Site of Army Bridge
The Laramie River was unpredictable and unchecked by dams. High water during the spring of the year often damaged or washed away existing bridges; therefore, from 1853 to post abandonment in 1890 the river was spanned by several successive bridges on or near this site. The first was constructed by a private firm
Fort Laramie and The Fur Trade
In the early 1800s the wealth of the wilderness was measured in the furs of wild animals, and the beaver was the most important. During that period a new breed of western explorer appeared upon the scene, the mountain man. Essentially a trapper of beaver, he was a staunch individualist and romantic adventurer who roamed the mountains and explored the rivers.
The river below, once abundant with beaver was named for one such trapper-explorer, a French-Canadian, Jacques La Ramee (Laramie). His arrow-pierced body was found in the spring of 1821 near the mouth of the river that bears his name.
In the 1830s silk replaced beaver in fashionable hat styles. This combined with the increasing scarcity of beaver, signaled the end of the trapping era and the mountain’s rendezvous, (where trappers and traders met to exchange furs for goods). A flourishing trade in buffalo hides and robes soon took its place and the need for permanent trading posts to store the bulky hides became apparent. Thousands of buffalo hides were shipped east from Fort Laramie, in the 1840s.
In 1834, during the decline of the beaver trade, Robert Campbell and William Sublette established the first Fort Laramie, christened Fort William. The small fort constructed of cottonwood logs remained in existence for eight years. Fort William was then replaced by Fort John (1841). Like its predecessor it was commonly known as Fort Laramie.
Here stood a frame duplex built in 1858.
During the winter months ice blocks were cut from the Laramie and Platte Rivers and hauled to ice houses at this and other sites. Thick walled and partially underground, the frame or sod structures could each store as much as 150 tons of ice. Ice distribution began with the onset of warm weather and, if carefully rationed, ice could last until September.
Officers, enlisted men and laundresses, as well as the hospital and butchershops, were among the recipients. The post commander determined who could receive ice and in what order and amount. Immediately after reveille, often on alternating days, those entitled could come to the ice houses to receive their shares.
At left is the headquarters circular of April 20, 1876, announcing the first of ice and determining a generous daily allotment.
CO.’s Chicken Coop (Built in 1881)
High ranking officers commonly kept chickens for their own use. The consumption of chickens and eggs provided a welcome change from meals of wild game and tough army beef. Individual soldiers and cooks utilizing company funds could purchase chickens and eggs from civilians. However, such items were a luxury which seldom appeared on the enlisted man’s table.
Refinement at Fort Laramie
Fort Laramie began as a dusty, drab frontier outpost as pictured above in the 1868 photograph. However, by the 1880’s, the Army had embarked upon a major cleanup and improvement campaign. The delightful results are evident in the 1887 viewtrees and grass, gaslights, boardwalks, picket fences and vine-covered verandas, modern, comfortable quarters… even birdbaths!
This 1885 photograph (on plaque) shows the buildings constructed on this site in 1881. Previous adobe structures, built in 1855, were left standing as rear wings. On the far left was the Commanding Officer’s residence. Between 1881 and 1890 it was successively occupied by the families of Colonels Merritt, Gibbon, and Merriam and the only one equipped with inside plumbing, with a full bathroom upstairs and water pipes into the kitchen. The other two buildings were customarily occupied by Lieutenants or Captains and their families.
This graceful old structure, built in 1849, is the oldest standing building in Wyoming. It was nicknamed “Old Bedlam” because of boisterous sounds supposedly heard while it was occupied by bachelor officers.
Shown in an 1889 photograph, “Old Bedlam” is generally regarded as a Bachelor Officers Quarters. However, the left half was used as Post Headquarters and Commanders Apartment in the 1860’s, and at various times, the building was occupied by married officers.
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