11/16/2008

Fort Laramie was a crossroads of the Old West


For much of the 19th century, Fort Laramie, Wyoming was, depending on your point of view, an island of civilization and safety in the trackless prairie or a persistent reminder that your world was steadily being taken away from you.

If you were headed west on the Oregon Trail on a five-month journey to the California gold fields in 1850, Fort Laramie was a welcome sight. You could get a brief rest, have a blacksmith make repairs to your wagon, and stock up on canned goods and other necessities for the rest of your journey.

But if you belonged to one of the Plains tribes of Native Americans, Fort Laramie was a major source of trouble.

The old Army post is now Fort Laramie National Historic Site. I visited there with my sister and brother-in-law a few weeks ago, and was fascinated by the place.

The vista of the surrounding prairie can’t have changed much since the days when troops were stationed there. You’re still in the middle of nowhere, with only brown prairie grass and the trees that line the banks of the Laramie River for scenery. Despite the isolation, however, Fort Laramie was a crossroads of history. Mark Twain, “Wild Bill” Hickok, Wyatt Earp, “Calamity Jane” Cannary, and “Buffalo Bill” Cody were among the thousands who visited the fort or passed through on stagecoaches.
I expected to see the Hollywood version of an Old West fort – the rustic timber palisade with blockhouses at each corner. But Fort Laramie never had a palisade.

Only walls remain of many of the old buildings, but several have been restored to their approximate 19th century appearances.


The barracks, above, housed a company of soldiers.



The sleeping quarters were on the second floor . . .


. . . and mess hall was on the ground floor.



A couple of the officers’ residences also have been restored. This is the entrance to one of them. The house was built in 1884, only a few years before the fort was closed.


This shows the dining room table as it might have appeared for Sunday dinner around 1887.


It was a warm day when we visited Fort Laramie, and I came across this juvenile rattlesnake sunning himself on the graveled walking path. He looks bigger in the photo than he actually was because there’s nothing else to provide perspective. But he was too young to even have his rattle, which the snakes don’t acquire until they start shedding their skins.

There were small signs warning visitors to watch out for rattlers if they ventured off the walking path. I’m sure the soldiers at Fort Laramie had to keep constant watch for them.

The photo at the top of this entry shows soldiers stationed at Fort Laramie in the late 19th century.

1 comment:

Patrick McMillan said...

Hi Willie,
I love the image you found of Ft. Laramie:
http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_u2fIEg5JZqk/SSAsWleGzTI/AAAAAAAAAdA/yyPAvviaF_0/s1600-h/Soldiers.JPG
In fact, I would like to know if you know who owns the copyright of it so that we can ask about acquiring the rights to use it in a free public roadside display designed to promote tourism to the region. Also, do you know if a higher-res version of it exists? Thanks!
Nice posts! Patrick McMillan
director@tmdaexhibits.com