If there is one point on the Oregon Trail that witnessed the sagas of the times then Fort Laramie, Wyoming would be it. In the Platte River Valley, where the Rivers Laramie and North Platte meet, this fort witnessed the trails of wagons, wars and strifes and the impact on the land of the Native Americans.
History Of Fort Laramie
The fur traders who were the first to head out west originally founded the area as Fort William, then it became Fort John. In 1849 the fort was bought by the US Army and became extremely militarised to protect those ever growing numbers heading on the Oregon Trail. This point was also on the Californian and Mormon trails that did not branch off until further on. The militarisation led to mistruths and scare mongering for the pioneers. Wars with Native Americans and a total change to the way of life for the people who had lived here for thousands of years.
Treaties were made and peace was kept for the most part, but things were tense. False stories of massacres by tribes on pioneers fed into a belief the pioneers should be heavily armed. Things did come to a head in the Fort Laramie area with the Grattan Massacre of 1854. All over the killing of a single cow. This was the catalyst for the first Sioux War and the wars of the next 20 odd years.
Fort Laramie Decline and Today
Today the restored remnants of Fort Laramie can be wandered through. Seemingly miles from anywhere now and even more so back then. The transcontinental railway reduced immensely the need for wagon trails and thus the need for a fort.. In 1890 the fort was cleared of windows floors and anything valuable etc. Leaving a ghost town of ruins for settlers to move into.
Some of the buildings have been restored in some part to former glory. Some crumbled heaps of rock remain. There are many reminders of life back then in the visitor centre plus an interesting 20 minute video that shows the history and importance of the place in lots more detail.
Officers quarters and places where the high ranks lived with their families (normal soldiers were not allowed family of course). Back then, this was a frontier outpost. A part of the front line in ensuring those looking for a new life could get there safely.
I found it a place where I learned much about the trials of undertaking the Oregon Trail, but also a place that shows how the heading west of those in search of a better life, encroached on the land of others that had made it their home for many many centuries before. Creating a whole new history and a whole new geography.
If you want to learn more about the impact that those heading west had on local indigenous tribes and how change was forced on them you can gain a good sense of that by being in one of the iconic places that is Fort Laramie.