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Fort Laramie

Fort Laramie Sign

In 1834, at the spot where the Cheyenne and Arapaho traveled, traded, and hunted, a trading post was established. This post, eventually known as Fort Laramie, sat in a location that proved to be the most-traveled route on the westward migration. By the 1840s, this was the site for wagon trains bound for Oregon, California and Utah to rest and be re-supplied.

When the gold rush hit in 1849, the post became a military post, and for the next 41 years it would be a focal point for events in a clash between two cultures for the control and domination of the Great Plains and its resources.

In 1876, Fort Laramie was the headquarters for military operations, communication, supply and logistics during "The Great Sioux War."

In 1890, as the frontier began to close, Fort Laramie, the scene of major events in the movement west, closed as well. The tale told by what remains of this priceless historic site is one of war and peace, conflict and cooperation; a place where the west of reality and the west of legends was created.

Early History of Fort Laramie

In 1849, the U.S. Army purchased an old fort, Fort John, for $4000, and began constructing what would become a vital military outpost along the Oregon Trail.

Until this time, the Indians of the plains and settlers traveling west coexisted peacefully. However, as the number of settlers increased, a strain on this relationship began to form.

In an effort to secure the safety of those heading west along the Oregon Trail, Congress approved the establishment of forts along the trail and a specially trained regiment of soldiers, Mounted Riflemen, to man them.

Contrary to the popular notion of western forts, generated by Hollywood movies, many of these outposts were not walled in or surrounded by wooden fences. In the case of Fort Laramie, the cost to construct such features was prohibitive, and so it was always open relying on its physical position and the troops stationed there for protection.

In the 1850s the main task of troops stationed at Fort Laramie was patrolling and securing a rather long stretch of the Oregon Trail. This job was difficult due to the area to be protected and the number of troops assigned to the fort.

The Treaty of 1851 promised peace between settlers and many of the Plains Indian tribes. However, this peace lasted only a short 3 years. In 1854 a passing wagon train was involved in an incident known as the Grattan Fight, in which an officer, an interpreter and 29 soldiers from Fort Laramie were killed. This was only one of the many events that fanned the flames of conflict between the United States and Plains Indian tribes. This conflict would not be resolved until the late 1870s.

In the 1860s, with the outbreak of the Civil War, regular army troops were withdrawn from Fort Laramie to participate in that conflict. The fort was garrisoned with regiments of state volunteers, including the Seventh Iowa, and the Eleventh Ohio. The number of emigrants declined during the early 1860s, but with the completion of the transcontinental telegraph line in 1861, troops at Fort Laramie had a new task, namely inspecting, protecting and repairing this vital means of nationwide communication. Later in the decade, troops were responsible for supplying and reinforcing forts along the Bozeman Trail until the Treaty of 1868 was signed.

The treaty of 1868 did not end hostilities between settlers and Plains Indian tribes, however, and by the beginning of the 1870s conflicts between the two groups had become more strained. The discovery of gold in the Black Hills in 1874 didn’t help matters, and the rush to the gold fields violated some of the terms of the treaty.

The Sioux regarded this area as sacred ground and under such leaders as Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull, they fought to protect their claim to the land. During this time, Fort Laramie served as a command post and staging area for campaigns against the Sioux in 1876.

By the beginning of the 1880s, conflicts with the Native American tribes of the Plains had largely ended, and Fort Laramie began to be transformed into a more "civilized" fortress. Boardwalks were built in front of officers houses and trees were planted to relieve the starkness of the landscape. By the end of the decade, the importance of the fort began to diminish. The cause of Fort Laramie's decline had more to do with the lack of a railroad than the reduced number of conflicts with Native American tribes. The Union Pacific Railroad bypassed the fort in favor of a more southerly route. In March of 1890, troops marched out of Fort Laramie for the final time. The land and buildings that had played such a vital part in Westward Expansion were auctioned off to local civilians. After the fort was abandoned more than 50 of the buildings were moved to other sites, destroyed, or dismantled. The buildings remaining at Fort Laramie today are a result of several individuals homesteading the area and thus averting the complete disappearance of the remaining structures. In 1927, the Wyoming Historical Landmark Commission helped focus public attention of the fort, and by 1936,  representatives of the National Park Service showed an interest in preserving Fort Laramie. The site became Fort Laramie National Historic Monument by presidential proclamation on July 16, 1938. It was redesignated a National Historic Site in 1960 when Congress enlarged the monument.

Fort Laramie Firsts

First Permanent Settlement in the state of Wyoming—Fort William—1834

First drunk driving Fatality in Wyoming—Sioux chief Susu-ceicha fell off his horse and broke his neck after riding back and forth between Fort John and Fort Platte, "receiving strongly drugged liquor."—–1841

First Military Post in the State of Wyoming—With the purchase of the fur-trade post of Fort John by the Army, becoming Fort Laramie, a military installation—1849

First School in the State of Wyoming—formal classes taught at Fort Laramie. First recorded teacher was Post Chaplain Reverend Vaux—as early as 1856

First Post Office in the State of Wyoming—oldest continuously operating post office in Wyoming—established on March 14, 1850

First Major Indian Battle of the Northern Plains Indian Wars—Grattan fight—1854

First Iron Bridge in the State of Wyoming—Army Iron Bridge constructed on the North Platte River—1875


Site designed by Richard Lachowsky

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