Monday, August 16, 2010

Fort Laramie, Wyoming

I am so behind on my blog I hardly know where to start.

Before we left Gering, Nebraska, we decided to check out Fort Laramie, Wyoming, so on Saturday, July 31, we were up early and on the road.  It was approximately an hour's drive from Gering, just across the Nebraska/Wyoming border. 

As we approached the fort, we saw the Old Fort Laramie Bridge.

The North Platte River posed a large obstacle to 19th Century travelers.  High water made it almost impossible to cross the river for several months of the year.  The crossing became less dangerous when a ferry service was established in 1850 to meet the ever increasing number of military and emigrant traffic.  However, there were frequent ferry accidents and slow crossing speeds that continued to impede travelers.  A permanent bridge was built in the 1875/1876 time frame for $15,000.  Spanning 400 feet, this bridge is the best-preserved tubular bowstring iron bridge still in existence.

Just a few short miles down the road is Fort Laramie.  As we pulled into the parking lot, we couldn't help but notice this Airstream Classic:

As America expanded westward, this outpost -- known now as Fort Laramie -- in the Wyoming wilderness played a crucial role in the transformation of the West...first as a fur-trading center, then as a military post.  For over five decades, it was a landmark for trappers, traders, missionaries, emigrants, Pony Express riders and miners winding their way west.  It was also an important staging point for the U.S. Army in its dealings with the plains Indians.  Fort Laramie was first given the name of Fort William in 1834 by fur traders.  In 1849 the fort was purchased by the U.S. Military and was named in honor of Jacques La Ramie, a local French fur trapper.  One of the most important forts in the settlement of the American West, Fort Laramie served many functions.  It was located along the Oregon Trail to protect emigrant wagon trains and later became a major link in the Pony Express, Overland Stage and transcontinental telegraph systems.  It also served as a base of operations for the High Plains Indian Wars.  The stream of emigrants traveling past Fort Laramie slowed down during the 1860s.  With the end of Indian hostilities, the post declined in importance and was abandoned in 1890 -- its buildings sold at public auction.  Since 1973, it has been preserved as a National Monument and is maintained by the National Park Service.

Significant structures of the fort's military period, some dating to 1849, have survived intact because homesteaders purchased and lived in the buildings and public agencies later took steps to preserve them.  The complete restoration of nearly a dozen structures to their historic appearance provides visitors with a glimpse of a bygone military era. 

We started our tour with the Visitors Center, where we watched a short film on the history of the fort.  The Visitors Center was the Fort's Commissary storehouse -- however, my photographer (aka Alan) failed to get a picture of the storehouse -- shame, shame.  However, he did manage to get a picture of the rifles the Infantry used then.

As well as uniforms worn by them.

The following -- perhaps made from a buffalo's bladder or stomach -- carried water for the troops.

We visited the Bakery, where a demonstration was underway.

As bread was a staple of the soldier's diet, the bakery was one of the most important buildings at a military post.  Bakers worked at large double-brick ovens and produced up to 700 18-ounce loaves daily.  Each infantry man was allotted a loaf of bread each day.  

Flour and other ingredients were shipped and stored in large barrels.

Women were responsible for the laundry and tending the garden.

Although their dress looks hot to us, it protects them from the sun and actually helped keep them cool.

In response to frequent complaints from the post surgeon that the guardhouse was unhealthy and overcrowded, with major and minor offenders thrown together, a new guardhouse was built.  Conditions were better for both guards and prisoners and the latter slept on mattresses and blankets.
Today, it houses various artillery and support vehicles used by the Army.

To protect the post well, a privy or general sink, was built for four companies.  The sewerage was channeled from there to the Laramie River -- YUK.  We should ever be thankful for the modern-day plumbing we have -- something we often take for granted.  And just think about the many things that river water was used for.

Fort Laramie's second guardhouse was designed to hold 40 prisoners, doubling the capacity of the first.  The upper story was quarters for the guard and Officer of the Guard.

On the first floor was the general confinement area, with two small cells for solitary confinement.  Prisoners had no furniture, heat or light.

What a contrast to the way prisoners live today. 

The cavalry barracks was the largest building at Fort Laramie and the earliest of the lime-concrete structures to survive intact.  It was built to meet the need for more housing during the Indian Wars.  Soldiers slept in two large, open squad bays on the second floor.

Their first sergeant  had a private room downstairs.  After the Army sold the building in 1890, sections were converted in a home, store, saloon and dance hall.

The kitchen was also downstairs.

Planned as the Commanding Officer's quarters, the structure was divided into a duplex for company grade officers.  It is furnished to its appearance in 1872.
The Ice Box

Notice the narrow and steep staircase.

Following is the cellar at the back of the house, where ice was stored after it was cut from the river during the winter months.

Built to house bachelor officers, "Old Bedlam" is the oldest military building in Wyoming.  

The building was the center of social life at the post, where young officers gave parties -- hence one of the theories about the name "Bedlam."

The second floor is currently being refurbished thanks to your tax dollars and our tax dollars, as the result of the Recovery Act signed by President Obama soon after he took office.  I pray it actually did create a job for someone.

Some parting pictures as we move on.
Officers' Row
The Post Office
Ruins of the Administration Building

We enjoyed our tour of Fort Laramie, but it was a very hot day and by the time we made the rounds, we were ready for something to eat and a place to cool down.  We also had a couple of more things to see before we left this area.

We drove down the road, but there wasn't much available as far as food.  However, we did manage to find a small place in Guernsey, Wyoming -- "The Lunch Box."

Inside was a map with tons of little pieces of paper with names of those who have visited The Lunch Box.  Of course, we added our names to the list -- in Arkansas and South

Alan had a cheeseburger with fries and I had a cheese burger with onion rings -- YUM!

After we scarfed our food down, we moved on to the Oregon Trail Ruts, another Historic Landmark.  Located about .5 miles south of Guernsey is the preserved site of wagon ruts on the Oregon Trail near the North Platte River.  Wagon wheels, animals and people wore down the trail about two to six feet into a sandstone ridge, during its heavy use from 1841-1869.  The half-mile stretch is the best-preserved stretch anywhere along the trail.

Because of the rugged rocky conditions, the wagons followed each other instead of going through the area side-by-side.  Therefore, thousands of wagons going over the same area over and over left these ruts in the sandstone.

A few miles from the wagon ruts and our final destination for the day is Register Cliff.  This cliff is where emigrants would carve their names into the soft rock.  More than 700 names can still be seen on the cliff and on other rocks nearby.  The rock is a memorial to the emigrants who felt a need to leave their mark on the journey of their lives in which they left everything they knew and traveled for months, hopefully to a new life.  At one time, the names included dates as early as 1829 and one reportedly from 1797, both of which were found to be authentic.  Soldiers from Fort Laramie occasionally inscribed their names, as well as ranchers and cowboys.  "Others" since then have tried to join history by adding their names -- now there is a fence to help prevent the average person from scrawling their name on the rocks.  It is a tribute to those early settlers who traveled the Oregon Trail.

As we left the area and traveled back to Gering, Nebraska, we felt very blessed to be able to witness first-hand these three American treasures -- Fort Laramie, the Oregon Ruts and the Register Cliff.

We leave Nebraska, heading to Moose, Wyoming, and the Grand Tetons to visit friends.  We pray daily for our family and friends and for our safe travels.  We are learning so much about our country's history and are thankful we have this opportunity.  We also pray God will continue to bless our voyage and our family and friends.  

Stay tuned for our next adventure...God bless.

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like you enjoyed this day trip as much as we did!