We left Hart Ranch near Rapid City on a beautiful sunny day but a crosswind was really blowing about 30mph. Our destination was about 200 miles south at Guernsey, Wyoming and the wind blew hard all the way there. We parked at the Trail Ruts Golf and RV park just across the river. A no frills RV park. If you like to play golf, the course is only steps away from your camp site. The State Park was several miles away from the historical sites we wanted to explore so we opted for this park. No regrets.
One of the stops on the Pioneer trail was Fort Laramie, now a National Historical Site. Only 16 miles east of Guernsey, it was a quick ride east on highway 26. It’s located at the confluence of the Laramie River and the North Platte River in the upper Platte River Valley. Here the Oregon and Mormon trails came together at the fort.
The fort, begun by fur traders in 1834, was then called Fort Williams. The military purchased it in 1849 and named it in honor of Jacques La Ramee, a local French fur trapper. So you can certainly see how the name Laramie came to be. Part of it’s history was to protect and supply emigrant wagon trains. Although it is reported that often the supplies were very low and emigrants found themselves without goods or the cost was very high.
The 1856 Willie Handcart Company was unable to obtain provisions at Fort Laramie, contributing to their subsequent tragedy when they ran out of food while encountering blizzard conditions along the Sweetwater River.
We took time to stop at the visitor center and watched the video presentation which was excellent. They have an extensive book store there and displays of historic goods, military uniforms and artifacts. As we walked the grounds from one end to the other I took several photographs of the buildings.
In 1852, the emigrant tide again swelled to near 40,000, over 10,000 of which were Mormons. The emigrants were encouraged to depend on supplies available at Fort Laramie and other posts along the trail.
A toll bridge was built years later over the Laramie River, a mile below the fort, that eliminated one obstacle on the trail for the wagons and handcarts.
The bridge built in 1875, is believed to be the oldest existing military bridge west of the Mississippi River. The North Platte River once was a large and turbulent river.
A blue spruce tree was planted in 1947 near the cavalry barracks. You can see it just behind me in the above photo. This was to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Mormon Trail and to serve as a memorial to those who died along the way. Some were buried in the post cemetery.
Later the fort was a major link in the Pony Express, Overland Stage and the transcontinental telegraph systems. Between 1834 til 1890 when the last soldiers left the fort there was a great deal of history that took place here in addition to the emigrant travelers.
For the pioneers, leaving Fort Laramie was bittersweet. Most were eager to get on with their journey, but leaving behind civilization once again was hard. The trail became more difficult west of Fort Laramie as it climbed in elevation. In 1849, Charles Ben Darwin described the scene 12 miles west of the fort:
….now comes the time for destroying and abandoning property each on realizing that the difficulty of the hills requires as light a load as possible…goods of all kinds were thrown out. Boxes-trunks-pots-barrels-bags-tents-pants-coats and indeed all kind of wearing apparel could be found on the camping ground…In truth it was a sight to make one grieve to see so much brought so far and then thrown to the winds and grass.
We visit next at REGISTER CLIFF HISTORIC site.