The Online Encyclopedia of Wyoming History

Visiting Reshaw's Bridge

Visiting Reshaw's Bridge

For more than a decade in the mid-1800s, Reshaw’s Bridge in today’s Evansville, Wyo., just east of Casper, was the most important crossing of the North Platte River on the Oregon/California/Mormon Trail.  During that time, tens of thousands of wagons and hundreds of thousands of people—bound west and east—crossed the bridge. The bridge is named for its owner, the French-speaking entrepreneur John Richard. Visitors today can find a reproduction of part of the bridge in Reshaw’s Park in Evansville, next to the river.

During the bus ride:

  • Depending upon which direction you’re taking to the site, you may be following the trail. Are you headed east? West? Some other direction?   
  • How far is the bridge from Fort Laramie? If wagon trains traveled 12 to 15 miles per day, how many days would it take to travel that distance? If stagecoaches traveled 30 miles a day, how long would it take them to make the trip?
  • What will be the next man-made landmark the emigrants would see in the 1850s? The 1860s?  How far away are those places?
  • 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.
  • As you drive through Casper and Evansville, ask students to imagine how the countryside would have looked 150 years ago.
  • Choose a trail diary (or two or three or four) that mentions the North Platte River and the trail west of Fort Laramie.  Read several during the days prior to the field trip to give students an idea of what the country was like, and what the travel routine was like for the travelers.

Arriving at the bridge:

  • When did emigrant travel begin on the route we now know as the Oregon Trail?
  • Where were the travelers headed in the 1840s? The 1850s? The 1860s?
  • What Indian people might the travelers have met along the way? How would the emigrants have felt about the Indians in the 1840s? the 1850s? the 1860s?
  • How might the Indian people have felt about the emigrant travelers at those different times?
  • John Richard and his brothers were in business to make money. Besides collecting tolls for the bridge, what other businesses did they engage in?  
  • Would you have wanted to work for the Richard brothers?
  • Soldiers were stationed at the bridge beginning in 1855. Ask students to imagine how they spent their time.
  • Ask students to figure out what the Richard brothers might have earned per year from wagon tolls. Find out what that would be worth in today’s money.

Back home:

  • Pretend you’re an emigrant on the trail.  Write a letter that you would mail home.  Describe what you’ve seen at the bridge 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 bridge. What is summer like? Winter? How is your pay? What do you think of your officers? Your fellow soldiers? Of Richard and his brothers?
  • Pretend you are an Oglala Lakota Sioux Indian, working for the Richard brothers making leather clothes and moccasins for travelers. How do you feel about the emigrants? The soldiers? Other Lakota, Cheyenne, Arapaho, Crow, Shoshone and mixed-blood people who come to trade at Richard’s store?  Where will you go to find out the answers? 

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.