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8/11/19 to 8/13/19 Deerpark Campground, Buffalo WY (Fort Phil Kearny, Fetterman Massacre Site, Wagon


Campground: Site #2; Full hook up pull through; Cable TV; Verizon and AT&T worked well; nightly $2 for two scoops of ice cream BYOB (bring your own bowl). Pull through sites were plenty long enough. Our site and several others had wide spacing too. We were joined on this stop with our California (now full timing) friends Tom and Linda. We had been leapfrogging each other up the west coast since the spring and found two stops where we could hook up. Their site was around #10 which was a little narrower than ours, but still nice. We enjoyed wine, hors d'oeuvres and a campfire at night. 

Our trailer looking from Tom and Linda's site.

The "Classics" Bill, Sandy, Tom and Linda. 

Tom and Linda's pal Jack.

Fort Phil Kearny, Fetterman Massacre Site, Wagon Box Battle Site:

All three of these historic sites are in the same area as the two battles noted took place with troops from this fort. A brief history brief is warranted. 

Even though treaties had reserved the lands west of the Missouri River to the native people, the American belief in Manifest Destiny allowing unbridled expansion to the west, along with gold fever, precipitated the blazing of the Bozeman Trail in 1863. It provided a route from the Oregon Trail to the Montana gold fields ending at Virginia City MT. 

Initially, the plains tribes paid little attention to the white men passing through. Then in 1864 at Sand Creek Colorado, over 200 peaceful Cheyenne and Arapaho were massacred over a cow that wandered into the Indian encampment. Word of this assault spread and Red Cloud of the Oglala Sioux (in an unprecedented move), organized several independent tribes to start a war against further encroachment onto their land. The Sioux and their allies were a constant threat to wagon trains and any white persons traveling into the plains. 

In retaliation, the U.S. started building a series of protective forts along the Bozeman trail. The largest and most important of these was Fort Phil Kearney, erected in 1866. Walls 8 feet high and 1,496 in length enclosed 17 acres inside the fort. 

Entering the recreated fort on the original site. 

Within the center of the fort 

Beautiful country - unless the hills are covered in Sioux warriors preparing to attack.

Pilot Hill as it appears today. This takes an important role in the story below. 

Colonel Henry Carrington constructed and tried to hold the fort with too few men who were poorly equipped and poorly trained. Red Cloud and his warriors, including a young Crazy Horse, made constant attacks to the woodcutters supporting construction of the fort. Carrington sought better arms and more men, but got little help from Washington who completely underestimated the danger of the situation. 

Along with a small force of reinforcements,  Captain William Fetterman joined Carrington. Fetterman quickly began to grow impatient over Carrington's lack of aggression towards the Indians. Fetterman believed that he and a few men could wipe out the entire Sioux threat. After several attempts, Fetterman convinced Carrington to let him lead a band of 81 men to go after the Sioux following yet another attack on the woodcutters. Within purposeful earshot of a witness, Carrington gave Fetterman strict orders not to pursue the Sioux over Lodge Trail Ridge, where they would be lost from sight from their lookout on Pilot Hill.

Fetterman fell into the trap that was the persistent strategic maneuver of the Sioux - and particularly Crazy Horse who would duplicate this in his defeat of Custer. Crazy Horse would lead a handful of men, or go alone, towards the army. As the US troops approached, Crazy Horse would run away, but never too fast. If the army slowed down or stopped, Crazy Horse would pretend his horse was lame, getting off and inspect the leg of the horse. If this wouldn't work, he would taunt the troops. He would do anything to get them to chase him. And Fetterman, like Custer later, would go for the bait – passing beyond the vision and any possible aid from the fort, right into a slaughter field. 

As the troops thinned out over a ridge line that followed the Bozeman trail, warriors rose up out of the valleys on both sides and sent forth a volley of 40,000 arrows raining down on the hapless troopers. So many arrows that the death toll to the Sioux was primarily from their own hand. None of Fetterman's men survived. With 81 fatalities, the Fetterman Massacre was the army’s worst defeat in the West until the Battle of Little Bighorn in 1876.

 Fetterman Memorial

The Infantry's dead were found from the memorial following the ridge behind. Small interpretive signs marked the stages of the battle.

Tom and I walked along the ridge toward the distant tree and beyond where Fetterman followed Crazy Horse. Fetterman's men were strung out all along this ridge. The Indians came up from the valleys on both sides.

 I am standing on the Bozeman Trail - slightly to the right of the cart path. The ruts are fading into oblivion as the grasslands take over.

Our walk included passing a watchful mother and calf. I kept Tom between me and momma! 

A bull was within 20 feet of us. I kept an eye on him too.

The trail passed right through this herd, so we decided to turn back. By this time we had a good feel for the area and the battle.

The Wagon Box Fight occurred one year after the Fetterman massacre. On August 2, 1867 twenty-six soldiers and 6 civilians were attacked while trying to attend to the wood cutting process necessary to sustain the fort. A private company along with troop assistance provided the fort with wood from “Piney Island” six miles from the fort. Wagons were used to haul the wood from which the original wagon boxes were removed. The boxes were used as a protective corral for their livestock and goods while away from the fort. 

Wagon Box Memorial. Artifacts such as bullet casings were found here identifying the site. 

The Sioux women and leaders would watch the battle from the hills. A Park ranger told us that you'll never see a prettier place to have a battle. 

Early in the morning Red Cloud waged a two-pronged attack on the corral and the woodcutters' camp a few miles away. Captain James Powell successfully gathered his men into the corral in a defensive position.

A defining difference on this day was that the soldiers were armed with new breech loading Springfield and Spencer rifles which the Indians later referred to as “guns that shot many times”. Captain Powell and his men withstood repeated charges over a few hours until a relief force from the fort arrived firing howitzers, causing Red Cloud to abandon the fight. This marks another difference from the Fetterman Massacre - the Wagon Box fight was within view of the lookout post on Pilot Hill. 

In the end 3 solders and 3 civilians were dead with two wounded. The Indian casualties are uncertain as the they went to great lengths in battles to remove their dead and the army was prone to exaggerate their effectiveness. Captain Powell estimated 60 dead, but it is assumed the number was much lower. 

While the soldiers successfully held off attackers with few casualties, (and signified to Red Cloud that the Sioux needed better guns), this fight marked the end of the program of defending the forts along the Bozeman trail. By 1868 all the forts were abandoned (and burned), and the Treaty of Fort Laramie was made giving up the Powder River country land in Wyoming and Montana. The two year “Red Cloud's War” is considered the only successful war by native Americans against the U.S. Government. 

Eight years later when gold was found in the Black Hills of South Dakota (on the heels of the financial Panic of 1873), the U.S. quickly deemed the gold in the Hills necessary and thousands of people began flooding into the region. This caused the Great Sioux wars of which the Battle of Little Bighorn was a defining part in 1876. (See our trip to Billings Montana for photos of the battle sight).

Crazy Woman Drive and Gulch. Luckily for me, Tom did the driving this day. After reading descriptions and seeing photos of this road on the web, I was unsure if our truck could squeeze through. As it turned out, we made it through with only a couple dicey spots where we had to hug the crumbling gravel edge of the road to let other vehicles pass us going the opposite way. 

The road heads southwest of Buffalo over low rolling hills.

We stopped for a photo shoot with some long horn cattle taking it easy. 

The brown one was HUGE! 

One lady longhorn had the energy and curiosity to come check out Tom and me.

Then she gave the bedroom eyes!

Eventually the road enters woodland reaching a canyon with a pretty creek alongside. The origin of the name Crazy Woman Canyon is not known, but there are a couple theories. One is that is was named for a woman who stayed in the area after her husband and children were killed by Indians. 

Occidental Hotel and Saloon. 

This historic and cool remnant of the old west is located in the center of Buffalo Wyoming near the Bozeman Trail and the Bighorn Mountains. People who stayed there included Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid, Calamity Jane, Buffalo Bill Cody, Tom Horn, and a young Teddy Roosevelt. 

With our traveling friends Tom and Linda, we enjoyed surprisingly good burgers and beers at a table in the saloon. 

After lunch, we walked through the bar to a quaint period furnished dining or sitting room, a long hall covered in historic photos, and the fascinating hotel lobby.

One could really envision the old cowpokes ambling up the stairs to their rooms. 

For more info and photos go to the hotel's website:

Shortly after leaving Buffalo for our next campground, we stopped for a couple photos of the area.

And later we stopped at a rest area to let this concentrated storm slip by in front of us.

On the road again...

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