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Wandering WY: Wagon Box Fight

We've finally reached the end of my visit to Sheridan, WY in May this year. As you travel in a loop from Fort Phil Kearny, the first battle site you visit is the Wagon Box Fight.

As we talked about briefly last time, many of the forts on the Wyoming Plains, had to travel quite a distance from the fort to supply the wood for construction and wood stoves. Fort Phil Kearny was no different. Wood-cutting crews were often an easy target for raids during Red Cloud's War. In the autumn following the Fetterman Massacre, a wood-cutting crew was once again out gathering the much-needed wood supply that would secure the fort and keep them warm through the winter.

Red Cloud's warriors were once again ready to wipe the forts on the Bozeman Trail off the map for good. Some of his warriors went to Fort C.F. Smith in Montana near my hometown of Livingston. The rest came for Fort Phil Kearny but they were in for a surprise. Where the winter before they had achieved a resounding victory, this time would not be so easy.

Under the protection of Captain James W. Powell, the woodcutting crew of 32 men mostly civilians had built a wagon box corral for their livestock and protection of their supplies about six miles from the fort. When Red Cloud attacked on August 2, 1867, Powell's men took shelter in the corral where they managed to hold off the attack for many hours until reinforcements arrived from the fort. Three of the woodcutters and two of the soldiers were dead but Powell estimated that they had killed many more of their enemy. History today is uncertain was Red Cloud's actual losses were.

This battle site is much smaller and shorter to walk if you're not looking for a hike. It sparks the imagination thinking about old western movies when wagon trains would come under attack and were given the order to circle the wagons. In truth, this probably was not as common as the movies would have us think but those one-inch thick pine boxes certainly saved the lives of these men on this occasion.

Only a year later, the fort would be abandoned and Red Cloud would burn it to the ground.

Today you can travel portions of the Bozeman Trail, but much of it remains in the wilderness of Wyoming and Montana. It is a tragic chapter in American history fraught with greed, deception, broken promises, and death. Whatever your thoughts on the policies today between the United States government and the present-day Native Americans, this is history worth knowing and land worth walking for yourself.

If you're visiting the Sheridan area, I would recommend stopping at Fort Phil Kearney first then taking their directions to the Wagon Box Fight, and finally, over to the Fetterman Massacre site, that's the easiest way to do so by car as they're situated in a large loop.

What is the most interesting thing you have learned by visiting a historic site?

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