Fort Laramie was founded in June 1834 by William Sublette and Robert Campbell when buffalo robe trade with Native American tribes was fast replacing the beaver fur trade. Crafted of Cottonwood logs at the juncture of the Laramie and Platte Rivers and given the name Fort William, the small stockade played a key role in controlling supplies to the central Rocky Mountains and to the bison range in the Great Basin.
Sublette and Campbell sold the fort in 1835 to fur trading company Fontenelle, Fitzpatrick & Co, who in turn sold the company to Pierre Chouteau and the American Fur Trading Company in 1836. The American Fur Trading Company and its trapping brigade, the Rocky Mountain Outfit, operated the original trading post until 1841 when Lancaster Lupton built Fort Platte just north of Fort William and also began trading with the Native Americans. At this time, Fort William was deteriorating and didn’t provide much in the way of protection. In competition with Lupton, The American Fur Company invested $10,000 in the construction of a new stockade. Crafted of adobe walls, with a central courtyard, the new stockade opened in 1841 and was given the name Fort John, after business partner John Sarpy.
Fort John was an impressive structure, and what the travelers along the Oregon/California Trail associated as Fort Laramie. By 1849, the flood of emigrants to the west was motivation for the government to step in and assure their safety. The American Fur Company sold the fort to the U.S. Army and in April of that year, the Regiment of Mounted Rifles moved into the adobe fort, as the government thought to secure the area with a string of army forts along the trail, thus beginning Fort Laramie’s history as a military outpost.
The army didn’t waste time building up the fort and adding to it with stables for horses, officer and soldier quarters, a bakery, guardhouse, and a powdered magazine house. As the flood of emigrants continued, Fort Laramie grew in size and importance. Several trail routes passed through the fort, including the Mormon Trail, the Bozeman Trail, the Pony Express Route, and the Transcontinental Telegraph. Fort Laramie became the main military fort in the Northern Plains and saw its first battle with Native tribes in 1854 in what is known as the Grattan fight; an incident near the fort involving a wagon train.
Fort Laramie is also famous for hosting several Indian councils wanting to bring peace to the area. These campaigns failed, with the Army eventually subduing the several of the tribes.
|Fort Laramie ruins|
Battles with the Plains tribes wasn’t the only thing the fort played a role in. The army also saw the development of the open range cattle industry and the settlement of the plains. With that settlement, the dangers of living on the plains ceased and the army abandoned the fort in 1890. Most of the buildings and the land were auctioned off, with some of the buildings either being relocated or demolished. The fort fell prey to time and weather until 1938 when it was inducted into the National Park System and preservation of the site was secured. Today folks can tour the fort year round and view 12 restored buildings.