Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Invading Wyoming

Fort Phil Kearny
America Invades(d) Van

"Native Americans had a long history in what is now Wyoming, over many thousands of years, before the arrival of Europeans in North America.

Fort Caspar, WY
When people of European heritage did  finally make it to the region, they found a number of Native American peoples living there, including Arapaho, Blackfeet, Cheyenne, Crow, Kiowa, Shoshone, Sioux, and Ute.

It wasn’t until the eighteenth century that the  first Europeans arrived, though. On their 1743 expedition, for instance, the Vérendrye brothers probably visited bits of Wyoming, although if so, it’s hard to be entirely sure which.

The Lewis and Clark Expedition didn’t go through Wyoming, but John Colter separated from the main expedition and explored parts of Wyoming, including an area of geysers that would later become part of Yellowstone National Park.

Meanwhile, despite comparatively few people of European heritage actually having been there, the area acquired quite a tangled list of outside powers eager to claim parts of it.  The Spanish claimed the territory to the east of the Rockies.  Then the French made their claim—but with their defeat in the French and Indian War, France ceded that to Spain.  Then in 1792, Lieutenant Broughton claimed the Columbia River basin for Britain.  The Spanish ceded most of their claims in Wyoming to the French, who promptly sold them to the United States under the Louisiana Purchase. But the confusion wasn’t entirely  finished. Britain and the United States jointly administered a small section of what is now Wyoming as part of their Oregon Country compromise, until 1846. Mexico had a claim on another small piece of Wyoming, and then the Republic of Texas had a claim, until finally after 1848, the entire territory was internationally recognized as part of the United States.  This process almost completely ignored the rights and interests of the Native Americans who actually lived on the land.

But gradually, as the nineteenth century progressed, more and more outsiders entered Wyoming. At first, these were mainly trappers and traders. For instance, Jedediah Smith explored parts of the area. But once the South Pass through the Rockies became known among the outsiders, Wyoming became a through route as emigrants traversed it on their journeys to elsewhere.

And with the trappers and traders and emigrants came the US Army.

Cavalry Barracks
Fort Laramie, WY

In 1849, the army purchased a fort originally built privately for fur trading and renamed it Fort Laramie.

The 1851 Treaty of Fort Laramie signed between the US and local Native Americans aimed to de ne the indigenous people’s land rights, protect settlers on the trails, and provide for the United States to build forts and roads.

However, early on there were signs that the process was not going to be entirely peaceful. In 1854, in what is now Goshen County, a dispute over a dead cow and an ensuing clumsy attempt by twenty-nine soldiers under Lieutenant John Grattan to arrest the man responsible led to the killing of all thirty Americans and their interpreter.

As increasing numbers of settlers and migrants  owed through Wyoming, much more violence was to come.

Wagon Train Battle
Fort Phil Kearny, WY

In July 1865, after the Sand Creek Massacre in November the year before, Lakota Sioux and Cheyenne attacked US forces in the Battles of Platte Bridge Station and Red Buttes, hitting both troops at the bridge and a wagon train, and killing twenty-eight American soldiers. In retaliation, the Powder River Expedition was sent out by the US military. A number of clashes ensued, including a major incident on August 29. Brigadier General Connor’s forces attacked an Arapaho village at what is now Ranchester, killing sixty-three before the Arapaho, under Black Bear, counterattacked and forced Connor to withdraw. In the end, the expedition failed to destroy Native American resistance.
In 1866, the army established three forts—Reno, Phil Kearny, and C. F. Smith—on the Bozeman Trail, which connected with gold-rush territory in Montana and the Oregon Trail. Sioux leader Red Cloud commenced a guerrilla campaign against the forts, and he got support from other Native American leaders, including Black Bear, Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse, and Hump.

William Fetterman
Leader of the second greatest US disaster in the West after Custer

On December 21, 1866, warriors under Crazy Horse and Hump attacked wagons carrying timber. An eighty-one-man military force under Captain William Fetterman raced to rescue it, but the US detachment was ambushed and wiped out. In August 1867, a Cheyenne force attacked hay cutters and their guards near Fort C. F. Smith, but due to their new breech-loading Springfield rifles, the hay-cutting party managed to hold off the attackers in the Hay field Fight.

Crazy Horse
The day after this attack, Red Cloud, Crazy Horse, and American Horse attacked a wood-cutting party near Fort Phil Kearny.

Although the Native American forces could not defeat the might of the US military, the US military was besieged in its forts and unable to protect the Bozeman Trail.

Battle of Red Buttes Plaque
Fort Caspar, WY
In the end, the federal government was forced to accept that negotiating with the Native Americans was the only realistic option. Various agreements were signed with various peoples, and in November 1868, Red Cloud signed the Fort Laramie Treaty. Under its terms, the Great Sioux Nation Reservation was established, and the three forts along the Bozeman Trail were abandoned. After their abandonment, the Sioux burned them.

Interior Officer's Room
Fort Caspar, WY

It was not, however, the end of fighting in Wyoming.

 The Black Hills War erupted in 1876 after Custer and gold miners invaded the Black Hills, which were Sioux territory.  e war was mainly fought beyond the borders of Wyoming, but forts in Wyoming did play a role, acting as US bases. In June, Custer’s force was defeated at the Battle of Little Bighorn in Montana. In November 1876, Colonel Ranald Mackenzie attacked a Cheyenne village on the Red Fork of the Powder River. Escaping Cheyenne waded through deep snow to Crazy Horse’s camp 150 miles away from the battle site.

By July 1877, the Black Hills War was officially declared finished."

Covered Wagon
Fort Laramie, WY

If you have enjoyed this excerpt from the Wyoming chapter of America Invaded you will like the book even more!

I signed one for YOU!
Signed copies of America Invaded: A State by State Guide to Fighting on American Soil are available at the Rocky Mountain Military Museum and

Regular copies may be purchased from

Or on

Travel Notes: Fort Phil Kearny (, Fort Caspar (in Casper... and Fort Laramie ( are amazing places to explore the often violent history of the American west.  FireRock Steakhouse is my favorite restaurant in Casper...  Wind City is my favorite book store in Casper...

No comments: