under Officers Quarters E. In the absence of a basement to this building it was necessary to excavate a temporary specially designed crawlway for access. Also, the rear wings, porches and entries of both Officers Quarters E and F were re-levelled and re-shingled, and missing elements substituted.
In March, 1949, Hieb reported that the Old Bakery, a roofed structure of hybrid brick and lime-concrete, was near collapse, and that all he could do was to fence the building off to prevent injury to stray visitors. In May, after abnormally heavy rains which brought the Laramie River to flood stage, the lime-concrete section of the Old Bakery did suffer partial collapse. In 1948 Hieb, Hagen, and Mattes had evolved a working formula or schedule for the rehabilitation/restoration of Fort Laramie historic structures (as distinct from mere repairs or emergency stabilization) which had as its highest priority the restoration of the Old Bakery walls and roof. While this was by no means the most important surviving building on the post, this priority was assigned in part because it seemed to be in the most precarious condition of all, but mainly because the hard practical experience acquired in its restoration, including any technical trial and error, would increase the chances of doing the best possible job of restoring the high-priority Sutler's Store. (Notwithstanding the pessimism about this building prevailing among Omaha and Washington, D.C. architects, Hieb and the historians had no intention of doing anything but to restore the building intact, if that was humanly possible.)
Accordingly, the Old Bakery was set up as the prime target for the 1950 Fiscal Year (which began July 1, 1949), the most important project in a respectable budget of around $8,000. At the same time, in the absence of specific guidelines from Washington on techniques of historic restoration, it was agreed that Hieb would prepare an "Orientation Report, Treatment and Use of Surviving Structures" for each building hereafter tackled, beginning with the Old Bakery. Accordingly, in June 1949 Hieb submitted the first formal technical report for any Fort Laramie building which prescribed the proposed treatment, and which could first be reviewed beforehand by all offices. Upon approval of the report by the Region actual work on the project, called "Stabilization of the Old Bakery", began in October, 1949 with the removal of fallen and unstable concrete wall sections, and the manufacture of experimental lime-concrete to determine the best formula for material replacement.
In the process of removing the old footings evidence of human artifacts were found which pre-dated the structure of known 1876 vintage. Accordingly all work was suspended and Regional Archeologist Paul Beaubien was called in to examine the site. While the artifacts in question were not too diagnostic, he did uncover two pre-1876 trash pits beneath the corner of the wall. The existence of these voids of unknown origin accounted at least in part for the collapse of the walls. No further work was done on this building in 1949 but the partial restoration of the Old Bakery the following year would be the beginning of Fort Laramie's first big Restoration era.
During the 1947-1949 period of getting squared away there was much to occupy the indefatigable Hieb beside work on historic buildings, though that was assuredly his No. 1 concern. Actually he plowed new ground in several other directions, pioneering and setting trends in many departments of area management. For example, he recognized that fire was the biggest threat to the old buildings, so he cajoled the Region and the Coordinating Superintendent into supplying a pumper fire truck antiquated but workable and 1700 feet of fire-hose. In the Laramie River he had an inexhaustible supply of water, and the truck and hose could be maneuvered anywhere in a hurry. Except for Art Darnall, who lived in town three miles away, Hieb himself constituted the entire protection force, except that Hieb had the promise of neighbors and the Fort Laramie town volunteer fire department to help if they could get notice of a conflagration over the undependable country phone line, and if they could get to the Monument before everything was consumed. Anyhow, during this undermanned period "Fort Laramie Luck" held and, except for a small grass fire or two, the apparatus remained on standby.
The fire-truck, dump truck, and passenger cars were housed in a 5-stall shed constructed during the 1939-40 ERA period. The only other extraneous building north of the Cavalry Barracks at this time was a masonry chicken-shed of the Joe Wilde post-1890 period which was converted to use as an oil storage facility. West of this cluster was the garden which had been used by Lombard, and which Hieb continued to use for several years.
One trend that Dave tried to buck was the Lombard program to plant and nurture parade ground trees. Since most of these dubious saplings were now dead or dying, despite ample rains, Dave removed them and, being of the Mattes-Borreson school of thought that such trees were unhistoric (except for the unimportant late 1880s) he was happy to leave it that way. Also, contrary to his predecessors he did not become alarmed by the incursion of dam-building beaver population along the Laramie, figuring that (a) they were legitimate reminders of the early fur trade era and (b) they helped to thin out the cottonwoods that were not there in the peak military period.
A positive step that Dave did take in the landscaping department was to set up a volunteer project to root out the prickly pear cactus which infested the parade ground, and were definitely unhistoric. Another threat was the invasion of the area by grazing sheep, through the inadequately designed and constructed State boundary fence. Dave remedied this by extensive mending and reinforcing with hog wire. 
It was Hieb who finally settled the old controversy as to the extent of the Government's share in the Fort Laramie Ditch Company. This irrigation ditch serving about 200 acres altogether had been developed around 1894 when the Fort was split up among several owners. When the NPS assumed responsibility in 1938 it was aware that it had water rights but since it was not primarily in the irrigation business (except for the watering of the temporary vegetable garden behind the Barracks, and some irrigation of the parade ground area) it did not fully exercise these rights. Although there had been annual meetings with other stockholders, the extent of the NPS interest was not resolved concretely until the meeting in January, 1948 when Hieb settled for 43 shares in the corporation and paid for five years of water assessments. He later took on the job of Secretary-Treasurer of the company to insure that the government interests were better protected.
In April 1948 Fort Laramie was offered the benefit of joining the Rocky Mountain Nature Association. This was a non-profit cooperative of the type authorized by Congress which made it possible legally to sell interpretive items to the public. The device was to set up an association with a largely non-official membership (mainly citizens of a nearby community) but its executive officer was usually a park official, such as the Park Naturalist or Historian. Books were kept and annual meetings were held to elect officers. Profits were to be applied to park research and interpretive projects. Since the Rocky Mountain Nature Association was already set up, all that was necessary was to bring the Fort under its umbrella on a pro rata basis. One of the first sales projects was Fort Laramie postcards, with some first class pictures taken by Ray Littler of Torrington. Another project was the fabrication of small frames from the discarded lumber of Old Bedlam, with a photograph of the building enclosed, which were sold as souvenirs. 
An important public relations move on Hieb's part was to take an active role in the North Platte Valley Associated Chambers of Commerce and an offshoot, the U. S. Highway 26 Association. Both of these organizations were keenly interested in boosting tourist traffic up the Valley, with emphasis on those Easterners heading toward Grand Teton or Yellowstone, with historic features along the Oregon Trail as the inducement. While Scotts Bluff and Fort Laramie National Monuments were the stellar attractions, there were many other intriguing landmarks, such as Courthouse Rock, Chimney Rock and Register Cliff. The organization met monthly, often at Torrington or Guernsey. Dave Hieb, as an officer of the Fort Laramie Community Club, was an active member.
As early as 1947 Hieb, Hagen, and Mattes were acutely mindful of the fact that 1949 would be the Centennial year of Fort Laramie's establishment as a military post. Jointly they evolved the idea of a three-point program: a Fort Laramie Centennial postage stamp; a commemorative historical publication; and a celebration of some kind at the Fort itself. The stamp idea did not jell despite the urgings of Hieb, community officials, and state representatives to the U.S. Post Office to come out with a Fort Laramie stamp in 1849. After all, this was a full-blown national monument, not some frowzy little local shrine. With commemorative stamps issued for so many other imaginable reasons, including poultry raisers and butterfly collectors, it is difficult to comprehend why historic Fort Laramie wasn't deemed worthy. One feels that those who make the selections simply didn't get the message that this was the Centennial of the Number 1 historic site on the western frontier.
The commemorative history that emerged was a booklet entitled Fort Laramie and the Forty-Niners, researched and written by Historian Merrill J. Mattes, voluntarily, on his personal time, its production paid for by the Rocky Mountain Nature Association. It focussed on the year 1849 when, in the middle of the great Gold Rush of that year, the Army bought out the American Fur Company, occupied the old adobe trading post, laid out a new parade ground, and started some new buildings of their own, notably the Sutler's Store and Old Bedlam, which still survive from that fabulous year. It made use of quotations from emigrant journals as well as military records from the National Archives. The booklet sold at the Fort through the mechanism of the Rocky Mountain Nature Association for $1.; the supply was sold out within three years. (Copies that still exist today are worth $10. or more on the collectors' market.) 
Centennial recognition also took the form of a Fort Laramie pageant sponsored by the Fort Laramie Community Club of which Hieb was President at that time, and the Lion's Club of Lingle, on August 9. It was decided that grounds near the town of Fort Laramie were more suitable than those at the Fort itself, so the pageant took place in an open field immediately west of town. There were 150 performers, all enthusiastic local volunteers, and countless horses, cattle and dogs. The pageant consisted of ten historical episodes in the history of the Fort, from the slaying of Jacques Laramee by Indians to the abandonment of the military post, about seven decades of thrills, spills, and the wild discharge of firearms. Despite drizzly weather, a crowd of 3,000 turned out to applaud the spectacle. Among those present were the Director of the National Park Service, Newton B. Drury, Regional Director Lawrence C. Merriam, and Howard R. Driggs, President of the American Pioneer Trails Association. 
Another significant Centennial had been observed in 1947 with the Re-enactment of the first Mormon trek from the Missouri River to the Great Salt Lake, sponsored by the Sons of Utah Pioneers. In 1847 the original group of 148 was led by Brigham Young from Winter Quarters near Council Bluffs westward in search of the Promised Land. The company of self-styled "Saints" had appeared on the north bank of the North Platte, crossed in a collapsible boat brought for the purpose, and proceeded to explore and measure the ruins of Fort Platte and the still active Fort John. They then continued westward along the south side of the North Platte to found one of the most famous of western American settlements. The 148 trekkers of 1947, all descendants of early immigrants to Utah, arrived at the Fort on July 17 in a caravan of 72 cars tricked out like covered wagons. The occasion is recounted in the official record of the expedition:
In token of their appreciation, the caravaneers presented Custodian Hieb with an exact replica of the official hand-crafted odometer used by the 1847 company to make the first accurate record of distances up the Platte River Road. (Hieb in turn donated the replica to the National Monument collection.) Another donation to the Monument at this time was a blue spruce planted in the Laramie River bottoms near the campfire site. Subsequently Hieb replanted this behind the Cavalry Barracks where today (1978), thanks to irrigation, it has grown to impressive height. 
In 1948 the Fort was visited by Dr. Howard Driggs and other dignitaries of the American Pioneer Trails Association and the National Park Service following their participation in services at Scotts Bluff National Monument dedicating the new William H. Jackson Memorial wing. Jackson, famed pioneer photographer and water colorist of the Old West, had been a frequent visitor to Fort Laramie beginning in the 1920s with Bob Ellison and others; his last visit to the Fort was in 1940 at the Old Bedlam dedication. He had long been one of the foremost advocates of preservation of the Fort under Federal auspices. His sketch of Fort John (after Fremont) and his own photographs of the military post in its heyday are among the most vivid of Fort Laramie pictorial records. Clarence S. Jackson, his son, was present at the Scotts Bluff services and the Fort Laramie visit in 1948. 
Other visitors of unusual interest during 1947-1949 were the novelist A. B. Guthrie, Jr., who dramatized the Fort Laramie trading post in his best-selling novel, The Way West; Mary Jackson English, daughter of Major English of the 7th Infantry, who lived as a girl in Officers Quarters A and E; Emil Bordeaux of White River, South Dakota, son of James Bordeaux who had been the bourgeois or manager of the trading post in 1846 when Francis Parkman visited there; and Charles Sitting Bull, grandson of the Sitting Bull of Little Bighorn fame who was killed by Indian police at Standing Rock, North Dakota in 1890. Mr. Sitting Bull complained to Dave Hieb about "the white man's theft of his valley", a somewhat irrational accusation since there is no evidence that the Hunkpapas, the northern Sioux band to which his grandfather belonged, were ever in the Fort Laramie neighborhood.
There were a few visitors who not only had colorful connections with the Fort but who were able to contribute valuable historical data and photographs which Hieb incorporated into the files. Prominent among them were Henry C. Bretney (1947) of Jacksonville, Florida, son of Captain H. C. Bretney of the 11th Ohio Cavalry who figured in several historical episodes; Colonel Louis Brechemin, Jr. (1948) of Deer Harbor, Washington, son of Captain Brechemin, Post Surgeon of 1885-1889, who proved to be a veritable mine of information; and May Nolan Morrison of Torrington, daughter of a post Sergeant of the 1880s who also came up with valuable photographs and recollections. Meade Sandercock of Fort Laramie, whose mother had owned Officers Quarters A, continued to provide valued information.
While it would be pointless to attempt to identify here all relics of alleged Fort Laramie provenience which were brought in by visitors, a few of the more typical and conspicuous items may be mentioned. Harold Cook, rancher of Agate, Nebraska, donated an Army dump cart and other items collected by his father, the noted scout James H. Cook. Jake Gompert, a rancher of Mitchell, Nebraska who once bought some buildings from John Hunton, thoughtfully returned some old beat-up furniture to its place of origin. A Steinway square grand piano that once graced a Fort living room was returned from Platt, South Dakota by Mayflower van. A set of engraved invitations to Fort Laramie social functions, dug up by one-time Fort owner Thomas Waters of Omaha, was returned to the museum collection. 
While there was no formal specially funded Fort Laramie research program during this period, certain topics were pursued voluntarily by Hieb and Mattes. The latter, who became Regional Historian in September, 1949 following the untimely death of Olaf T. Hagen, published two items of interest, in addition to the Centennial offering, Fort Laramie and the Forty-Niners. One was a piece entitled "Fort Laramie Centennial" which appeared in the Chicago Westerners Brand Book in 1948; and a documented article on "Robidoux's Trading Post at Scotts Bluffs and the California Gold Rush", published in June, 1949 in Nebraska History, the latter pertaining to the rival trading establishment about 50 miles east of the Fort. He worked with the Wisconsin Historical Society in an effort to identify an artist of 1849 who made some remarkable sketches of Fort Laramie and other Trail landmarks (since identified as James F. Wilkins). At the National Archives he found the Medical Records of the Fort written by Surgeon Schell and others, with original drawings. 
Dave Hieb corresponded with visitors, to follow up on the acquisition of photographs and documents pertinent to the Fort's history. O. M. Rasmusson of North Platte assisted in a project to identify the dead buried in the old post cemetery underneath the Hospital ruins. In a rare book, Glittering Gold by E. A. Curley, Chicago, 1876 Hieb discovered a wrongly labelled picture of the Fort Laramie Sutler's Store of that period, revealing architectural details long-vanished, pertaining to roofs, rear additions, and general atmosphere. However, the biggest research effort of this period, a search for Fort William, the "first Fort Laramie", proved inconclusive.
Serious scholarly effort by the National Park Service to determine the true location of Fort William began with a question posed to chief Historian Kahler by Bernard DeVoto who in 1945 was working on his book, Across the Wide Missouri (New York, 1947). Mattes advised him that it was thought to be on the west bank of the Laramie downriver about a mile from the parade ground, at the known earliest crossing of the Laramie, by fur traders. However, he conceded that the exact site hadn't been identified by conclusive historical or archeological proof. Soon thereafter, when the problem came up as to where to put the future park headquarters it became important to know the pattern of historic trails approaching the Fort. Before he left Scotts Bluff in March 1946 Mattes had taken on the project of researching and writing up a report on "Historic Approaches." Since the location of Fort William certainly must have had a bearing on earlier trails, Mattes addressed himself to the Fort William question. In his heavily documented report he concluded that Fort William was probably at the location previously hypothesized, that is, west of the Laramie and just upstream from the county road bridge (the same locale as the present new concrete bridge across the Laramie). We will refer to this as site FW (A).
After Dave Hieb had a chance to review the Mattes report in detail, in January 1948 he wrote to the Region criticizing some of its conclusions, but particularly the one about Fort William. He felt, on the contrary, that Fort William was right near the later Fort John, somewhere in the immediate vicinity of the Army parade ground. We will refer to this alternative as Site FW (B).
Mattes and Borreson had spent several days hiking every foot of wagon trails that still survived in the unbroken prairie, particularly the trails from the east, and Mattes was convinced from the topographic evidence that the earliest trails had come in along the Platte River bottoms, which would bring them right to the lower crossing. In addition to photographs of remarkably well preserved trail remains, including evidence of places where wagon trains had descended from the stream margin to the fords, Mattes had copious references to journals which he believed in combination tended strongly to prove that Fort William was at FW (A), downstream from the later Army post, because there was evidence that this was also the earliest Laramie River crossing of pre-Oregon Trail days. He believed also that the Fort William sketches of A. J. Miller of 1837 tended to confirm his theory mainly because of topographical details swamp-like terrain in the foreground which had to be on bottomland, not on the benchland of the military parade ground. He placed much reliance on the reports of Assistant Surgeon Schell and Historian Coutant that the Fort William pickets were rotting, believing that such rot would be caused by the annual Laramie River overflow, dictating a new location on higher dry ground.
Mattes also believed that the sandhills in Miller's background bore uncanny resemblance to those seen today when viewing the same scene east to west. Hieb denied that Mattes' given documentary and pictorial evidence constituted valid proof of his thesis. He felt that it was rather a case of reaching a preferred conclusion and then organizing all possible evidence in that direction. Hieb simply believed that it would have been more logical for Fort William to be on the high ground near the later Fort John to start with probably right next to it. In addition he felt that the testimony of Reverend Samuel Parker in 1835 and F. A. Wislizenus in 1839, describing the stockade as on a slight elevation, about a mile from the Laramie River's mouth, strongly supported his theory.
Nobody had any archeological evidence for either theoretical site. FW (A) was bottomland which had been scoured out and re-silted or regravelled by frequent Laramie River overflows before artificial controls by canal and ditch builders. Also, it had been plowed and replowed by farmers. There wasn't the ghost of a tangible clue of any building sites above ground, and the feeling was that it would have been so vulnerable to floods that the probability of any deep remains was next to nil. As to FW (2) the parade ground area has been so used and adapted and scrambled by repeated grading and construction by the Army that the possibility of finding any fur trade evidence there seemed about as bad. Archeology seemed to hold out little hope, not only because of negative terrain factors, but because no one could even pinpoint where to begin. (Amateur archeologists who claim to have used mine detectors in the general area of FW (A) reported that all their efforts were negative.)
As it turned out, both Hieb and Mattes had scholarly allies. Dr. LeRoy R. Hafen, author of Fort Laramie (Glendale, 1938), was evidently as convinced as Hieb that FW (B) was the probable location, primarily because he never thought of it as being anywhere else. In support of the Mattes theory for FW (A) were Oregon Trail historians Tom Green of Scottsbluff and Paul Henderson of Bridgeport, Nebraska, Mae Reed Porter of the American Pioneer Trails Association, and collector of Miller drawings, and Bob Rymill of Fort Laramie town. Henderson alleged that FW (A) conformed to statements made to him by John Hunton, Fort Laramie resident from 1867 to 1923, and Ed Kelly, another pioneer whom he interviewed when he was a young railroader exploring the Fort on his own before 1920.
Because of the intensity of interest in the subject, and hoping to resolve the issue, the Regional Director authorized a meeting at Fort Laramie on October 25, 1948. Among those present were Hieb, Mattes, Green, Henderson, Canfield, and a small group of curious on lookers and reporters. The Miller drawings were examined in detail from every angle. Those who favored FW (A) remained convinced that these drawings constituted proof, while Hieb took the position that the drawings reflected artistic license and proved nothing. Quotations from the Mattes report were cited but Hieb insisted that his citations were more conclusive. It was a stimulating but frustrating afternoon because nothing was settled. A few weeks later there was a land-levelling operation here by the owner, Herman Nolke, and the exposures were carefully observed by Hieb and Archeologist Beaubien. To the surprise of no one, nothing was found. The Fort William issue, like that of the Master Plan, remained unresolved. 
Last Updated: 01-Mar-2003