As America expanded westward Fort Laramie played a crucial role in the transformation of the West, first as fur-trading center, then as military garrison. For 50 years it was a landmark and stopping place for trappers, traders, missionaries, emigrants, Pony Express riders and miners travelling their way west.It was also an important staging point for the US Army in its dealings with plains Indians displaced by migration and settlement.
Fort Laramie started life in 1834 as a fur trading post on the Laramie River near its confluence with the Platte River and by the 1840’s was a major fur trade center. Also by the 1840’s it had become a well-known stopping point for emigrants following the Oregon Trail. When Indians started to harass wagon trains the army bought Fort Laramie in 1849 and made it a military outpost along the Oregon Trail.
As the troubles escalated in the 1850s and 60s, Fort Laramie became an important arm of the government, protecting emigrants on the Oregon Trail and hosting major treaty councils with the Indians. Fort Laramie also acted as a major station for the Pony Express (which only lasted 18 months).
The post continued until 1890 when it was abandoned with its buildings being sold at public auction and the area became a “homestead area” until 1936 when the federal government bought back and started a stabilization and restoration program. This was completed in 1964.
We explored the fort buildings as well as the museum which gave the history of the fort and its important role in history. We also learnt that despite the old western films only 2% of the emigrants who travelled to the west died as a result of Indian attacks. Many died from disease or injuries experienced on the rough trails west.
Travelling along the road from the fort we found the Oregon Trail Ruts. These are cuts in solid rock which had been worn by wagon wheels travelling the Oregon Trail. It was amazing to see the depth of the ruts and also to realise how rough the terrain the early settlers travelled.