We are now in Loveland Colorado, just below Fort Collins and twenty miles above Denver. Drove 127 miles south today, we had nice views all the way. now we are back in congested areas. Damn, it was so nice in Wyoming with nothing around. Lot to do and see here. We are at Boyd State park for two weeks.
We went to Fort Laramie today, spent a lot longer there than I thought we would about five hours. There is a vast amount of history here, which is really neat to learn.
The original fort was Called Fort John, built at a bend in the Laramie river, just about where it goes into the North Platte river. It was built before 1840, was a small place about 200 x 200 with fifteen foot hill log walls. It was a trading post really, where fur traders, and Indians would come together and trade goods. The very powerful American Fur Trade company owned it. In 1849 the U. S. Army purchased the Fort as part of a plan to establish a military presence with the increased emigrant traffic. It was renamed Fort Laramie. Right away it was enlarged and grew in size with new buildings made of adobe and had everything a fort would need. Military presence grew, and soon the fort became the principal military post on the northern plains. The fort was also the transportation hub for the Oregon trail, pony express, stage lines ,and the telegraph. In the 1870’s the fort saw again a need for update, new buildings were now made of cut sandstone, more quarters for troops we added, married men brought there wives and kids to live. Soon it looked almost like a small frontier town, as in the 1880’s there were tree lined streets, gas lights, swanky looking homes. In 1890 with the railroad, and the Indian wars over, it was closed, and sold at auction. Homesteaders bought what was left, tore down buildings to use for there own use. in 1938 Roosevelt declared Fort Laramie a national historic monument. Detailed surveys then took place, along with archeological research. Twelve buildings are now restored to original, to show what live was really like out in the plains.
The fort after it’s many enlargements, about a mile long, three quarters mile wide. The original, small Fort John , is in the far left hand area by the river, nothing remains today. The iron bridge to the right goes over the Laramie river, ( no longer standing)built in the early 1870’s, before then and in which most immigrants had to do was take the ferry across, which was in itself very dangerous. Also on the far right is a vast flat area where all the wagon trains would stop, then you could go the fort and buy supplies. Soon sutlers, selling there goods ,and even some hotels sprang up on that side to resupply settlers on there way to Oregon. Also on the far right top would of been the very vast area for the horses, mules, oxen ,whatever ,think about how that smelled day after day.
The fort as it appears today. Notice there are no walls, around the fort. They only had rifle pits around which were maned all the time, with a few cannon about. Indians liked open area attacks where they had the advantage with there swift pony’s. They knew it was not wise to attack a fort, so all the movies you see with them attacking, that’s just Hollywood.
If you were traveling west on the Oregon trail, Fort Laramie, was a must stop, you would of crossed the Platte River and Laramie river by barge or ferry. Time consuming and dangerous. As i mentioned before an iron bridge was erected over the Laramie river, there was one also across the Platt river. It still stands and to think thousands of people, horses and wagons crossed it was fun to walk it.
Fort Laramire’s emigrant season lasted only 45 days, between late spring and early summer, each year, the place was so busy that in the sutlers store, they had 13 clerks working day and night to keep up with the demand of goods needed along the trail. Pictures below show that ,and the counter the sutler is leaning on is the original one over 175 years old.
Traverling the trail also required a special kind of wagon, called a prairie schooner or wagon, only four feet wide, it was built to withstand the harsh terrain along the trail. Emigrants walked along side of it, not in it as it was packed with too much stuff, they only slept in it, if there was room.
The fort underwent a lot of changes in it’s time, with a lot of original buildings lost to history, but what is left defines what it was like to live in the open out west country at the time.
On our way back we stopped in Guernesy to have lunch at the Twisters Eatery. It was good food.
Today we went to Guernsey Wyoming a little town on the east side of the Platte river. On the west side close to the river is the Oregon trail. We visited the Trail Ruts national historic area and the Register Cliffs historic site. At the time of the Oregon trail Guernsey did not exist, nothing did, except Fort Laramie 10 miles to the south, also along the Platte river. These two sites are parts of the Oregon trail that have been preserved. Either site would be your first stop after leaving Fort Laramie as the wagon trains only traveled about 10 miles a day. Being near the Platte river, it was a good stop as there was water and large areas for cattle, horses. Register Cliffs is named for thousands of people who put there names on the side of the soft sandstone cliffs, where they stopped. As early as 1840 there are names. It was a really cool place to visit and ponder if we would have signed our names or even ventured on such a hazardous trek to begin with . There is a small cemetery there also for those who died along the way. The Oregon trail Rut site was an amazing place, there are ruts from the thousands, and thousands of wagons that crossed, five feet deep or so. As the sandstone was soft the wheels just dug deeper and deeper. If you were on the trail, you did not deviate from it, it was too risky, and also the trail goes along ridges and smooth hills, not lowland like we thought. This was for two reasons, one on the hill tops you could see for miles so if anyone was lurking around you would see them. Second during the fall and early winter, the wind would keep the snow off the hill tops, so you could move and not get stuck in the snow. These were two very neat places to go and we learned a lot. Next we are going to Fort Laramie, will post on that soon.
The wagons were ten to twelve feet long, four feet wide, and two to three feet deep, with fifty-inch diameter rear wheels and forty-four-inch front wheels made of oak with iron tire rims. The wagons weighed from 1,000 to 1,400 pounds and carried loads between 1,500 and 2,500 pounds. They had sturdy hardwood box frames that were made as watertight as possible to facilitate stream and river crossings. Most overlanders used two or four yoked oxen to pull their wagons, because they had more endurance and were less expensive than horses or mules and they were less likely to be stolen by Indians. Prudent travelers carried spare parts, grease for axle bearings, heavy rope, chains, and pulleys to keep wagons repaired and to aid in rescue from predicaments.
More Ruts . . . . Oh Nuts . . .
And Now . . .
By the time the last wagon trains crossed in the 1880s, mass migration on the Oregon Trail had left an indelible mark on the American frontier. Decades of prairie schooner traffic carved up certain sections of the trail, leaving imprints in stone and wearing down grasslands so much that nothing grows on them to this day. These pioneer wagon ruts can still be seen in all six of the states that once encompassed the trail.
Truly incredible places and incredible people who left their homes back East for a new start out West.
If you have never been to the Little Bighorn Battlefield, you would believe everything thing you ever heard, or saw about the battle, however it’s all Hollywood. My perception of the battle that took place here was all in my mind as I stared out into the open vastness of the landscape before me. How big it was, how hilly it is, and wide-eyed looking at all the little white markers scattered all over the place, indicating where a soldier fell .There are no grand hero’s here, no great charges or last stands to ponder about, just stark reality of it all 150 years ago. The battlefield is on a long sloping hillside going down to the lush green grass next to the Little Big Horn river, about four miles long and a mile wide. Our tour guide Mike took us through the battlefield and educated us on the battle itself, which is somewhat complicated . I will give the short version.
In early summer of 1876, about 7000, Lakota, Cheyenne, and Arapaho, including about 2000 warriors, are camped in a vast village along the green grass of the Little big horn river. Led by Crazy horse, they refuse to go back to the reservation. The army is sent to persuade them to go back by force. Three large groups are sent after them. Around June22, General Custer and about 600 men of the 7th Calvary, are detached from the main body and travel south and east, upon hearing word of a large group of horses down by the meeting of the Rosebud and little big horn river. Custer travels over the Wolf mountains at night, reachs the Rosebud and learns there is also a large village there. Not waiting he travels most of the day to the Little Big horn. His men and most important his horses are dead tired. When he reachs the river, atop a hill , he sees before him a vast Indian village spread out for miles along the river.
At this point it is about noon. Custer decides to attach, he divides his forces into three groups, his, Reno’s and Benteen’s. Custer has about 240 men with him the other two groups a little less each, as the pack mule train miles behind needs protection, so some men are assigned to protecting them .(lucky as it saved there lives). The map below should help in understanding the charges, retreats and demise of Custer. Black line is current tour road, Blue are Custer’s out fit, red are Indian warrior movements
The battle starts right to left. Reno is ordered to sweep down into the southern end of the village. Benteen who is still miles back will not reach the battlefield until late in the afternoon when it is over. Custer upper dotted line, will take his men at a gallop behind the hills, a few miles then comes out and sweeps down to the village. Reno’s men move first and decent the ravine, splash over Bighorn river ,and surprise the village. Lower blue line. Mounted troops shoot into the village, soon a group of warriors halts the charge, troopers dismount and make a skirmish line. More and more warriors apppear. Reno moves his troops into a stand of trees, where his horses are and continues to fire. Soon he is surrounded. Reno who has been drinking most of the day, orders his men to mount and make a run for it. They cross the big horn river and ascend a large ravine, now called Reno- Benteen hill( light green area on right of map). All the while being hunted down by hundreds of warriors, over 40 men are lost. On top of the hill Reno sets up a defensive position and awaits an attack. It does not come, Warriors break off the attack as they are now needed on the other end of the village where Custer has now started his attack. (Large green area left side map)While Reno makes his charge Custer, moved three miles along the hillside, and atop a hill now known as last stand hill, he decides to attack, so he descends the ravines, to the river. Hundreds of warriors stop his advance and he is forced back up the hill, losing a lot of men killed and wounded. Atop the hill 40 or so troopers stagger back for the last stand. Surrounded Custer and his men are inudated with arrows and bullets. Custer is shot in the lower side and left temple, who knows when. The battle started at 3 p.m. and was over by 5p.m. All of Custer’s men and command are killed. Later in the early evening, All along the battlefield, women and older children, kill the wounded, strip the dead of cloths and mutilate there bodies, which was custom so your spirit would go to the great beyond. However Custer and Major Keouh bodies are not mutated, a few Indians recognize them ,full of hate they do not want there spirit to go beyond, they are left alone. The battle however is not yet over. Warriors continue there attack on Reno, Late afternoon Benteen arrives and there position is reinforced. No one has any idea where or what has happened to Custer All night they are attached by warriors in small groups, morning comes and the Indians are seen retreating, a large dust cloud is seen to the north, approaching is the army of Gibbon and Terry. They are the first to see Custer and his men, scattered all over the hill sides. They find Reno and his men in there position, and learn of Custer’s demise. The battle is over. Over 250 troopers are killed, and are all buried where they fell. Less than 100 warriors are killed. Our tour with Mike was a great learning experience for us. Some interesting facts.
Custer severely underestimated the amount of warriors in the village, who had superior fire power with them , like repeating rifles, which a lot of the troopers did not have.
Almost all of Custer’s troopers had never seen combat.
The youngest to fall in the battle was 17 and the oldest was 56.
The Indians only took women and children as prisoners’.
The Indians used pony’s not full size horses like the cavalry, so they were much faster.
To be in the cavalry you had to be no taller than five foot five and weigh no more than one hundred fifty pounds.
We are now at Peak View Rv park in Guernsey Wyoming. This park has only 17 spots, but full hook up. Traveled 250 miles south on interstate 25 today after leaving Peter D’s Rv park this morning. It was a pleasant drive. We are about 30 miles from Nebraska to our east and 100 miles north of Cheyenne. There are a few things to see here so we will. I am still in the process of completing my blog on the Custer battle, so hopefully soon.
With all the history of Sheridan and the Custer battlefield not being that far away, we decided to hire a local guide outfit to show us the history of the area. We were not disappointed. Mike Kuzara who owns and operates Thunder Mountain tours was our guide for the day. Mike was born in 1939, yep, he is 83 years old, and a true cowboy, his family homesteaded here in the late 1800’s. He is a true historian, still plays in a band, and knows everyone here. It was a great time meeting him and learning all the fantastic, and tragic history of the area.
Our Guide Mike
The Bozeman trail, similar to the Oregon trail, was put into use because of the gold discovered, in Montana, so it traveled northwest, unlike the Oregon trail which went west. It branched off the Oregon trail in lower Wyoming and skirted the east side of the Bighorn mountain range, following streams, rivers, low land. All the while being in Crow Indian Territory. For many years, they had no problems with settlers traveling through. Then in the early 1860’s the Sioux Indians came in and pushed the Crow over to the west side of the Bighorn mountains. The Sioux did not follow any treaties and soon settlers were being killed. The U. S. Army then decided to put up a few forts, along the trail, one being Fort Phil Kearny, near present day Sheridan, it was huge, enclosed in the 17 acres of wooden stockade, was everything you could have to run an efficient fort. The fort operated from 1866 to 1868 when the railroad came through and made the Bozeman trail, obsolete. The fort was abandoned and the Sioux burned it to the ground.
The fort’s 400 or so troops, were very little help in keeping the settlers safe, they were busy fighting the Sioux constantly. At this time the Army was still using muzzled loading rifles, while settlers and wagon train men had some henrys and other repeaters. Still the Sioux raided, pillaged and killed whenever they could. A few noteworthy battles were fought.
The Conner Battle, or Tongue River battle, took place just before the fort was built and was built because of this skirmish. Brig General Conner was sent on a campaign to suppress the Cheyenne, Sioux, and Arapaho Indians from all the raiding going on. they surprised a Arapaho village and attached and burned it to the ground. This enraged Red cloud chief of the Sioux and all three tribes banded together to fight the Whiteman, setting the stage for the next two years of bitter fighting.
THE FETTERMAN FIGHT OR FETTERMAN MASSACURE
On December 21, 1866, a group of woodcutters out about two miles from Fort Kearny were attacked by a small group of Indians. Word came to the fort, and Captain William Fetterman was ordered to rescue the men. He took with him about 80 troopers, most raw recruits. When he reached the besieged wagon train, the Indians fled. They were led by Crazy horse, this was all a decoy and Fetterman fell for the trap, he pursued them to Lodge trail ridge where over two thousand Indians were waiting. It lasted only 30 minutes, all were killed, some having over eight or more arrows stuck in there bodies. They were then mutilated as was the custom of the Indians. All but one that is, the bugler when found was covered in a buffalo skin. Accounts say that he was the bravest as he had no weapon, and fought with his bugle only. The Indians as an honor left him alone and just covered him as was there custom for bravery.
WAGON BOX FIGHT
On August 2, 1867, a group of soldiers and woodcutters were camped down in the little Piney creek area, where they were cutting down pine trees to use for fire wood, stockade posts and the like. As was the custom, they took off the wagon boxes from the wagon and put them in a large oval, with all there supplies. The wagon carriages, without the wagon box were then loaded with the wood they had cut down for ease of transporting them back to the fort. A force of about six hundred Sioux attached the area, sending everyone inside the wagon box corral. This time the troopers had a new rifle, the breech loading rifle, able to shoot seven to eight rounds a minute as apposed to the one or two they could do with the muzzle loader they had earlier. This made all the difference in the world, with just about thirty men they held off a much larger group for hours until help arrived in the early evening, sending the Sioux on there way back.
There were many other smaller fights, they say that for the two years the fort was there, one person was killed every day on average. As I mentioned earlier once the railroad came in, the Bozeman trail became obsolete. Some treaties were signed and for the next several years, an uneasy calmness hovered over the entire west. This was only the first half of our tour, the rest of the day was spent in lower Montana, along the Little Big Horn river, where in 1876, General George Armstrong Custer would meet his end. That’s for the next post.
We are now at Peter D’s Rv park, in Sheridan Wyoming. This is the highest north and furthest west we are going this year. We drove 216 miles from Sturgis to get here, more and more mountains came into view, namely the Bighorn mountains. The park is nice, but spots are a little tight. Here we will visit the Custer battlefield, which is actually in Montana, and see other historic places here in Sheridan.
Mato Paha or “Bear Mountain” is the Lakota name given to Bear Butte State Park. Bear Butte is a geological mountain of rock that formed millions of years ago near Sturgis. It was established as a State Park in 1961. Along with its hiking trails, visitors can also enjoy fishing, kayaking, camping and rafting.
The Visitor Center is a tribute to many Indian tribes who came to the mountain. Even today the mountain is sacred to many native people, who make pilgrimages to leave prayer cloths and tobacco bundles tied to the branches of the trees along the mountain’s flanks. Other offerings are often left at the top of the mountain. There is also various religious ceremonies that take place throughout the year. The mountain is a place of prayer, meditation, and peace.
Famous Indians like Red Cloud, Crazy Horse, and Sitting Bull made pilgrimages to the site. In 1857, a council of many Indian nations gathered at Bear Butte to discuss the growing presence of white settlers in the Black Hills. They have discovered Indian artifacts dating back 10,000 years here at Bear Butte.
The Indians believed they shared the Earth with their animal relatives, especially the bison. The Indians were thankful for the gifts the bison provided them every day and had many ceremonies to Mitakuye Oyasin, or all are related/all my relations to express gratitude for the connectedness of life. The bison gave the gift of life by sacrificing its own: the flesh and blood of the bison were a part of the flesh and blood of the Plains Indians.
Bear Butte Mountain Trail
While we were on the mountain you could sense and feel you were on scared place. A holy place and you felt at peace. The idea of Indians tying colorful cloth around the trees, would like me being a Christian, putting a cross on a tree.
An Inspiring place for sure.
Our next venture was back to Sturgis were we are staying
We took a walk thru Strugis only 3 weeks before the Big Rally. They were starting to prepair for all the bikers coming in from all over the world.
Few towns capture the chaos and lawlessness of the American frontier as well as Deadwood, South Dakota. The illegal settlement sprung up in the 1870s as many drifters, drunks, and criminals sought fortune during the Black Hills Gold Rush. The community quickly gained a reputation for rampant crime, constant murders, and a surge in illicit acts, including gambling and prostitution. Today, the town has embraced its legacy, offering many activities to help visitors enjoy themselves and learn about the town.
Our first stop was to the visitor center, there we decided to go to Mt. Moriah Cemetery.
Mt. Moriah Cemetery in South Dakota is the final resting place of many people and characters of the American old west including Wild Bill Hickok, Calamity Jane, Potato Jack and several others. It sits high on the hill above the town of Deadwood South Dakota. They made Deadwood famous, so we just had to pay our respects.
James Butler Hickok, better known as “Wild Bill” was a wagon master, soldier, scout, lawman, gunfighter, gambler, showman, and actor who was well known in the American West.
In the spring of 1876, Hickok arrived in Deadwood, South Dakota. There he became a regular at the poker tables of the No. 10 Saloon, but not having much luck, but barely surviving as a card player. On this day in 1876, Hickok was playing cards with his back to the saloon door. At 4:15 in the afternoon, a young gunslinger named Jack McCall walked into the saloon, approached Hickok from behind, and shot him in the back of the head. Hickok died immediately. McCall tried to shoot others in the crowd, but amazingly, all of the remaining cartridges in his pistol were duds. McCall was later tried, convicted, and hanged.
Martha Jane Canary was a tobacco-spitting, beer-guzzling, foul-mouthed woman who preferred men’s clothing to dresses. One of the rowdiest and adventurous women in the Old West, she was a frontierswoman and professional scout, truly ahead of her time. She was well known through the Hills as Calamity Jane, but how she got this nickname is a legendary debate.
Jane took her siblings back to Wyoming, arriving at Fort Bridger on May 1, 1868. Taking whatever job that was available in order to provide for the family, she worked as a cook, a nurse, a dance-hall girl, a dishwasher, a waitress, an ox-team driver, and according to some tales, a prostitute. Calamity Jane was also a well-known humanitarian in Deadwood, nursing Deadwood residents stricken by the smallpox epidemic.
She and Wild Bill knew each other and had both been in some of the most dangerous towns of the West like Abilene and Hays City at the same time. They arrived together in Deadwood in the same wagon train from Cheyenne. She did say numerous times that her & Wild Bill loved each other, but Wild Bill never said he loved her. Her dying wish, allegedly, was to be laid to rest by Wild Bill Hickok. And there she rests, an official Deadwood legend.
The Reverend Henry Weston Smith (January 10, 1827 – August 20, 1876) was an American preacher and early resident of Deadwood, South Dakota.
The Reverend Henry Weston Smith, known to the locals as “Preacher Smith,” had the misfortune of not only being murdered in Deadwood in 1876, but of being murdered only a few days after the famous Wild Bill Hickok was also murdered in Deadwood — which is probably why you’ve never heard of Preacher Smith. Before he left town on Sunday, August 20, on foot to deliver a sermon to the miners in Crook City, he supposedly told his friends, “The Bible is my protection. It has never failed me yet.” And then he was shot dead.
Smith’s murderer was never caught, although blame was placed on either unfriendly Indians or a hired killer, paid for by the owners of Deadwood’s brothels and saloons. Smith was eventually buried in the same cemetery as Wild Bill.
Just one more, Last but not Least!
John Perrett was panning in Potato Creek when he found a leg-shaped gold nugget. The nugget was reportedly the largest piece of gold ever found in the Black Hills. The lucky prospector became an instant Deadwood legend known as “Potato Creek Johnny.”
He is buried at Mt. Moriah Cemetery alongside Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane. Upon the occasion of Johnny’s passing, the headline of the Black Hills Pioneer on February 21, 1943 read: “Potato Creek Johnny Crosses the Great Divide.” Thus another Black Hills character passed on into the annals of history.
And now we go into the town of Deadwood . . . .
It’s changed a bit.
Our stroll down the Historic Main Streets of Deadwood was fun. As you can see we took a lot pf pictures and even saw two live re-enactments.
One was the re-enactment of Wild Bill’s Death. This is a fun play follows the Shooting of Wild Bill Hickock who was shot while playing poker by Jack McCall. Wild Bill was holding a hand of Aces and Eights (Dead Man’s Hand). This re-enactment is one of the longest running stage plays in America dating back to the 1920s
Wild Bill talked about his life, very interesting life by the way, and the card game took place and the rest is history.
The 2nd re-enactment was David Lunt being shot.
David Lunt was shot in the forehead, with entry and exit wounds, in the crossfire of a Saloon Fight in Deadwood, South Dakota. He resumed daily life until he died 67 days after being shot. There is no known explanation as to why Mr. Lunt survived so long after being shot.
One thing that hasn’t changed in Deadwood is that there still is many bars and casinos instead of saloons.
We checked out Celebrity Hotel because they have costumes that movie stars wore in various movies.
Deadwood. . . . Where else would you have a bar in a store?
All that FUN and they day wasn’t over yet.
It’s only about 1 mile down the road from Deadwood but worth seeing.
There is a small museum owned by Kevin Costner. It’s not touristy, more of a respectful tribute to the buffalo. The visitor center had a introductory film giving the background of the buffalo and the sculptures by Kevin Costner, a number of displays and souvenirs.
When your done you take a path outside to see the Ta’Tanka its the 3rd largest bronze sculpture in the world. It is composed of a total of 17 pieces: 14 bison being pursued by three Lakota riders on bareback. These figures artfully depict the earliest and most effective form of hunting bison called a bison jump.
Lakota Bison Jump” created by local artist Peggy Detmers
Gradually climbing from the town of Spearfish on the northern edge of the Black Hills, this canyon is one of the gateways into towering limestone cliffs and a rushing mountain stream. Spruce, pine, aspen, birch and oak trees are along the hillsides. Spearfish Creek flows along the canyon bottom.
The first stop is Bridal Veil Falls.
A quick stop as it was right next to the road.
2nd stop we walked along Spearfish Falls Trail
Just about a 1/2 mile down the trail is the falls
3rd stop Roughlock Falls
This trail is approximately 2 miles round trip and the surroundings were stunning.
Stop 4 was a surprise on the side of the road as it wasn’t on the map. What a beautiful surprise it was.
Also on the same stretch of highway we stopped at Cheyenne Crossing store, restaurant, bed & breakfast. We had lunch and it was very, very good. I had their famous Indian tacos and Dave had pulled pork.