Touring the old forts of the west will offer a chance to gain some valuable historical insight, which an average classroom textbook may not fully reveal. The opportunity to see the lay of the land, view strategic fortress placements and learn about the local native perspective certainly will bring the real story into context, rather than just hazily trying to visualize how things once were while reading a book. Standing on the same ground that the legendary characters of the old west once occupied has a way of inspiring an urge to learn more, so including the old historic sites when planning a vacation tour will make the venture all the more fulfilling.
Fort Laramie was originally a fur trading post located at the confluence of two big rivers in this Wyoming region back in the 1830s. Because this was a well known place for native trade, a small population resided in this area to keep the commerce rolling. As time moved on, the European influence became more of an invasive force that encountered strong resistance, so a series of fortresses by various names were constructed on site by fur trading companies to regulate local matters. When the age of western expansion came to be in the mid 1800s, the old fur trading post at the fork in the rivers became a critical stop along the Oregon Trail, which was a homesteader pathway to the northwest and other famous pioneer trails. Tensions soon increased between natives and pioneers, so the U.S. Army established an outpost at this site.
The fur trading company fort was purchased by the Army in 1849 and after a few name changes, Fort Laramie came to be. This Army outpost served as a vital link in the Oregon trail for supplies and trade into the 1850s, then the tensions between tribal cultures and the European settlers grew uncontrollably during the next few decades. Tribal raids left the community in shambles and blood was shed. Fort Laramie also had an interesting Civil War history during this period, which included sending converted confederate prisoners to this area to man the fort. Life was dangerous enough in this region, so lawlessness was a lesser influence. The mixed crew of soldiers in Fort Laramie protected Army supply lines to other skirmishes in this region, especially where gold was discovered.
Eventually by force and treaty, the purpose of Fort Laramie was fulfilled. By the time railway lines spanned the west in the late 1800s, the need for trading post forts decreased and Fort Laramie was no longer needed other than for commerce, which had always been steady in this place. As time moved on the old fortress was abandoned. The Army stripped Fort Laramie of all usable materials and shipped it all elsewhere, so only the concrete and block walls remained.
The National Parks Service now manages the Fort Laramie Historic Site, so if you have an annual parks pass, the entrance fee will be covered. Fort Laramie spans over a lot of ground and there are related sites to be found nearby along the river where the old original steel bridge still remains. An entire day can be spent exploring the fortress sites on foot, so be sure to set aside plenty of time for a visit. Ranger guided group tours are available and plenty can be learned during an excursion. On a side note, I visited Fort Laramie during the peak of the Covid Pandemic, so doing a tour and visiting the park museum was not an option. The photos were captured around the outskirts, which indicates the true size of this big fort. Fort Laramie is a great place to relive the old wild west in Wyoming, so be sure to chalk this destination high on the list!
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