Wandering WY: Fort Laramie National Historic Site
Updated: Nov 22, 2020
One of my favorite things about living in the "wild west" is that right on the fringes of our present-day towns are these places frozen in time. Fort Laramie National Historic Site is just such a place. The best part is how important this Fort was in Wyoming's history and even American history as a whole!
The Fur Trade Post
Fort Laramie, originally established as a privately owned fur trading post in 1834 by Robert Campbell and William Sublette. They called it Fort William. Fort William witnessed the declining glory of the mountain men and the height of the fur trade.
Realizing the turning of the tide, Campbell and Sublette knew they would make the most profit from trading with the local plains tribes for buffalo robes, especially the Lakota(Sioux). They held a monopoly on this trade until 1841 when Fort Platte was built a mile away. In order to stay ahead of their new competitor, Campbell and Sublette expanded their fort from a cottonwood outpost to a grand adobe walled structure and renamed the place, Fort John.
The Voyage West
Times were still changing for the fort as the first of many emigrant caravans passed through the fort in 1841. The fort would soon become a key outpost on the California, Oregon, and Mormon trails. In 1849, the army purchased the fort as part of a plan to establish a military presence along the emigrant trails. Finally, they gave the fort the name that went down in history, Fort Laramie.
The army quickly constructed new buildings for soldier's quarters, officer's quarters, and all the necessary amenities. Over the years the fort continued to grow in size and importance.
Eventually, stage lines, the Pony Express, and the transcontinental telegraph all passed through the fort.
Embassy of the Plains
Fort Laramie is perhaps best known for its pivotal role in hosting several key treaty negotiations with the Northern Plains Indian Nations. The most famous of these treaties being the Horse Creek Treaty of 1851 and the still contested Treaty of 1868.
The Indian Wars
As the number of emigrants moving west along the trails continued to grow, the amicable relationship between the army and the Northern Plains Nations ended. Major military campaigns were then launched from Fort Laramie against the Northern Plains Nations defending their homeland.
With the end of the Indian Wars, Fort Laramie was abandoned. In 1890 is was sold at public auction and fell into disrepair.
National Historic Site
This Historic Fort may have faded from the Wyoming landscape altogether if it had not been reclaimed by the National Park Service in 1938. Thanks to a few successful bidders in 1890 who homesteaded the preserved buildings we can visit today not all of the fort was lost. Many of the buildings were torn down for their lumber when the fort dissolved because it was a scarce resource in the area at that time.
We owe a great debt of thanks to the homesteaders who kept so much of the fort alive for our enjoyment!
Have you ever visited Fort Laramie? Can you name a movie that featured, at least in name, Fort Laramie? What do you think it would have been like to live in the Fort?
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