The Online Encyclopedia of Wyoming History

Visiting Fort Caspar

Visiting Fort Caspar

In 1859 and 1860, a trader named Louis Guinard built a new bridge across the North Platte River between what are now Casper and Mills, Wyo. The bridge was stronger and better built than John Richard’s bridge (Reshaw’s Bridge) about five miles downstream, and soon was drawing more of the wagon traffic.

In 1862, the U.S. Army established a post at the bridge, which came to be called Platte Bridge Station, and expanded it in the following years as tensions grew between white settlers and travelers and the tribes who already lived and hunted in the area. In 1865, young Lt. Caspar Collins and 25 other soldiers were killed in a series of fights on July 26. The fort was later renamed for the lieutenant, and the City of Casper took the name when it was founded more than 20 years later.

The fort was reconstructed on its original site in 1936. A visit there can go a long way to helping us imagine the lives of the people who lived at, defended, attacked and traveled through the place in the 1860s.

During the bus ride:

  • Depending upon where you began your trip, you will cross or parallel the North Platte River as you approach Fort Caspar. Can you see it? Where is the fort in relation to the river?   
  • How far is Fort Caspar from Fort Laramie? Cavalry soldiers like Caspar Collins could travel 40 miles a day if they and their horses were well fed. How long would it take to travel from Fort Laramie to Fort Caspar at that rate?
  • There are numerous roadside guides for Wyoming – picking one of them up, and sharing what you see as you travel Wyoming’s highways adds interest to the bus ride. The National Park Service has a great one on the Oregon Trail across Wyoming, which includes more information on Fort Caspar and the historic trails.
  • As you approach Fort Caspar, ask students to imagine how the countryside would have looked 150 years ago. Point out the high bluffs north of the river, behind which the warriors hid before attacking the soldiers in 1865.

Arriving at the fort:

  • Who traveled through here in the 1860s, and where were they headed?
  • Louis Guinard first built his bridge here in 1859 and 1860 and two years later, the army took over the spot for a fort. Ask students to think about why Guinard would have done that, when John Richard already had built a bridge (Reshaw’s Bridge) five miles downstream, in what’s now Evansville.
  • Why would the army want to build a fort exactly here?
  • Using WyoHistory.org’s account of the Battle of Platte Bridge and the Battle of Red Buttes, show where the Lakota, Cheyenne and Arapaho warriors attacked the soldiers.
  • What troops were stationed here then?
  • How did Lt. Caspar Collins happen to be here on July 26, 1865?

Back home:

  • Pretend you’re a traveler on the overland stagecoach.  Write a letter that you would mail home.  Describe what you’ve seen at the fort and trading post, and how you feel about it.  Tell what you think you’ll be seeing next. 
  • Pretend you’re a soldier stationed at the fort. What is summer like? Winter? How is your pay? What do you think of your officers? Your fellow soldiers?
  • Pretend you are a Cheyenne warrior, the day after the attack on Platte Bridge. This is the first war party you have ever traveled with. How do you feel?

Note to teachers:

This lesson addresses a number of the Wyoming State Social Studies Standards detailed in the 2013 draft of Wyoming Social Studies Content and Performance Standards, benchmarked for the ends of grades 2, 5, 8 and 12. All are available at http://edu.wyoming.gov/sf-docs/publications/DRAFT_2013_Social_Studies_Standards.pdf?

More specifically, the lesson addresses Content Standard 4, Time, Continuity and Change, under which students analyze events, people, problems, and ideas within their historical contexts, and Content Standard 5, People, Places and Environments, under which students apply their knowledge of the geographic themes (location, place, movement, region, and human/environment interactions) and skills to demonstrate an understanding of interrelationships among people, places, and environment.

Under Content Standard 4, the lesson addresses standards SS5.4.4. SS8.4.4 and SS12.4.4, which call for students to discuss, identify or describe historical interactions between and among individuals, families, and cultural/ethnic groups, and standards SS5.4.5, SSD8.4.5 and 12.4.5, which call for students to understand the difference between primary and secondary sources, and how to use them in their research.

Under Content Standard 5, this lesson addresses the Human Place and Movement standards SS2.5.3, SS5.5.3 (which specifically mentions American Indians and the Oregon Trail), SS8.5.3 and SS12.5.3, and the Environment and Society standards SS2.5.4, SS5.5.4, SS8.5.4 and SS12.5.4, which call on students to understand how people in Wyoming adjust and have adjusted to their physical and geographical environment.