Renegade Roads

The Bloody Bozeman

From Wyoming’s Fort Laramie travesty to Montana’s Alder Gulch goldfields that inspired the trail.

Fort-Ellis-Montana-1871-Bozeman-Trail-historical-photo

Trails across the West in the mid-1800s crisscrossed Indian lands, often displacing the people who had been living on the land for generations. The Bozeman Trail is no exception. It cuts through some of the prime hunting grounds for the Lakota, Northern Cheyenne and Crow tribes and was hotly contested as a result.

In most cases, the trails permanently displaced wildlife and people. But in an unusual turn of events, the Indians successfully defended their rights to the region marked by the Bozeman—at least for a while longer.

The route was a shortcut, which may have been part of the problem for those who used it. (Remember what Virginia Reed said about shortcuts after her family became stranded with the Donner Party during the winter of 1846-47: “Never take no cutoffs and Hurry along as fast as you can!”)

John Bozeman’s name is attached to the route that branched away from the main Platte overland road to provide access to Montana goldfields. Bozeman and John Jacobs scouted the road in the spring of 1863, traveling from western Montana, where gold had been discovered in Alder Gulch. The yellow metal was the catalyst for the trail. Bozeman knew people coming from the East would want to reach the new diggings as quickly as possible. His diagonal trail across Wyoming and Montana promised to spur development.

Bozeman and Jacobs organized a wagon train in early 1864 and headed out on their new trail. They departed from Deer Creek Station (near Glenrock, Wyoming), but barely made it 140 miles when a war party of Lakota and Cheyenne Indians changed their plans (they returned to the main overland road closer to the Platte).

That interaction with the tribes was the portent of what would come for travelers along the Bozeman, although some 1,500 travelers took the route in 1864 and more would travel it over the next four years.

Connor Bloodies It Up

The best place to start a road trip tour of the Bloody Bozeman is at Fort Laramie, an important trail outfitting point that also served as a military fort.

In 1865, Patrick Connor led a military regiment that attacked an Arapaho camp in northern Wyoming. This led to a peace conference, held at Fort Laramie in 1866, to negotiate a treaty with the tribes to allow safe passage through the Powder River Country. Red Cloud attended as one of the primary leaders of the Lakota tribe. The government’s cocky attitude, however, led to the arrival of Col. Henry B. Carrington and 700 troops, who reached Fort Laramie before the peace conference concluded. Red Cloud departed, as he and other Indian leaders believed the government had been duplicitous—negotiating on one hand, while bringing troops to enforce any agreements on the other.

The Indians vowed they would hold Powder River Country, further setting up conflict along the Bozeman Trail.

Heritage of the Displaced

From Fort Laramie, the Bozeman Trail branches away from the North Platte River in two locations between Douglas and Casper. Some of the troops who patrolled along the route were headquartered at Fort Fetterman near Douglas.

Troops stationed at Fort Caspar in Casper protected transportation lines along the North Platte River. Established in 1862 as Platte Bridge Station, the fort was renamed following a fight in July 1865 with Lakota and Cheyenne warriors, during which Lt. Caspar Collins and other soldiers...

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