7. BUFFALO, WY
Captain William Fetterman made a fatal mistake on December 21, 1866.
He was supposed to stay inside Fort Phil Kearny, which had been built just a few months before to protect travelers along Wyoming’s Bozeman Trail. But a small group of American Indians, led by the legendary Crazy Horse, lured the officer and 80 men outside. Fetterman had no idea that it was a trap. Once they got over a ridge, the soldiers were attacked by a force estimated at 1,000 Indians. The fight, if you want to call it that, lasted about half an hour. No whites survived.
A stone monument and plaque mark the battle site, which is just one of the landmarks of Johnson County and its county seat of Buffalo. Today, the Fetterman Battlefield is a National Historic Landmark, one that includes nearby Fort Phil Kearny and the Wagon Box Fight site (where woodcutters and soldiers defeated the Indians just seven months after the massacre).
The area’s other Indian War locations include Fort McKinney, Fort Reno, Crazy Woman Battlefield and the site of the Dull Knife Battle. Most have, at the very least, interpretive signage to explain the historic events. Some, like Fort Phil Kearny, provide tours and additional information.
Buffalo was also the epicenter of the Johnson County War, which pitted cattle barons against small ranchers (or rustlers, depending on your point of view). The conflict came to a head at the T.A. Ranch, south of Buffalo, in 1892. The small ranchers and townspeople trapped a mercenary army inside the barn there; when you visit, check out the original bullet holes in the wood. Owners Earl and Barbara Madsen’s renovation of the ranch has garnered national attention (even Bob Vila’s Restore America brought a TV crew to film it).
If you’re in a contemplative mood, you can visit the graves of several participants of the Johnson County War in the Willow Grove Cemetery.
Buffalo’s Main Street is lined by historic buildings, some dating back to the early 1800s. Of special note: the Occidental Hotel, built in 1880. Folks like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Buffalo Bill Cody, Tom Horn, a pre-president Theodore Roosevelt and Calamity Jane all stopped by the Occidental for a little rest and relaxation. You can, too, since the place has been open for business for the last few years (thanks to owners Dawn and John Wexo). You can even still spot the old bullet holes in the saloon ceiling. If that doesn’t shout “preservation,” what does?
But folks around Buffalo are continuing to research their history as well. Archaeological digs have been going on for several years at many of the Indian War sites. A new effort began last summer at the Fetterman battlefield. Some of the artifacts are at the Jim Gatchell Museum in Buffalo, a must see for any visitor.
Local officials are working hard to make sure more people come to this town of 4,888 residents. The chamber of commerce has put together a $60,000 campaign to sell the town as a vacation destination. Buffalo is definitely that—and more.