A Little History North of Buffalo, WY

Buffalo, WY

While the natural beauty of the nearby mountains is the most significant feature of the Buffalo area, there is also some significant history in the area.  We spent one afternoon visiting three of the most noteworthy locations.

The Bozeman Trail, an overland route connecting the gold rush territory of Montana to the Oregon Trail, ran right through Buffalo.  The flow of pioneers and settlers, mainly from 1863 to 1868, traveling through territory reserved by treaty for Indian tribes, provoked resentment and caused attacks on the travelers.  The Army established three small forts along the route staffed with troops meant to protect travelers.  One of the forts, Fort Phil Kearney, is located between the present day towns of Buffalo and Sheridan.

Fort Kearney entrance with the visitor center on the right

After the army failed in its mission to protect the Bozeman Trail, the fort was abandoned in 1868 and was burned to the ground by the Indians.  Today, the fort and the nearby Fetterman and Wagon Box battle sites are maintained by the State of Wyoming as is the Fort Phil Kearny State Historic Site.  Part of the fort has been re-constructed and a nice visitor center is filled with artifacts from the era.

A docent describes historical events using a diorama of the fort

Below is a photo of part of the fort’s wall that has been rebuilt.  The highest peak in the background is Pilot Hill.  The army set up an observation point on the hill, using flag signals to communicate with the fort.

Four miles north of the fort is the Fetterman Battle Site.  In this battle, which took place in December of 1866, all 81 men under the command of Captain William J. Fetterman were killed by an Indian force of considerably more than 1,000 men.  At the time, it was the worst military disaster ever suffered by the U.S. Army on the Great Plains. The battle led to an Indian victory in what is known as Red Cloud’s War, with the U.S. forces withdrawing from the area.

The Fetterman Monument

Fetterman’s force was trapped when, in defiance of explicit orders, it was lured onto a hillside by a group of Indians who taunted them.  Once on the hillside they were surrounded by the larger force and destroyed in about 40 minutes.  Today there is a two mile long walking trail with interpretive signs along the path describing segments of the battle.

The interpretive path along the battle site

The hillside is part of an open grazing area so you need to watch where you step.  As we hiked the path we had to go around one little lady and her young one who were on guard duty.

A wide body and her little one

When, just a few moments later, we turned to make our way back, we found the pair had called in reinforcements who seemed to appear out of nowhere.

Where did these guys come from?

Looking back across the battlefield with the monument in the distance on the right of the photo

The final stop on our history tour was the site of the Wagon Box Fight.  This fight took place eight months after the Fetterman Battle when a group of Indians attacked a woodcutter site guarded by a small group of soldiers.

The woodcutters had removed the boxes from their wagons to allow them to haul long logs.  The soldiers used the boxes to create a defensive circle during the attack.

The attack began around 7:30 am and continued until 1:30 pm.  The soldiers had plenty of ammunition and arrows could not penetrate the thick sides of the wagon boxes.  One of the keys to the successful defense mounted by this group was that the soldiers had recently been issued breech-loading rifles.  The troops at the Fetterman Battle used muzzle loading rifles that took more than a minute to re-load and required the soldier to stand up to do it.  Attacking Indians knew of this and counted on the interval to allow them to charge the troops.  The new rifles could fire about three times faster than muzzle-loaders and could be more easily re-loaded from a prone position.  The troops were saved when Fort Kearny learned of the fight from its observation station on Pilot Hill and sent help to the trapped group of soldiers.

A wagon box and blue fence outlining the defensive circle

After our very enjoyable and informative history tour, we continued north into the city of Sheridan where we were treated to a bit of liquid refreshment at one of those coffee shops that are part of a chain based in Seattle.

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19 Responses to A Little History North of Buffalo, WY

  1. Jeff says:

    Nice bit of history in your corner of Wyoming, but not as much hiking today. Miss the trademark ‘Lunch with a View’ photo, but learned a lot. We’ll be in this area next year and sure appreciate your blog and the ideas it provides.

    • Nancy says:

      I’m with you… Missed lunch with a view. But I did learn some great history. Thank you… Wyoming might be on our list for next summer.

    • placestheygo says:

      When we left this particular morning we were only going to drive to Sheridan on the back roads because the sky was very grey and not suppose to improve. As we drove we noticed it was clearing ahead and then the historical sites were right there. So we switched to Plan B! And we didn’t have a lunch, so no view photo:)

  2. Mary Lou Yancey says:

    It looks like that wide body has five legs. Is that more than one cow?

  3. allisonmohr says:

    Thanks for the write up. One of the things we have enjoyed while RVing is learning new stuff. Now I know more about Wyoming. We have not been there.

    • placestheygo says:

      I must agree, Allison! We are really getting to know this country and its background. Wyoming is a great state and the people are so friendly and helpful. You need visit this way one day:)

  4. pmbweaver says:

    I knew none of this history. I would have loved to do this tour. Thanks.

  5. Larry says:

    I always enjoy reading about history – thanks.

  6. Jodee Gravel says:

    Wonderful as expected. Calling her a wide body might be considered taunting, and with the history of the spot…….good thing the reinforcements were pacifists 🙂 Looks like the they’ve done a nice job of reconstructing while leaving much of the area as it must have been when the battles took place. Thanks for the great info.

  7. Jim and Barb says:

    Wow, what interesting history! Imagine what it would have been like to fight like that in the cold of December.

  8. LuAnn says:

    Although not the same, this post brought back some great memories of our visit to Gettysburg, with John as our tour guide. What a great time!

  9. Laurel says:

    So many clashes of cultures and tragic battles in the settling of the West. It’s hard to believe that it wasn’t so very long ago that these events took place, and now it all looks so peaceful. The cows add to the pastoral ambience. 🙂

  10. Sherry says:

    I too find all the fighting in the west so terribly sad for everyone involved. The picture of the view over the battlefield is quite poignant.

  11. Im sure John was thrilled and excited to come across a bit of history in the now peaceful land. Thank you John for the history lesson, we sometimes need those to put perspective in our travels.

  12. Gay says:

    Thanks for all the information and history. I love these kinds of stops!

  13. geogypsy2u says:

    Good to learn the history of an area to put the place in perspective. Glad these sites are being saved and interpreted.

  14. Debbie L says:

    Interesting! I’m learning more about my home state!

  15. Pingback: A Museum, a Park, and a Couple Hikes | Oh, the Places They Go!

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