During the Indian Wars of the 1860s and 1870s, all sides fought to control the land, travel safely, and protect their families and their futures. This tour of forts and battle sites leads from Fort Laramie to northern Wyoming. Follow it to better understand the events leading up to Custer’s defeat at the Little Bighorn in Montana, just 44 miles north, on I-90, of Wyoming’s northern border.
Fort Laramie began as a fur-trade post in 1834 near the confluence of the Laramie and North Platte rivers. Soon it changed into a post for the trade in buffalo robes, and for supplying emigrants bound west on the Oregon/California/Mormon Trail. In 1849 the post was purchased by the U.S. Army, and became an important supply, logistics and communications center for the Indian Wars campaigns of the next four decades. In recent decades the post has been carefully restored, and today is a National Historic Site.
Fort Fetterman was established by the U.S. Army on the North Platte River near present Douglas, Wyo. in 1867. It served as a staging point for Gen. George Crook’s three campaigns against Cheyenne and Lakota Sioux Indians in 1876, near the end of the Indian Wars. The Army abandoned the post in 1882, and the settlement finally closed down a few years later when the railroad arrived at Douglas, seven miles to the south.
Two military posts were built a few miles apart during the Indian Wars near the strategic Bozeman Trail crossing of Powder River—Fort Reno in the 1860s and Cantonment Reno in the 1870s. The first was one of three forts whose existence provoked the tribes into war. The second was an important Army base for later campaigns.
When the U.S. Army in 1866 sent troops to build a string of forts along the Bozeman Trail north from the North Platte River to the Montana gold fields, Lakota, Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes in that country reacted angrily. For two years, the tribes harassed and attacked the soldiers and travelers on the trail. After the Treaty of Fort Laramie in 1868, the Army withdrew, the Indians burnt the forts and for a few years, until hostilities started up again in the mid-1870s, the tribes the country largely to themselves.
On Aug. 2, 1867, a large force of Oglala Sioux attacked woodcutters near Fort Phil Kearny. Soldiers assigned to protect the woodcutters took cover behind a ring of wagon boxes. After the intense battle, both sides claimed victory, and estimates of the dead and wounded varied widely.
The Connor Battlefield is a park on Tongue River in Ranchester, Wyo., marking the spot where Brig. Gen. Patrick Connor and about 475 U.S. troops and Pawnee scouts in August 1865 attacked a village of 500 Arapaho under the leadership of Black Bear and Old David. The Arapaho suffered 33 killed, and the troops burned their lodges and drove off most of the horse herd. Today the park offers picnic grounds, a campground and a monument to the event.
When a party of Lakota Sioux raiders attacked a small wagon train of Shoshone, white and mixed-race people in 1868, eight-months-pregnant Woman Dress Lamoreaux stopped the skirmish when she climbed from a wagon and threatened the attackers with drastic consequences from her brother, Gall—their war chief—if they continued the fight.