Survey of Historic Sites and Buildings
At this site on the Red Fork of the Powder River in the winter of 1876 the Army defeated Dull Knife and his Cheyennes, who had helped whip Custer the previous summer. Beginning the retaliatory campaigns, Crook marched from Fort Fetterman back into the Powder River country. At dawn on November 25, 1876, Col. Ranald S. Mackenzie's 4th Cavalry surprised Dull Knife's winter camp. Indian casualties were light, 25 deaths, but the troops destroyed the bulk of the Indians' shelter, food, and clothing. Most of the survivors, recognizing the futility of holding out any longer, surrendered in the spring at Fort Robinson, Nebr., along with Crazy Horse and his people.
The battlefield, in a picturesque setting among rugged hills on a privately owned ranch, is marked by a stone monument, on the side of a hill. A ranch headquarters at the upper end of the canyon and a hay meadow downstream do not appreciably alter the natural scene.
This fort's rich history spans practically all phases of western development except the fur trade. The first Fort Bridger was a mud and pole trading post, founded in 1842 or 1843 on Black's Fork of the Green River by the mountain man Jim Bridger and his partner, Luis Vasquez, to trade with Indians and emigrants. A significant landmark on the Oregon-California Trail, it was the second major stopping place on one of the two major routes west of Fort Laramie, Wyo., and second only to it as a supply point. In 1853 a group of Mormons, who earlier in the year has set up a rival post, Fort Supply, 12 miles to the south, bought or forced Bridger out. At his post they erected several stone houses within a huge stone wall. In 1857, just before U.S. troops arrived en route to the Utah, or Mormon, War (1857-58), the Mormons put the torch to Forts Bridger and Supply. The troops wintered nearby at a temporary camp of mud and skin lean-tos. In the spring the bulk of them proceeded to Salt Lake City, but some remained to begin rebuilding a permanent fort of log and stone.
During the Civil War, the garrison dwindled in numbers, but Regular troops returned in 1866. A base of operations for southwestern Wyoming and northeastern Utah, the post guarded stage routes and the transcontinental telegraph line, accommodated a Pony Express station, patrolled emigrant trails, took action against Indian raids, guarded the miners who moved into the South Pass and Sweetwater region, and protected and supplied workers building the Union Pacific Railroad not far to the north. Treaties were signed at the fort with the friendly Shoshonis in 1863 and 1868, the second creating a reservation east of the Wind River Mountains. Although strategically located, the fort never served as a base for any of the major military expeditions of the 1870's against the Indians in the region, but some of the garrison was reassigned for fighting purposes. Temporarily abandoned in 1878, reactivated in 1880, the post was finally evacuated in 1890.
Acquired in 1928 by the State and today a State historical park, the site contains a group of well-preserved and maintained structures, amid a heavy overgrowth of vegetation and trees. Some restoration has been accomplished, and the State has extensive developmental plans. The 1884 barracks building has been completely reconstructed and houses a museum. Crumbling ruins of the commissary building and the old guardhouse, both built in 1858, are visible. In better condition are the new guardhouse (1884), sentry box (1858), officers' quarters (1858), sutler's store, Pony Express stables, post office, a group of lesser buildings, and a portion of the wall constructed by the Mormons. The foundations of other buildings are marked. Interred in the cemetery are Bridger's daughter and Judge W. A. Carter, pioneer rancher in the area. Portions of the original fort grounds and some buildings are located on privately owned property outside the State-owned area.
The predecessor of Fort Casper (1865-67) was Platte Bridge Station, established in 1858 as one of a series of fortified stations on the Oregon-California Trail. Located on the south side of the North Platte River at a crossing point and emigrant campground, the Platte Bridge post protected wagon trains, mail stages, and the supply-communication lines of the Mormon Expedition to Utah (1857-58). Adjacent to the fort, at a place known as Mormon Ferry, emigrants crossed the river by ferry, operated by some Mormons in the years 1847-50 and thereafter by a private company. Regular troops abandoned the station in 1859, the same year a 1,000-foot toll bridge was completed across the river. This bridge supplemented one a few miles to the east, built in 1853.
In 1862, during the Civil War, to counter increased Indian hostilities along the Oregon-California Trail and to guard the telegraph lines, Volunteers reoccupied Platte Bridge Station. The Indian threat reached a peak in the summer of 1865, when 3,000 Sioux, Cheyennes, and Arapahos descended on the trail from the Powder River country. On July 26, on the north side of the North Platte River, they ambushed a detachment of Kansas cavalry under Lt. Caspar W. Collins riding out from Platte Bridge Station to escort an eastward-bound Army wagon train, guarded by Sgt. Amos J. Custard and 24 men. The troops managed to fight their way back to the bridge, but Collins and four men lost their lives. The Indians then attacked the wagon train, killing Custard and 19 other soldiers. Through an error, the Army renamed Platte Bridge Station as Fort Casper, the spelling adopted by the city that grew up adjacent to it. Troops enlarged and rebuilt the fort in 1866, but the following year evacuated it and moved to Fort Fetterman, Wyo. Almost immediately the Indians burned the buildings and the bridge.
A replica of Fort Casper at the southwestern edge of Casper marks the site of the original log fort. Constructed in the 1930's, it is owned by the city and administered by the Fort Caspar Commission. The Fort Casper Museum, West 13th Street, interprets the history of the fort and station, including the ambush and the attack on the wagon train.
Figuring notably in the campaigns of the late 1860's and 1870's against the northern Plains tribes, this fort was founded in the summer of 1867 on the Bozeman Trail about 80 miles northwest of Fort Laramie. Along the south bank of the North Platte River, the post was an intermediate base between Fort Laramie and Forts Reno, Phil Kearny, and C. F. Smith. The latter three forts had been established the previous summer to guard the trail but had been under continual siege. By the time Fort Fetterman was activated, the Sioux and Cheyennes had halted traffic over the trail. When the Government, as a concession to the Indians, abandoned the three forts in the summer of 1868, isolated Fort Fetterman assumed major importance as a supply base, headquarters, and marshaling point for expeditions into the hostile Powder River country. The post also protected the nearby routes of the Union Pacific Railroad and the Oregon-California Trail.
Fort Fetterman was the base for General Crook's three expeditions in 1876 into the Powder River area: in March, culminating in the Battle of Powder River, Mont.; in May-June, ending in the Battle of the Rosebud, Mont.; and in November, highlighted by the defeat of Dull Knife's Cheyennes along the Powder River. The latter expedition, combined with others in 1876-77, ended the major phase of Army-Indian conflict on the northern Plains. The Indians confined to reservations, Fort Fetterman was abandoned in 1882. But "Fetterman City," a wild town that was the prototype for "Drybone" in Owen Wister's western novels, grew up at the fort, an outfitting point for wagon trains. In 1886, however, when Douglas replaced "Fetterman City," most of the fort buildings were sold, dismantled, and moved to other locations.
Part of the site is in private ownership, but since 1962 the State has owned most of it and is developing a State historical park. Prior to 1962, vandals had caused much damage. The State has restored the two remaining original buildings: a log and adobe duplex officers' quarters, today housing a small museum, open in the summer, and caretaker's quarters; and a rammed-earth ordnance warehouse. Foundations of other buildings may be viewed. The setting is unchanged except for agricultural operations. Ruts, apparently from the Bozeman Trail, are visible in the vicinity.
Like Forts Bridger, Sanders, and D. A. Russell, Wyo., Fort Fred Steele protected workers building the Union Pacific Railroad through Indian country. The fort also partially filled the void created north of the North Platte River by the abandonment of Forts Phil Kearny, Reno, and C. F. Smith in the summer of 1868. Col. Richard I. Dodge's command founded Fort Fred Steele that same summer on the west bank of the North Platte River just opposite a new trestle bridge. Once the construction crews moved westward, the troops forwarded rail supplies and guarded part of the Wyoming stretch of track, maintained law and order among the settlers, chased cattle rustlers and outlaws, watched over the nearby Oregon-California Trail, and supported military operations against the Indians in the region.
The fort figured prominently in the Ute uprising of 1879 in Colorado, when Indians at the White River Agency went on a rampage. In response to Agent Nathan C. Meeker's request for aid, Maj. Thomas T. Thornburgh organized an expedition from Fort Fred Steele but met disaster in the Battle of Milk Creek, Colo. A relief expedition under Col. Wesley Merritt proceeded from Fort D. A. Russell via Fort Fred Steele to the White River Agency to put down the rebellion and remained over the winter. In January 1880 General Crook used the fort to direct logistical support of the operations at the agency. After its abandonment in 1886, local residents occupied it.
Ownership of the site is divided among the Union Pacific Rail road, whose tracks traverse the central part of the site atop a high earth grade, and various private individuals. Existing buildings are in fair condition despite weathering, neglect, vandalization, and in numerous instances postmilitary occupation. They include the commanding officer's quarters, two large warehouses, barracks, stone powder magazine, and some smaller structures. Foundations and earth mounds mark the location of other structures. Soldier grave markers are extant in the cemetery, on a small hillock over looking the fort site, though the Army has relocated the bodies. Civilian burials date from 1868.
Brig. Gen. Patrick E. Connor founded Fort Connor in the summer of 1865 on the north bank of the Powder River about 180 miles northwest of Fort Laramie, Wyo., in hostile Sioux country as a temporary base for his Powder River Expedition. In November the Army renamed the post Fort Reno. The following summer Col. Henry B. Carrington, laying out the Bozeman Trail defense line, added blockhouses and bastions at two corners of the cottonwood stockade and strengthened the garrison. For 2 years Fort Reno, as well as newly founded Forts C. F. Smith and Phil Kearny, Wyo., protected the trail as best it could from the continual attacks of the Sioux Red Cloud and his Cheyenne and Arapaho allies. In 1868 the Indians burned all three forts when the Army evacuated them in accordance with the Fort Laramie Treaty.
This site should not be confused with that of Cantonment Reno (Fort McKinney No. 1) (1876-78), a temporary supply base General Crook's men built of dugouts and a few cottonwood huts about 3 miles to the north during the 1876 offensive that followed Custer's defeat. In 1878 the Army relocated this post, subsequently known as Fort McKinney No. 2, about 40 miles to the northwest on the north bank of the Clear Fork of the Powder River. It was inactivated in 1894.
The Fort Reno (Connor) site, occasionally flooded by the Powder River, is in private ownership and is indicated by a granite marker. Mounds of earth apparently trace the outline of the stockade and blockhouses. Bits of debris may be the result of ranch operations rather than fort remains. The Cantonment Reno (Fort McKinney No. 1) site, about 3 miles northward on the same side of the Powder River nearly opposite the mouth of the Dry Fork, also in private ownership, is not marked and is almost impossible to find without a local guide. Surface evidence is fairly extensive. The Fort McKinney No. 2 site, on U.S. 16, some 3 miles west of Buffalo, Wyo., is occupied today by the Wyoming Soldiers' and Sailors' Home. The old fort hospital, moved from its original location, is today the visitors' house of the home. All that otherwise remains of the post are old mule and cavalry stables, the latter now used as a garage, as well as some cellar ruins of other buildings.
This fort, whose history provides a notable example of amicable Indian-white relations on the frontier, is one of the few named for an Indian. The distinguished Shoshoni leader Washakie was a friend of the white man and kept his tribe at peace throughout the Indian wars. He and many of his people served with distinction as Army scouts, joining cause with the Crows against the Sioux, Cheyennes, and Arapahos. Still on the Army rolls at the time of his death in 1900, apparently at the age of 102, he was the only full-blooded Indian ever to have been buried with military honors. A Christian, he had been baptized in 1897.
Fort Washakie (1869-1909) was located at two different sites. The first (1869-71), when the fort was a subpost of Fort Bridger, was along the Popo Agie River on the site of Lander, Wyo. The second was at the junction of the north and south forks of the Little Wind River. The post's major mission was protecting the Shoshonis on the Wind River Reservation, created in 1868, from their wandering Indian enemies. The post also guarded miners in the nearby Sweetwater region until Camp Stambaugh (1870-78) was established to the south between Atlantic City and Miners Delight. During the 1870's and 1880's, Fort Washakie also served as a supply base and springboard for expeditions entering Yellowstone National Park, established in 1872, and for gold seekers and others heading into the Bighorn country.
Since the Army departed, the fort has been the agency headquarters for the Wind River Indian Reservation, occupied since 1877 by Arapahos as well as Shoshonis. Many of the old fort buildings, constructed of adobe, frame, and stone and including the old frame barracks and adobe guardhouse, are still used by the agency and are intermingled with modern structures. Chief Washakie's grave is in the former military cemetery about 4 miles south of the fort. A marker in downtown Lander indicates the location of the first fort, when it was known as Camp C. C. Augur and Camp Brown.
Only slightly more than a century ago an incident occurred at this site that marked the beginning of 3-1/2 decades of intermittent warfare on the northern Plains. On a summer afternoon in 1854 a young lieutenant, belligerently seeking to arrest a Sioux Indian for a trivial offense, forced a fight. By sundown all the troops but one were dead. An enraged American public, unaware of the actual circumstances, demanded action. The Sioux and other northern tribes, with whom relations rapidly deteriorated, made numerous raids along the Oregon-California Trail. The next year Col. William S. Harney led a punitive expedition (1855-56) onto the Plains from Fort Kearny, Nebr. The Indian wars, a bitter, generation-long struggle, had begun.
During the years just preceding the Grattan Fight, despite the waves of settlers passing west over the trail, the northern Plains Indians had been relatively peaceful. In July and early August 1854 about 600 lodges of Brule, Miniconjou, and Oglala Sioux, as well as those of a few Northern Cheyennes, dotted the North Platte River Valley for several miles east of Fort Laramie. This large concentration of Indians, which could easily have overwhelmed the fort's feeble garrison, was impatiently awaiting the delayed annuity issue to which they were entitled by the Fort Laramie Treaty (1851). On August 18 a Miniconjou named High Forehead, visiting Conquering Bear's Brule camp, shot and ate a cow belonging to a Mormon emigrant.
That same day Conquering Bear visited Fort Laramie's commanding officer, Lt. Hugh B. Fleming, and offered to make amends. Rejecting these overtures, he decided to arrest High Forehead, an act in violation of existing treaties. The commander assigned the mission to John L. Grattan, a rash 24-year-old lieutenant fresh out of West Point, and gave him broad discretionary powers.
The next afternoon Grattan, an interpreter named Lucien Auguste, and 29 infantrymen set out with a wagon and two small artillery pieces. They stopped first at the Gratiot Houses fur trading post and then at James Bordeaux' trading post, 300 yards from the Brule camp and 8 miles southeast of Fort Laramie. Over Grattan's protests, at both places the interpreter, who had become intoxicated, abused and threatened loitering Indians.
A series of conferences between Grattan and Conquering Bear and other chiefs culminated in front of High Forehead's lodge, where Grattan finally moved his troops despite the warnings of the alarmed Bordeaux. The chiefs made new offers to pay for the cow, pleaded with the unyielding Grattan to postpone action until the Indian agent arrived, and continued to urge the obstinate High Forehead to surrender. Conquering Bear explained that High Forehead was a guest in his village and was not subject to his authority. Aggravating matters was the arrival of some impetuous young Oglala warriors, who in defiance of Grattan's orders had hurried down from their village. Distrusting Auguste's translation of what was being said and seeking to avoid a clash, Conquering Bear tried but failed to obtain the translation services of Bordeaux. As the situation became more tense, the Brule women and children fled from the camp toward the river.
At some point a few shots were fired and an Indian fell, but the chiefs cautioned the warriors not to reciprocate. Convinced nevertheless of the need for an even greater show of force, Grattan ordered his men to fire a volley. Conquering Bear slumped to the ground mortally wounded. Arrows flew. Once Grattan fell, his command panicked and fought a running battle back along the Oregon-California Trail. Finally the mounted Indians, forcing the foot soldiers onto level ground, overwhelmed them. All died except for one mortally wounded man who managed to make it back to Fort Laramie.
The Indian chiefs, feeling that the Great White Father would realize that the soldiers had been partly at fault and would forgive the Indians for the battle but not an attack on Fort Laramie, restrained their warriors. Within a few days they did, however, ransack Gratiot Houses of its goods as a substitute for their annuities and then departed from the North Platte River Valley. Life at the fort slowly settled into the familiar routine, but the old security was gone.
The site, privately owned and used for ranch operations, is marked by a stone monument, on the north side of the road. Extensive modern alterations of the terrain for irrigation purposes prevent the identification of the exact positions of the participants in the fight. The site of the cairn, where the enlisted men are buried, is about 200 yards west of the probable site of the Bordeaux trading post, marked by ground debris. Grattan's body is interred at Fort Leavenworth, Kans. The likely site of Gratiot Houses, also debris covered, is located a few rods from the river about a quarter mile east of the headgates of the Gratiot Irrigation Ditch.
Last Updated: 19-Aug-2005