Two battles on July 26, 1865 near Platte Bridge Station near present-day Casper, Wyo., are best understood in the context of tribal response to the Sand Creek Massacre the previous November. Twenty-eight U.S. troops were killed that day including Lt. Caspar Collins, for whom Fort Caspar and the town of Casper were later named.
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In the year of Custer’s defeat, Gen. George Crook led three expeditions into the Powder River country to subdue free-roaming Lakota Sioux and Cheyenne bands. The tribes defeated his troops twice and prevented them from linking up with Custer. On the third expedition, Crook’s soldiers destroyed Dull Knife’s village of Northern Cheyenne.
On Aug. 29, 1865, troops under Brig. Gen. Patrick E. Connor attacked an Arapaho village near present Ranchester, Wyo. Connor’s detachment was part of a large expedition ordered to subjugate the warring Cheyenne, Sioux and Arapaho in the Powder River Basin. Overall success was mixed. Connor was relieved of his command.
On Aug. 2, 1867, a large force of Oglala Sioux attacked woodcutters near Fort Phil Kearny. Soldiers assigned to protect the woodcutters took cover behind a ring of wagon boxes. After the intense battle, both sides claimed victory, and estimates of the dead and wounded varied widely.
The Powder River Basin sports a colorful history. Bones of bison slaughtered by people, found south of Sundance, Wyo., date back 6,000 years, and northeast Wyoming remained a favorite hunting ground for American Indians into the late 19th century. At that time the Powder River Basin was the scene of violent conflicts between the Indians and U.S. military men. Abundant grass made this region a favored spot for cattle and sheep ranchers. Under the grass is coal—so much of it that about 40 percent of the coal mined in the U.S., comes from the Powder River Basin.
When the U.S. Army in 1866 sent troops to build a string of forts along the Bozeman Trail north from the North Platte River to the Montana gold fields, Lakota, Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes in that country reacted angrily. For two years, the tribes harassed and attacked the soldiers and travelers on the trail. After the Treaty of Fort Laramie in 1868, the Army withdrew, the Indians burnt the forts and for a few years, until hostilities started up again in the mid-1870s, the tribes the country largely to themselves.
Although the Teapot Dome Scandal of the 1920s was named for a Wyoming rock formation resembling a teapot, the wrongdoers were not from the state. During the administration of President Warren G. Harding, oilmen Harry Sinclair and Edward Doheny bribed Secretary of the Interior Albert Fall to gain access to the naval petroleum reserves located at Teapot Dome in the Salt Creek field north of Casper in northern Natrona County. Fall was the first Cabinet official to be imprisoned for crimes committed during his time in office. Sinclair also served a jail sentence.
Established by mountain men Jim Bridger and Louis Vasquez in 1843, Fort Bridger was an important rest and re-supply spot for emigrants bound to Utah, California and Oregon. Mormons acquired the site in the mid-1850s, and burned it in 1857 as the U.S. Army approached during the bloodless Utah War. The following year the Army took over, and garrisoned the fort until 1890. Today it is a state historic site.
The U.S. Army established Platte Bridge Station in 1862 to protect the Oregon/California/Mormon Trail crossing of the North Platte River and the new transcontinental telegraph. After Lt. Caspar Collins was killed there by Cheyenne and Lakota Indians in 1865, the post was renamed Fort Casper, misspelling his first name. The fort was abandoned two years later, but reconstructed in 1936—and renamed Fort Caspar—with funds from the Works Progress Administration. Fort grounds and a museum are open to the public.