The largest of the three forts built along the Bozeman Trail leading to the gold fields in Montana, Fort Phil Kearny was established by the U.S. Army on July 15, 1866 near present-day Story, Wyo. Along with Fort Reno northeast of present Kaycee, Wyo. and Fort C.F. Smith near Hardin, Mont., Fort Phil Kearny’s original purpose was to protect freighters, gold prospectors and other travelers along the “bloody Bozeman” from attack by Plains Indians wary of further encroachment by pioneers and the military.
Additionally, the fort, named for a Union general and under the command of Col. Henry B. Carrington, was intended to prevent inter-tribal warfare in the region and keep the Indians away from the Union Pacific Railroad under construction hundreds of miles to the south.
An 8‑foot‑tall wooden stockade fortified Fort Phil Kearny’s 17 acres. Two major battles, the Fetterman Fight and the Wagon Box Fight, occurred near the fort along with numerous smaller skirmishes. The Fetterman Fight in December 1866 resulted when Capt. William Fetterman allowed himself and his troops to be lured over a hill north of the fort and out of sight of it. He and all 80 men in his command were killed by Cheyenne, Arapaho and Oglala Sioux warriors.
The Wagon Box Fight, in August 1867 a few miles west of Fort Phil Kearny, developed when 32 woodcutters and guards were attacked by the forces of Oglala Chief Red Cloud. The men defended themselves with new breech-loading rifles, firing from a corral of wagon boxes and staving off the Indians until help arrived from the fort.
After the U.S. government enacted the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868, the forts along the Bozeman Trail were abandoned. Shortly after the troops left Fort Phil Kearny in the summer of 1868, it was burned down, probably by Cheyenne forces.
Fort Phil Kearny was named to the National Register of Historic Places in 1962. Now, trails lead visitors to the sites of the conflicts, and interpretive signs explain the events from the perspectives of both the military and Indian groups.
Brown, Dee. The Fetterman Massacre(formerly Fort Phil Kearny, an American Saga). Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1984.
Capt. William J. Fetterman and 80 men killed by Lakota Sioux, Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians near Fort Phil Kearny, the worst military disaster for the U.S. Army in the Indian Wars other than the Custer defeat.
The Fetterman Battlefield is located 20 miles south of Sheridan, Wyo. From Interstate 90, take Exit 44 and follow signs. This is a satellite site of Fort Phil Kearny, and it and the Wagon Box Fight site are both within five miles of the visitor center.
The grounds are open year-round as weather permits. The Fort Phil Kearny visitor center is open daily all day April 1-November 30 and afternoons during winter months. Facilities include a museum, gift shop and picnic areas. Self-guided tours of the trails and viewing area enrich the experience. Restrooms and drinking water are available. Camping is not allowed. Artifacts must not be removed, and the use of metal detectors and discharging of firearms is prohibited. Pets must be kept on leashes.
For more information on hours and fees contact the Fort Phil Kearny Office at (307) 684-7629.
Fort Phil Kearny is located 20 miles south of Sheridan. From Interstate 90, take Exit 44 and follow signs. The fort is about two miles northwest of the exit.
Facilities include a visitor center, museum, gift shop, restrooms, drinking water and picnic areas, trails and viewing area. Tours are self-guided. Additional restrooms and a picnic area are located at the Wagon Box Fight site. The sites are handicapped accessible. Camping, artifact removal and metal detectors not allowed.
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