Adventures on a Sunday Afternoon

I drove back roads south into Wyoming and stopped in Sheridan. In preparation for a long stretch of driving, I bought a drink at the same Qdoba where I’d bought supper the night before. Once I cleared Buffalo, about 35 miles south of Sheridan, there were no services until Casper, 112 miles away.

I-25 wasn’t busy. There were stretches of half an hour or so when I neither passed or was passed by another vehicle. I was relaxed and looking for Pronghorns along the highway. It occurred to me that I have undoubtedly seen more cows than any other animal. But I got to thinking about wild animals. I have probably seen the most White-tailed Deer, but after living in the west the past three years, I’m guessing Pronghorns are a close second. I was seeing individuals and and herds almost every mile.

I was looking at a herd of Pronghorns on the east side of the highway. I looked up in time to see a doe Mule Deer strolling casually across the pavement in front of me. Deer aren’t usually active in the heat of the afternoon, so I wasn’t anticipating it. I had just enough time to swerve around behind it at 80 mph. It never quickened its pace. I probably missed it by four or five feet. Aloud I said, “That would have been a stupid way to die.”

My original plan was to spend the night in Casper, but I decided at some point to continue south another 45 minutes to Douglas where I’d noticed on my trip north that there was a Hampton Inn. But there was a restaurant in Casper I had been planning on visiting, and that was still in the cards.

The place was called Sanford’s Grub and Pub. It was most famous for its decor.

A friendly young woman took my order—a medium cheeseburger and onion rings. I waited and waited. And waited. After an hour, I was pretty irritated. The people who were seated just before me were also complaining. The people who came just after me were so upset that they announced that they were leaving. Their food magically appeared moments later. My burger finally came a hour and 20 minutes after I ordered. And it was decidedly well done. The server was very apologetic and offered to make me another one, but I told her I didn’t have another hour and a half to wait. To my surprise, the burger was pretty tasty, as were the rings.

When I finally escaped, I decided to get gas at the Pilot station next door. As I was pumping gas, I got a notice from my bank asking if I had charged $151 worth of gas and automotive at that same station. I hadn’t of course. Some clown in another car was skimming my card as I pumped gas. I got back on the road and chatted back and forth with Sally about it for a while, then pulled off and called Visa. They guy I spoke with was helpful, although he was very difficult to understand. The charge was erased, but I decided I wasn’t a big fan of Casper.

I got a room at the Hampton Inn in Douglas, but it was expensive—$150 plus taxes. I spent the evening logging my bird lists from the trip and planning Monday’s adventure.

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Rosebud Battlefield

The Army campaign of 1876 was intended to move the Indian tribes of the northern plains onto reservations. Unwilling to go, the Indians had banded together into a force of about 1,500-2,000 warriors. The Army’s strategy involved an encirclement of the Indian camp by three columns: Gibbon from the west, Terry (including Custer and his men) from the east, and Crook, with the largest column, from the south. Crook left Fort Fetterman on May 29.

On June 11, Crook’s army stopped to rest along Rosebud Creek. The Indian scouts who were employed by the Army raced into camp chased by hostile Indians. For the next two or three hours, soldiers and Indians maneuvered, taking advantage of any opportunity to attack weak spots. There weren’t really lines of battle. The soldiers looked for any substantial group of warriors to fight while the Indians moved around and fought from every direction.

Crook had been misinformed and thought there was a large Indian village nearby. He sent eight companies of cavalry to attack it. The Indians thought the Army was retreating and left the field. Crook had expended so much ammunition and supplies that he felt that he had to return to Fort Fetterman to resupply. That meant that he wasn’t able to meet up with the other columns, which may have been a significant factor in Custer’s defeat seven days later and about 30 miles to the northwest. Crook had 10 men killed and 21 wounded at the Rosebud, and it’s estimated that Indian casualties were about the same.

I drove though the beautiful Montana countryside to the battlefield, located on a dirt road a long way from anything resembling a town. There were a few other people at the entrance but once I headed further into the park, I only saw one moving car and one parked car and nobody else on foot.

The tour road was two dirt tracks divided by tall grass. My Honda Accord scraped the grass the entire time, but the road was otherwise in good shape and I had no problem.

Because of the fluid nature of the battle, there weren’t really battle-related things to see. A few sight posts were scattered about with holes through which I could look to see particular landmarks. The Indian name for the battle is “Where the Sister Saved Her Brother,” named for an incident that happened during the day. A Cheyenne warrior had his horse killed under him. He became a target for the soldiers until his sister, Buffalo Calf Road Woman, rode up on her horse and carried him to safety.

At the beginning of the road, I saw a female Pronghorn and her calf running away from me.

At the top of the hill in the above photo, there was a place to pull over. I parked and walked a trail across the hills. I spotted the Pronghorn calf poking its head up above the grass about 40 yards away.

I walked a couple hundred yards further and heard an odd huffing sound I didn’t recognize. It was the female. She was maybe 80 yards away, staring at me. Every minute or so, she’d make the noise. After a little while she ran up the ridge and disappeared. I’m guessing she was trying to attract my attention away from her calf which was hiding nearby. I didn’t see either of them again.

I walked with care up a grass-covered trail in an area where rattlesnakes are common. I was 40 miles from Sheridan, Wyoming, the nearest place where I was likely to find a hospital. I probably strolled a mile up toward Crook’s Hill, where the general had his headquarters on the day of the battle. There were very few birds, and no battle markers. But it was a beautiful day and the surrounding country was also beautiful. I enjoyed myself tremendously.

I didn’t go all the way to the top of Crook’s Hill. The trees on the hill may look close in the photo above, but the crest was deceptively far away. I took the video below from the place where I turned around. It was the heat of the day. There wasn’t really anything different I could see by going further—just more of the same scenery. I had gotten up early and had a long drive ahead of me. I would have definitely kept going if the reward had been worth the effort. But I suppose a contributing factor in my decision was that I’m not used to be quite this alone. I was a mile or so from my car, which was a mile or so from the park entrance, which was three miles from the nearest paved road, which was 40 miles from the nearest town, which was 480 miles from the nearest person I knew.

I drove the rest of the tour route without stopping or getting out of my car. By the entrance, I spotted a marmot on a rock outcropping. I was surprised to see one at this low an elevation.

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Little Bighorn

On Saturday I realized that I had planned my visit to Little Bighorn Battlefield two days before the anniversary of the battle—which meant I would be there on the weekend closest to the anniversary. I figured there would be reenactments and ceremonies and a lot of visitors, but there wasn’t anything I could do about it at this point except get there early.

The park opened at 8:00, and I arrived around 8:04. It cost $25 to get in, which surprised me. I entered the visitor center but then decided to see the battlefield itself before the crowds and heat arrived. I walked up Last Stand Hill past the Indian Memorial, to the 7th Cavalry Memorial. There was one other guy in the area, but he soon left, so for about 10 minutes I had the hill to myself. Later in the day, there were always at least 40 people  crowded around the monument and even more during the expected reenactment.

In the next photo, the visitor center is in the right distance. The deep ravine can be seen as a darker line of green leading toward the distant trees left of center. Custer’s marker is the one with black paint in the center of the cluster. These aren’t gravestones. Many of the men were moved elsewhere—Custer is buried at West Point. Others are buried under the 7th Cavalry Monument. The stones mark where the soldiers’ bodies were found.

From Last Stand Hill I walked the Deep Ravine Trail. Three guys in yellow vests were spraying something on the vegetation along the path, but for the most part I was alone here too until the very end. The next six photos were taken on that trail.

I once read a book titled Custer Fell Here that contained pictures of the battlefield taken over the years alongside more recent ones. It was interesting, but I made fun of the author because he kept referring to the four-foot black fence around the last stand area. Now I understand. The battlefield sprawls over treeless rolling hills that all look very similar. Points of reference are the cluster of trees around the visitor center, the river valley, and the Last Stand Monument and fence. Without looking for these landmarks, it would very difficult to know where on the battlefield you were.

I got back to the visitor center just as a ranger was beginning a talk on the covered patio. I found a post to lean on in the shade. (The sun was already intense.) The guy began by telling us that he had been a history teacher so we would know he was a brilliant authority. Then he told us that we all misunderstood the battle. We all thought there were no survivors when, in fact, thousands of Indians survived. (Of course there wasn’t a single person there who thought all the Indians also died, but that didn’t matter to him. He had a point to make.) He told us that if we had visited in the 1960’s, a park ranger would have told us that Custer and his men were courageous heroes who died for their country in defense of the American way of life. We were allowed to think the soldiers were courageous if we wanted to, but none of the rest of it was true. He then launched into a diatribe on racism. At that point I left. A bit later, I walked through the cemetery where a marker explained how the men buried there were heroes who had died protecting my freedoms in, among other places, the Indian wars. I was a bit confused. Were the soldiers heroes or not?

I wasn’t really confused. The National Park Service is in full political correct mode. I wish they would just present the facts and let visitors make up their own minds. But of course the government doesn’t think we’re capable of thinking for ourselves. Here’s my opinion: combatants on both sides were fighting for their ways of life. Both ways of life had good points and bad points. The Indians won the battle, but their culture was unsustainable in the face of developing technology and an increasing world population so they lost the war. There were bad men on both sides. There were also men on both sides who worked hard to find ways for both cultures to coexist peacefully. As bad as it was, maybe it was as good as humans are capable of. I don’t really see any of those who fought here on either side as heroes or villains. The battle was was just another example of humanity’s brokenness.

End of rant.

I made a quick trip through the one room of displays in the visitor center, bought a couple hats in the store, then walked through the cemetery. I spotted a nighthawk, which surprised me at that time of day. (It was around 10:00 by this time.) Over the next couple days I saw nighthawks flying at midday in a couple other places.

The photo below is a view of the whole battlefield from the cemetery. A bit of the Deep Ravine Trail can be seen right of center. Last Stand Hill is on the left. If you enlarge the photo, you can see the Wolf Mountains in the distance. One of Custer’s Indian scouts climbed to a lookout point in the mountains and spotted the Indian village along the river. On a nearer ridge, you can see a flat-topped butte. That’s Weir Point. Some of Reno’s men made it that far and saw that Custer and the soldiers with him were wiped out. They retreated across Sharpshooter’s Ridge back to the hilltop where Reno and Benteen were besieged. That hill is out of sight behind Weir Point. This gives some idea of the size of the battlefield. I believe I heard that it’s more than four miles from the siege hill to Last Stand Hill.

Last Stand Hill was packed with people as I drove by. I pulled over to allow about seven guys in soldier uniforms to ride past on horses. It wasn’t a very convincing demonstration. One of the riders dropped a piece of equipment and wasn’t familiar enough with horseback riding to get off and get it. A ranger had to pick it up for him.

I drove the tour route, stopping at all the pull offs on the right side of the road and taking photos. Most of the battlefield is on the Crow Indian Reservation, but there were tour stops there too. I took the next photo to show some of the markers scattered around the battlefield. The white ones in the distance are soldiers. The two red ones in the foreground are Indians.

It’s hard to make out in this photo, but the rise beginning on the left and angling into the right distance is Greasy Grass Ridge

Reenactors at Medicine Tail Ford.

Looking west from Sharpshooter Ridge. Notice the fort-like building with the red roof. It shows up in several photos. It was from a point a little beyond that building that Reno made his first attack on the village.

There was a trail at the Reno-Benteen battle site. I got out and walked the whole thing. At the top of the bluff overlooking where Reno and his men retreated across the river, a volunteer was standing by to answer questions. I was the only one there, so I chatted with him for a few minutes. He pointed to the places across the river where the battle began and where the Indian village was located. By the time I left that end of the park, all the spots in the small lot were taken. The next several photos were taken from the Reno-Benteen battle hill.

The flat area on this side of the river is where Reno and his men crossed during their retreat up the hill. If you enlarge the photo, you can make out a gas station right along I-90 (just to the left of the log buildings with green roofs). That is approximately where the southern edge of the two-mile long Indian village was located. Reno took up his second position in the trees between my location and the red-roofed building.

During the two days of battle on the hill, some of Reno’s men crept down this ravine to the river to get water for the troops while sharpshooters covered them.

The southernmost point of Reno’s Hill looking toward the Wolf Mountains in the distance.

Looking southeast toward the Wolf Mountains. The depression in the grass just beyond the bricks is a reconstructed trench on the spot of a trench dug by Reno’s men.

This panorama distorts the view, but it shows all of Reno’s hill from the southern rise on the left to the area just beyond the parking lot.

Cedar Coulee along which Custer advanced (toward the left) after locating the Indian village.

The view looking north from Weir Point. Enlarge it to see Last Stand Hill as a tiny dark spot to the right of the trees around the visitor center.

On my way back through the park, I stopped at all the pull offs on the other side of the road. At Medicine Tail Ford, I could see across the river out of the park. Two tepees were set up in front of a couple sections of bleachers. People were filing onto the seats to watch another reenactment.

Medicine Tail Coulee leading down to Medicine Tail Ford on the left.

Last Stand Hill is on the left. On this portion of the battlefield, Myle Keogh and his men were overrun as they tried to join Custer.

When I got back to the visitor center, the main parking lot was jammed and people were sitting in their cars waiting for spots to open up.

I stopped in Crow Agency for something to drink and decided to buy a gas station hot dog for lunch. A pleasant guy who was also getting a couple dogs advised me to take advantage of all the available packaging because “you will place it on your car seat and take a corner too fast and there goes your hot dog onto the floor.” I told him he spoke with the voice of experience and thanked him for his wisdom.

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Sheridan, Wyoming

Although I’d planned what I wanted to do every day on my trip, I left things open enough to account for some spontaneity. The one nonnegotiable was Little Bighorn, which meant that I had to stay somewhere reasonably close on Saturday night. That meant Sheridan. To make sure I had a room, I went online and reserved one. The franchise hotels were expensive, so I opted for the Mill Inn. It’s an old flour mill, built in 1919 and converted to a hotel sometime after 1974 when the mill shut down.

I guess I ordered a suite, because that’s what I got. But the price was still much less than I would have paid elsewhere. I had two rooms, connected by a wide opening. Each of them had their own queen-size bed and bathroom. My room was in the lower section between the mill tower and the office tower. My windows looked out on the mill tower.

My room wasn’t fancy, and the mattress and pillows were made of cement, but it was clean and convenient. I checked in and then went for a walk with my binoculars. About half a mile from the hotel, a path winds along the banks of Little Goose Creek. The water was high and moving fast. I didn’t see many birds, but it was a pleasant evening and anything was better than sitting in a hotel room. I did spot a Great Blue Heron rookery.

And some “wild” Turkeys. One was foraging in the front yard of a home.

I also saw a pair of pheasants and a handful of more common birds. My walk lasted perhaps an hour and a half. On my way back to the hotel, I stopped at Qdoba for carry-out. I ate in my room while watching the last half of Sweet Home Alabama.

In the morning, I ate a waffle at the hotel, bought a egg mcmuffin and pop at the McDonald’s across the street, bought gas and headed for Montana. Early on Sunday morning, Interstate 90 was empty. At times there was no other traffic that I could see in either direction.

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Fetterman Fight

Fort Phil Kearny needed wood for construction, cooking, and heat. Wood-cutting crews were frequently attacked by bands of Sioux, Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians led by Red Cloud. Some estimates put the size of the Indian camp at 2,000 warriors plus their families. In the five months since the fort had been established in July, 70 soldiers and civilians had been killed.

On December 21, 1866, gunshots were heard at the fort. Col. Carrington sent Captain William J. Fetterman and a force of infantry to rescue the timber cutters. These men had spent their time at the post building the fort and had little experience or training in military maneuvers. At the last minute, a small cavalry detail led by Lt. George W. Grummond asked to go along with Fetterman. Carrington gave Fetterman strict instructions not to cross Lodge Trail Ridge, about two miles from the fort.

Fetterman was apparently attempting to get between the Indians and their camp. He didn’t know that Red Cloud was preparing a trap. A small band of Indians showed themselves on the far side of Lodge Trail Ridge, and the impulsive Grummond raced after them. As soon as the cavalry got far enough away from the infantry, the trap was sprung. An overwhelming number of Indians stood up from hiding places on both sides and surrounded them. Fetterman may have taken his men down from the ridge to try to help Grummond, but both forces were soon surrounded. Fetterman and all 80 soldiers and civilians with him were killed. The battle was over within 30 minutes. The Indians stripped and mutilated the bodies.

Looking north along Massacre Hill from the monument.

Looking south along the hill. The monument is in the distance where the abandoned road crosses the ridge. Lodge Trail Ridge is just beyond. Fort Phil Kearny is about two miles on the other side of the ridge.

Pretty much the same shot, but including a pan to the right that shows the Bighorn Mountains.

Looking northwest from Massacre Hill. If I understand the battle correctly, the cavalry had charged down the valley and then retreated onto the hill when attacked.

Looking north along the hill from the approximate area where one of the groups of bodies was found. If you follow the ridge past the tree as it curves to the left and then ends about 100 yards further on, you’ll see where the cavalry soldiers died.

The exact details aren’t known because there were no Army survivors. All that is known of the battle is from analysis of the bodies and a few Indian accounts. The bodies were found in four groups along what is now known as Massacre Hill. Carrington sent out another force under Captain Tenodor Ten Eyck. From the top of Lodge Trail Ridge, Ten Eyck could see the huge number of Indians. The Indians taunted him to come down, but he stayed where he was.

Looking back south toward the monument. Ten Eyck and his men stayed on the portion of Lodge Trail Ridge on the far left of the photo until the Indians left the field.

A seldom-used trail leads from the monument along Massacre Hill. I walked about two-thirds of the way—far enough to see what there was to see. It was a breezy afternoon, and I had the place to myself most of the time.

Even on a clear, beautiful summer day, it felt like a lonely place to die. I can’t imagine what it felt like for the soldiers who died there on a brutal winter day. I also can’t imagine that the Indians wore no protection from the weather as shown in this painting of the battle.

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Wagon Box Fight

After the Fetterman Fight on December 21, 1866, the Army made a few changes. For one, they stationed a company under Captain James W. Powell at a forward position to protect the wood cutters. For another, they armed the soldiers with breech-loading rifles that could fire 15-20 rounds a minute. This was significant because the Indians had developed a battle strategy based on older muzzle-loading rifles. Even the best soldiers could only fire a muzzle-loader about three times a minute. Most soldiers weren’t nearly that well trained and could only get off a shot about once a minute. The Indians would wait for a soldier to fire his rifle and then charge before he could reload.

On August 2, 1867, Powell sent part of his force to the west to protect the wood cutters. He sent another group of soldiers to escort a load of wood back to Fort Phil Kearny, about six miles away. That left Powell with 26 soldiers, including Lt. Jenness, and two civilians at their “fort.” This fort was built by removing the boxes from wagons and arranging them in an oval. The gaps were filled with bags of grain, barrels, and anything else handy. The enclosure was about 60 feet long and 30 feet wide.

Expecting an easy victory, a huge force of Indians attacked the wood cutters camp and the wagon box fort. They captured the camp’s mule herd and burned the tents. Three soldiers and four civilians were killed. The rest of the men managed to get back to Fort Phil Kearny or hide in the woods.

Another large group of Indians attacked the wagon box fort. The first charge was on horseback, but the rapid firing of the men in the wagons drove them back. Several more attacks were made on foot. A few Indians got as close as five feet to the wagons, but none made it into the enclosure. Lt. Jenness and two soldiers were killed. Three hours after the attack began, a relief force arrived with a howitzer and chased the Indians away. There is great debate about how man Indians died. Estimate range from a low of 6 to a high of over a thousand. The surviving soldiers reported that the ground around the wagons was covered with Indian dead, so 6 sounds pretty ridiculous. Based on everything I’ve ever read about Indian fighting, I find 1,000 tough to believe too.

I drove to the site on a dirt road through a valley. There were several nice houses scattered along the way. I’m guessing the area is close enough to Sheridan for people to live there and work in the town. The battlefield is on a knoll covered with wildflowers. By this time, I had pretty much decided I wanted to live in Wyoming. It’s beautiful and empty. I wasn’t completely alone. A woman had parked in the lot to walk her dog on the nearby road and two young guys with atvs stopped by briefly. There wasn’t much to see—just the monument, a wagon box, and pink plastic posts marking the outline of the enclosure.

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Fort Phil Kearny Historic Site

When I left Fort Fetterman, it was nearing lunchtime. My plan was to stop somewhere in Casper, but I wasn’t sure what I was in the mood for. I didn’t see anything inviting at the first exit south of the city. And then, before I knew it, I was through the city and still unfed. I have a thing against backtracking. There was a gas station at the last exit before I left civilization, so I pulled in for gas and a few snacks. I figured I could grab something at the next town. The next town turned out to be Buffalo, 120 miles away. By this time I wasn’t picky. I grabbed a burger at McDonald’s and ate it on the short drive to my next stop.

Fort Phil Kearny was built in 1866 as one of the posts created to protect settlers on the Bozeman Trail.  It’s thought that another motive was to distract Indians from the construction of the transcontinental railroad further south. The fort was named for a Union general killed during the Civil War. The fort was stockaded to enclose 17 acres inside an 8-foot wall. The curator in the museum told me it was the largest stockaded fort in the west. Some said the commanding officer Colonel Henry Carrington should have spent less time building the fort and more time training his men—many of whom were new recruits. The photo below is a diorama of the fort in the visitor center.

The Sioux, Cheyenne, and Arapaho Indians were very active around the fort. Two major battles (next posts) and several skirmishes were fought in the immediate area. By 1868, the railroad was completed. That, and the Treaty of 1868 resulted in the abandonment of the fort which was soon burnt down by Indians.

The major problem with the location of the fort was the lack of available timber, both for building the fort and for fuel for cooking and eating. Logging details had to be sent four miles west to the foothills of the Bighorn Mountains for pine. These details were frequently attacked by hostile Indians. The route to the logging areas ran along Sullivant Hill to the northwest of the fort so that soldiers could have a vantage point to look for Indians. On the brochure map below, you can see how close to the fort the battles occurred.

I went inside the visitor center to pay my $3 fee and found it dark. The curator said the power had just gone off. He told me to look around outside, and if the lights weren’t back on by the time I returned, he wouldn’t charge me.

Nothing remains of the fort. Portions of the stockade on one side and in the far corners  have been rebuilt. I wandered the path around the parade grounds. A second section of the fort to the south, built to house animals and civilian workers, is on private ground and not open. There really wasn’t much to see, but the surrounding area was beautiful.

On the left of this next photo, you can see a conical hill. It’s part of Lodge Trail Ridge and it can also be seen in some of my photos from the Fetterman Battlefield (next post).

The fort cemetery was on the side of Pilot Knob on the far side of Little Piney Creek.

Signalmen were stationed on top of Pilot Knob to watch for Indian activity in the area. There is now a silhouette of a soldier with a flag on the hill.

I took this photo on the parade grounds looking east. The row of trees mark Piney Creek. The southeast corner of the fort is marked with the small section of stockade.

This photo shows how big the fort was. I took it looking diagonally from the northwest corner toward the southeast corner. The same section of stockade can be seen in the distant middle-left. Pilot Knob is on the right. The roofed structure in the center of the parade grounds marks the site of the flagpole.

The lights were on when I got back to the visitor center. I made a quick tour of the displays. ( I generally go pretty quickly past things I can read in books.) I bought a hat, paid my fee, and headed for the nearby battle sites.

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Fort Fetterman Historic Site

My first day’s goal was Sheridan, about a seven-hour drive from home. I hunted for places to stop along the way and found this state park seven miles outside the town of Douglas.

The fort was established in 1867 to protect travelers on the Bozeman Trail who were heading to Montana to look for gold. It was named for Captain William J. Fetterman who was killed in a battle with Indians in northern Wyoming.

The fort was built on a plateau above the Platte River. It turned out to be a miserable place to be stationed, especially in the winter because of the constant gales. After the Treaty of 1868, which ended Red Cloud’s War, the more-northern forts on the Bozeman Trail were abandoned. Fort Fetterman became the most advanced army presence on that frontier. It was considered a hardship post. Many soldiers deserted, and the fort was often without supplies and equipment. In the drawing below, the ordnance warehouse is the building half cut off on the left. The officers’ quarters is the closest building in the row on the left end of the parade grounds.

Fort Fetterman was the base of General George Crook’s Powder River Expeditions, including the one that ended with the Rosebud Battle in 1876. After that battle, Crook returned to Fetterman with his army, setting the stage for Custer’s defeat at Little Bighorn.

The military abandoned Fort Fetterman in 1882. The fort buildings became the short-lived town of Fetterman. Owen Wister’s town of Drybone in The Virginian was based on Fetterman. By 1886, the railroad  passed through the area. The town of Douglas was built along the railroad, and Fetterman disappeared. Most of the fort buildings were sold, dismantled, and moved to other places. Only two buildings remain—an officers’ quarters and an ordnance warehouse.

Three views of the officers’ quarters—when the fort was active, just before the state took over (a back view), and now.

There was one other car in the lot. The curator of the museum in the officers’ quarters was talking with a guy who claimed to have visited the fort many times as a boy to dig for artifacts. When that guy left, the curator came over and greeted me by name. If I had known how good of friends we were to become, I would have paid more attention. During this first conversation, he just asked where I was from, told me what there was to see in the two buildings, and told me to stop by the front desk on my way out of the building because he “had a water for me.” (I had my own water, so didn’t bother.)

The old parade ground is laid out with paths, and markers explained where the fort buildings had been. I imagine there are times when walking the grounds would be unpleasantly hot, but on this day, it was almost chilly when the clouds covered the sun.

A gazebo sits on a knoll overlooking the Platte. The view of the river valley, the Wyoming plains, and the approaching rain showers was pretty in an open, empty way. The recent spring left everything green.

The ruins of an old water cistern, used to supply the fort, can be seen on a knoll next to the gazebo. (It’s visible in the panorama above.)

A monument marks the spot where the Bozeman Trail passed through the fort grounds.

As I walked back toward the museum, the curator walked out and met me. I don’t believe there was anything creepy about him, but he was certainly intense about making sure I got my money’s worth. (There was no admission fee.) First, he offered to walk with me out into the tall prairie grass to see some Indian paintbrush flowers he’d seen a day or two earlier. Then he began telling me about where he grew up 50 miles or so to the west. Then he told me about roads I could take up into the Laramie Mountains (visible off to the west)—but not in my car. When I asked the elevation of the tallest peak, he told me he would look it up “when we get back inside.” I was finally able to escape when another visitor showed up and said he wanted to buy a book.

I toured the displays in the ordnance warehouse, then headed on my way.

An aerial view of the fort.

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