Fort Fetterman, from Fort to City to “Drybone” – Sheridan Media
Looking towards Park Headquarters and Officers’ Quarters
In February 1961, the Wyoming Legislature purchased the land where Fort Fetterman once stood. In 1962, the Wyoming Historical Commission acquired ownership of the site and began preserving it. The buildings had deteriorated and the land had been used for grazing.
Although Fort Fetterman is about 10 miles from Douglas, much of its history is closely tied to the beginnings of Sheridan County. The fort, established in 1867 on a bluff above the North Platte River, was even named for Colonel Fetterman, who was commanding officer at Fort Phil Kearny in 1866 and lost his life in the Fetterman Fight near Story, Wyo.
Major William McEnery Dye and four companies of infantry began construction of Fort Fetterman in July 1867. Brigadier General HW Wessells served as the first commander in November of that year. In 1868, the first dwellings were replaced by structures of adobe, wood and stone.
Fort Fetterman was one of four forts established between 1865 and 1867 to protect the Bozeman Trail from native tribes, who considered the land their own. Fetterman was the last fort established along the trail, but it stood for almost 20 years, until 1882.
Many miners and settlers wanted access to the open lands north of the Platte River, and they wanted army protection from hostile tribes.
In the Cheyenne Daily News, June 19, 1875: Big Horn Expedition. General Order No. 4. All parts of Wyoming and northern Colorado who wish to open the Black Hills and Big Horn country for occupation and mining purposes, and who plan to join the expedition under my command, or who are currently members, are hereby invited and invited to attend a large mass rally and meeting, to be held at Ecoffcey And Cunys “Three-Mile Ranche”, near Ft. Laramie, on July 1st, in order to consider the subject so important to us and all the inhabitants of the Wild West, and to lay down a plan to follow in the future with reference to it. 0. C. Carpenter Colonel Commanding the Big Horn Expedition.
In 1876, near the end of the Indian Wars, General George Crook led three marches from Fort Fetterman, including one where he engaged the Sioux at the Battle of Rosebud in southern Montana.
Cheyenne Weekly Leader, June 3, 1876, reports the march: Latest from the North. Crook on the Walk. General Crook’s expedition left Fort Fetterman yesterday morning and encamped on Sage Creek, fifteen miles away, General Crock following in the evening. Colonel Royal commands the cavalry and Colonel Chambers the infantry. All supplies are now on the other side of the Platte. The Indians are in considerable numbers in the vicinity of Fort Fetterman, although they are silent. A man by the name of Murphy came to the fort yesterday from the Hills. He says the Indians are very troublesome in this neighborhood. He reports having assisted in the burial of a number of people killed by their; his companion was among them.
Captain Egan returned to Fort Laramie yesterday, having traveled the country from Laramie to Custer on the road traveled, and returned by the agency road. On the sage VSstench he revised a band of six hundred Indians in the in the midst of an attack on Charles Htrain of oxen from echt which was on its way to the Hills. He managed to lead them disabled, they head north, and the captain says he intends to join Sitting Bull. Egan says a thousand young warriors left both agencies.
A number of miners returned with Egan, among them Mr. MV Boughton, former mayor of that town, who reported that the northern mines paid well, and about three thousand miners in that section.
He also confirms the news of JC Sanders’ safety. Captain Nickerson, aide-de-camp to General Crook, telegraphed yesterday from Fort Fetterman that all the young warriors have left Red Cloud and are heading north to join Sitting Bull, leaving their families protected in the agencies.
The Wyoming Weekly Leader, Volume 09, Number 27, April 1, 1876: Marching on Indians. The Big Horn Expedition, which aims to liberate all of Wyoming and large parts of Montana and Dakota from the presence of the degrading Red Men who now infest the Big Horn, Powder River and other vast mining and agricultural regions in this part of the country, is now well organized and makes its way into the deserts of the northwest.
These Indian tribes, along with the Red Cloud and Spotted Tail agencies, are to be located near Forts Sully, St. Peter, and Rice on the Missouri, much closer to supply points than they are now, with the advantage of almost direct rail and sea communications, thus reducing by at least a third the expense of maintaining military posts and agencies. This expedition is under the command of Colonel JJ Reynolds and is accompanied by General Crook. It consists of five cavalry battalions, two companies each, and one infantry battalion, also made up of two companies. Besides these, an excellent corps of twenty-five or thirty scouts, all of whom are thoroughly familiar with the Indian campaigns and capable of acting as guides, are under the command of Captain TH Stanton.
More than 1,500 head of cattle are needed in the various departments, including 650 cavalry horses, 480 mules for the wagon and 400 pack mules. The expedition left Fort Fetterman, Wyoming, earlier this month, and is currently traversing a region marvelous not only for its natural landscapes, but also for the country’s mineral and agricultural wealth. The Indians known to be scattered over its vast expanse are said to number 18,000 to 20,000, of whom at least 4,000 can be considered warriors. The Indian runners have already conveyed the intelligence of military movements to the northern tribes, so General Crook cannot surprise the Indians, as he expected.
Cheyenne Weekly Leader, July 22, 1876, reports Crook’s march to the Rosebud ….On the morning of the second day after leaving the supply camp at Goose Creek, Crook’s command stopped to rest in the Rosebud Valley. It was then only in the foothills of the mountains. Had the Crow scouts done their duty the previous night they would have been passed in darkness, for if General Crook had known the proximity of the Sioux village, the Richmond of his hopes, he would have ordered a forced march in order to effect A suprise. The result of the Battle of the Rosebud, which has been falsely described as a defeat, would therefore have been very different. Although it might have ended in the slaughter of Crook and his valiant command – for the Indians outnumbered him ten times, it is likely that he would have won a resounding victory over the surprised Sioux..
While most of the Bozeman Trail forts, including Reno, Phil Kearny, and CF Smith, were abandoned under the terms of the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868, Fort Fetterman remained and became the main military establishment and supply base strategic in the heart of Indian country.
Fort Fetterman continued as a fort until 1882. When it was decommissioned, a small community known as Fetterman City sprang up and was used as an outfitting point for area ranchers and wagon trains. It was known for its saloons and brothels (pig farms) that served whiskey and cowboy entertainment during the cattle boom of the 1880s.
When the railroad advanced to Douglas, the settlement of Fetterman City was abandoned. However, Fetterman City weren’t quite dead. In 1897, in the novel, Lin MccleanOwen Wister used Fetterman City as a model for his city, “Drybone.”
The site was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1969 and is a Wyoming State Historic Site. Today there are several interpretive signs and a Bozeman Trail marker. There’s an ammunition warehouse that still stands, and restored officers’ quarters and museum exhibits give visitors a sense of what the fort was like. It is open during the summer months and one can access the Fort Fetterman website for dates and times.