Wandering WY: Fort Phil Kearney
The weekend after I returned from Montana, I was on the road again for work, this time to Sheridan, Wyoming. I've had fun exploring Sheridan before, but there is still a lot more to see. The problem is that I only get there in the off-season which limits what's opened up already and for how long. I've driven by the road signs for this Fort many times, so I finally decided to stop on my way home!
You may actually remember a little bit about Fort Phil Kearney from my post about Fort Laramie. When Fort Phil Kearney was overrun, John Portugee Phillips road 236 miles in a blizzard to beg for aid from Fort Laramie! It's one of the most legendary episodes of the American Indian Wars.
The purpose of Fort Phil Kearney was to guard travelers along the Bozeman Trail leading from the cut-off on the Oregon Trail along the North Platte to the rich gold mines of Virginia City, Montana. This land by treaty belonged to the native tribes that had hunted here for generations but nothing could deter the long stream of fortune-hungry immigrants flowing north.... until Red Cloud's War. Chief Red Cloud gathered together several tribes in order to make the steady stream of immigrants turn back, their victory over Fort Phil Kearney closed the Bozeman Trail for good.
The Bozeman Trail was only open for a few years before it became military travel only and eventually closed, so unlike the Oregon Trail most of it has faded back into the landscape it once carved. As the interpretive signs say at the site, the landscape itself is the historic artifact as you stand and imagine how the men and women of the fort lived and died there.
None of the original fort is still standing as it was burned to the ground upon Red Cloud's victory, however, archaeologists have been able to uncover the general layout of the fort and have put together a great visual representation of its entrance. Otherwise, you will have to walk the trail and read the signs, to get a better context for how this fort was built and organized. I would highly recommend visiting Fort Laramie or Fort Bridger before visiting the other Forts in Wyoming, not only for their importance but also because they seem to be the most complete.
If you need something closer, Fort Casper is also fairly complete and will give you a more general idea of what a western fort in Wyoming would have looked like in the mid-1800s. What strikes me is that they all seem to be laid out in almost the same pattern and all faced many of the same challenges sickness, desertion, the need for lumber, a long haul for clean water, and an over-full cemetery.
These places hold some of the richest of our history from the days of the wild west. Over the next couple of weeks, I'll show you my visits to the two main battlefields that played the greatest role in the defeat of Fort Phil Kearney including the Fetterman Massacre and the Wagon Box Fight.
Until next time! Happy Trails!