Early Oregon Trail travelers were enchanted by clear, cold water at Willow Spring, halfway between the North Platte and Independence Rock. But after traffic boomed with the 1849 gold rush, they were more often disappointed: Pioneers had cut down trees; livestock had eaten all the grass and muddied the water.
Two battles on July 26, 1865 near Platte Bridge Station near present-day Casper, Wyo., are best understood in the context of tribal response to the Sand Creek Massacre the previous November. Twenty-eight U.S. troops were killed that day including Lt. Caspar Collins, for whom Fort Caspar and the town of Casper were later named.
John Richard’s bridge across the North Platte River near present Casper, Wyo. eased the way for thousands of those who traveled the Oregon, California and Mormon trails during the years 1852-1866. Because Richard spoke with a French accent, many people thought his name was Reshaw and began referring to the bridge as Reshaw’s Bridge. A number of diarists, including world traveler Sir Richard Burton, recorded their experiences and descriptions of the bridge and the mixed-race community that thrived at the nearby trading post.
Though the site was an important river crossing on the early frontier, the town of Casper did not begin until 1888, when the Fremont, Elkhorn & Missouri Valley Railroad reached the area. The town immediately became an important shipping point for cattle and wool. The first oil refinery was built in 1895 to process crude oil from the Salt Creek Oil Field, 40 miles to the north. The first true oil boom began after 1910 and lasted through the mid 1920s, and the town’s fortunes have been closely connected to the energy business ever since. In 2010 the city’s population passed 55,000. Casper continues as a retail, medical and energy-industry service hub.
The U.S. Army established Platte Bridge Station in 1862 to protect the Oregon/California/Mormon Trail crossing of the North Platte River and the new transcontinental telegraph. After Lt. Caspar Collins was killed there by Cheyenne and Lakota Indians in 1865, the post was renamed Fort Casper, misspelling his first name. The fort was abandoned two years later, but reconstructed in 1936—and renamed Fort Caspar—with funds from the Works Progress Administration. Fort grounds and a museum are open to the public.