Wednesday, August 23, 2017

2017, July 30 – August 2 - Indian Campground, Buffalo WY

Having left Sundance WY (Mountain View Campground) we drove to Buffalo WY and stayed 3 nights at the Indian Campground. This campground had a nice area under high trees, with ample spaces (nothing fancy but adequate), however due to the satellite issues we stayed at the back of the park. There, the spaces were unbelievably small and we could not even open our awning due to the trailer next to us being on top of us. Mary complained to the owner when he brought in another rig, and was called “grouchy”. In all fairness he did offer to move us to another site the next day, but as we were only going to be there 3 nights and we were already set up, we passed on moving.

We were having issues with Edith’s battery… it kept losing the charge, but only randomly, so on Monday July 31, we went to the Ford dealer in Sheridan WY to make a service appointment for Wednesday, to find out what the problem was or replace the battery, if needed. However, we have talked about when we needed to trade in Edith (in a few years) what would we get and what equipment did we need in it.  So we were pretty much in agreement that our next vehicle (toad) to pull behind the motorhome would be a Ford F-150 4x4 Crew Cab pickup truck with a deck over the wheel well (for the bed) and a topper, with some specialized options… and in Ingot Silver (like Edith) to match the coach. Then while making the appointment for Wednesday Bill ventured over to the new CAR showroom and low and behold… a 2017 Ford F-150 4x4 Crew Cab in Ingot Silver with a two-tone Magnet Gray lower panel (that also matches the other colors of the coach. Teasingly, Mary took a photo with a salesman. That night we talked about it and that it seemed like an omen… a ‘meant to be’ moment  and we decided that we would go back  the next day to see if we could work out a workable deal to trade. 

 The first day we saw Edith2. Mary took a photo with the truck
and with the salesman, jokingly, as if she was buying it.
 After we left the Ford dealer, having made a service appointment for the battery for Wednesday, we drove to visit Fort Phil Kearny, which was one of three Army outposts in the Old West, charged with protecting the Bozeman Trail. It received its name because of the established US Army tradition of naming forts after distinguished deceased officers and prominent leaders; and during his lifetime, Phil Kearny had established himself as a famous military hero.

Born to a wealthy New York family in 1815, Kearny rebelled against his father’s wishes of his becoming a lawyer, by joining his uncle Col. Stephen Watts Kearny’s First United States ‘Dragoons’ Regiment on the Western Frontier in 1837. The ‘Dragoons were a class of mounted infantry, who used horses for mobility, but dismounted to fight on foot. They later became the cavalry.  During the following decade Phil Kearny had a variety of assignments, including serving with the French Army in North Africa. After briefly resigning from the Army in 1846, he re-entered the service and lost his left arm leading a charge of Dragoons during the Mexican War. He resigned again in 1851 as there appeared to be little chance of further promotion, until 1859 when he again joined service with the French Army and fought against the Austrians, leading a cavalry charge, holding his reins with his teeth so he could use a sabre. The outbreak of the Civil War brought Kearny once more to the US Army. Rising to the rank of General he showed a brilliance for leadership and combat aggressiveness considered rare in the Army of the Potomac at that time. Though it seemed that he might continue to be promoted to a higher rank, unfortunately a Confederate bullet ended Phil Kearny’s life on September 1, 1862, fulfilling his personal motto, “It is fitting and proper to die for one’s country.”

Fort Phil Kearny however was not built and named after the famous Civil War General until 1866. It was one of three US Army forts established along the Bozeman Trail with a mission to protect travelers along the Bozeman Trail against Indian attacks.

The Lakota Sioux Indians, led by the famous Chief Red Cloud, viewed the building of this fort in the middle of their sacred hunting grounds as a threat to their very existence, and that the fort had been built in direct violation of a previous treaty that stipulated that this land belonged to them. This fueled a war with the Lakota Sioux, the Cheyenne and the Arapaho tribes, all led by Red Cloud.

Henry Beebe Carrington (born 1824) was a teacher, lawyer and active in Ohio Republican politics before the Civil War.  During the Civil War he was appointed a Colonel of the Eighteenth US Army Infantry, but served out the conflict as an administrative officer, rather than as a commander. However, due to the high quality of his service, he was brevetted to the rank of Brigadier General of Volunteers in 1862.  Then in 1866 he was tasked with leading the Second Battalion of the Eighteenth Infantry to garrison the Bozeman Trail as a Colonel. Though a skilled administrator, Col. Carrington’s lack of combat experience hindered him in directing the operations  at Ft. Phil Kearny and gaining the confidence of his officers, during the six months he commanded the Bozeman Trail efforts.

Consequently, one day after many, many skirmishes with the Indians who would practice small-band hit and run tactics against settlers and travelers on the Bozeman Trail, Capt. William Judd Fetterman was in command of 81 troops who were dispatched to confront an Indian attack. Carrington’s instruction to Fetterman was to engage the Indians but only as far a ridge surrounding the fort. This is said to have been repeated to him 3 times. However, when Capt. Fetterman reached the ridge, he saw only a small number of braves and chiefs running away, and apparently tired of never getting a good licking on the Indians, he led his men after them, thinking that they were going to get back at the Indians for all their previous unanswered attacks. Well, Red Cloud was a shrewd and very intelligent Indian leader, and they were only running away hoping to lure Capt. Fetterman and his command into a trap… which he did.  This engagement on December 21, 1866, now known as the Fetterman Fight, which cost Capt. Fetterman the loss of all 81 of the men under his command, was the single most costly engagement and worst military disaster of the US Army, prior to the Battle of the Little Big Horn (known to the Indians as the Battle of the Greasy Grass) and commonly referred to as Custer’s Last Stand which took place on June 25-26, 1876.    

Fort Phil Kearny was burned down by the Indians when the Army abandoned the post in 1868, just two years after being built. Today, all you can see is the outline of where it once stood and a few of the remaining wooden posts and gun turrets; yet, one can visit the fort grounds and enjoy the serene and beautiful scenery that has changed little in the past 149 years . There is also a visitor center with a small museum with past fort and Indian artifacts, and a bookstore. If you are visiting anywhere near it (located at 528 Wagon Box Rd, in Banner WY 82832)… Exit 44 off of Interstate 90, we recommend stopping by for a visit (if you are into American history). Fees are just $4.00 pp for Non-Resident Adults and Children 17 and under are FREE. 

Artist rendering of life in Fort Kearny and other US Army
outposts in the 1866-1868 years during the Red Cloud War.  
 The weaponry used at this time by soldiers and civilians at Fort Kearny.
The Model 1860 Henry Rifle (patented in 1860) began the lever action era of the Winchester Repeating Rifle. Firing sixteen .44 cal. bullets without reloading, this rifle was very effective for ranges up to 200 yards. By 1866 these rifles were very popular weapons on the American Frontier. James Wheatley and Isaac Fisher, two civilias that accompanied Capt. (some say Breveted Lt. Colonel) Williams J. Fetterman on December 21, 1866, carried Henry rifles, but even with this benefit, the overwhelming number of Indians that ambushed the Fetterman command was just too much to make a difference.

Pictured above, Phillip Kearny (top left), Colonel Henry Beebe Carrington (top center), Jim Bridger (top right) 30 years experience as a mountain man, trapper and Indian fighter, he was a close friend of the Shoshone Chief Washakie  and was 3x married to Indian women (a Flathead, a Ute and a Shoshone) he quit the fur trade in 1843 and became the foremost Guide of the Plains for the US Army, including for Col. Carrington. The two ladies (bottom) were his first and second wives.

 Photos of yesteryear.

The name "Crazy Woman" is often found in many events of this region. However, in this instance Crazy Woman Creek is important as it is part of the story of how the Red Cloud War started. The Treaty of 1851 virtually gave all that land to Indian Reservation and as far as they were concerned that meant that is was of their ownership. When the settlers started coming in along with miners, trappers, ranchers traveling on the Bozeman Trail, Indian hostilities began. So a commission from Washington was dispatched to try to negotiate a peaceful passage to the Bozeman Trail, while respecting the Indians' remaining territiory. At the same time Washington sent Col. Carrington with at least 200 soldiers to build and initiate 3 forts to protect the Bozeman Trail. Unluckily he arrived with his troops on the same day that Red Cloud, Crazy Horse and other chiefs were trying to negotiate a peace (once again) and saw Col. Carrington with all his troops as the governments unwillingness to do as they said they would, so the Indians left the negotiations and Red Cloud warned the Government and Army that "Any white man caught North of the Crazy Woman Creek would be killed" on the spot... executed.   

Model representation of Fort Phil Kearny in 1866. The Indian teepees were of friendly Indians, which were later pushed farther away from the fort's perimeter. It was the largest of the three forts built to protect the Bozeman Trail. It's 8 foot high walls enclosed an area of 17 acres. The longer walls on the north-east and south-west sides each measured 1,496 feet in length.
One view of the surrounding area around the fort. The hilly point at the center was known as Pilot Hill, from which a lookout could see for miles around and message the fort of Indian attacks on settlers or travelers on the Bozeman Trail, which would send out patrols to engage the Indians.

This was the main gate of the fort. Just past the flags the terrain drops, so that an enemy attacking would be at a disadvantage having to charge uphill.

One of the corner gun turrets. Every fourth post had
about a 6-inch cutout for rifle support while firing.

 These fences are where the fort walls once stood.

 Another important military engagement took place 4.7 miles away from Ft. Kearny, on August 2, 1867, during Red Cloud’s War, which is known as the Wagon Box Fight.   On the way there we came upon these deer, mother and fawn and a buck.

In July of 1867, after their annual Sun Dance at Indian camps on the Tongue and Rosebud rivers, Lakota Sioux, Northern Cheyenne and Arapaho warriors under Red Cloud resolved to attack he soldiers at the neighboring forts J. C. Smith and Phil Kearny. These would be the first major offensive of the Indians following other major successes in 1866, such as the Fetterman Fight. Unable to decide where to attack first, they split into two bodies, approximately 500 – 1000 Sioux and Cheyenne warriors went to Fort Smith and about an equal number went to Fort Phil Kearny possibly under Red Cloud. In addition to protecting the Bozeman Trail, major tasks of the 350 soldiers and about 100 civilian contractors at Fort Kearny was gathering wood and timber from a pine forest about 5 miles from the fort, and cutting hay for the livestock in prairie areas.  The hay cutters and wood gatherers had been a favorite target of the local Indians warriors since Fort Kearny was built one year earlier. Having conducted several small raids, killing several dozen soldiers and civilians and driving off hundreds of heads of livestock for their own. The soldiers had been poorly equipped with old, muzzle-loading Springfield Model 1861 muskets, but the Indians were unaware that they had recently been issued breech-loading rifles that could fire about 3-4 times faster and could be reloaded from a prone position, while the Indians had at most 200 rifles and about 2 bullets per rifle, so it was mostly bows and arrows as their basic weaponry. These were pretty effective at close range against a moving opponent, but they were ineffective against a well-entrenched and fortified enemy. 

After countless raids, the civilian contractors had built a corral of sorts made up of 14 bodies of wagons (removed from the chassis/axles) and placed on the ground about 60-70 feet long and about 25-30 feet wide. Civilians and soldiers lived in tents outside the corral but could retreat to the corral for a defensive posture.

Then, on July 31, 1867, Capt. James Powell and his command of 51 troops departed the walls of Ft. Kearny on a 30 day assignment to guard the woodcutters. On August 2, Captain Powell decided to divide his troops, 14 soldiers were detailed to escort the wood train to and from the fort, 13 soldiers were detailed to guard the wood-cutting camp about 1 mile from the wagon-box corral, and 24 were left on standby for reliefs. The Indian plan of attack was tried and true, similar to the plan used the previous year to kill Fetterman’s force of 81… a small group of Indians would entice the soldiers to chase them, leading them into an ambush by a larger hidden force. Crazy Horse was among the members of the decoy team.  

The plan broke down when a number of warriors attacked an outlying camp of 4 woodcutters and 4 soldiers. Three soldiers were killed but the rest escaped and warned the soldiers near the corral. The pursuing warriors broke off the pursuit, pausing at the woodcutters camp to loot and seize a large number of horses and mules there, giving the 26 soldiers and 6 civilians in the corral time to prepare for the attack.
The garrison at Fort Kearny learned of the attack from an observation vantage point on a hill, called Pilot Hill, from which they could see for miles all around. Immediately, at about 11:30 am Major Benjamin Smith with 10 wagons and a mountain howitzer (artillery) led 103 soldiers to the wood camp to relieve the soldiers in the wagon boxes.  The Indians were forced to retreat. The new faster-shooting and reloading rifles are cited as the principal reason for their success. Yet, the Wagon Box Fight is prominent in the folklore and literature of the Old West as an example of small group of well-equipped professionals holding off a much larger, but poorly equipped force.

A plaque honoring the event, erected by the State of Wyoming alleges that there were 3,000 Indians and that the number of Indians killed was “between three hundred and eleven hundred” figures that are highly questionable as per historians. All the same, it attests to the hardships and gallantry that existed at that time in our history, which has made our nation what it is today. Today, one gazes at the serenity and beauty of that scenery, and one just cannot imagine what it was like for those people… in those times…White man and Indian alike.

Then we drove out to the scene of the Fetterman Fight (as described above in the Fort Phil Kearny section), which is the land just over the ridge from where the fort was located, over the ridge that prevented  the garrison from seeing that they were under attack, which led to the slaughter of Fetterman's entire command.

Driving through Banner WY on our way to the Fetterman Fight historic site.
Story was named after Nelson Story who used to bring herds of cattle from Texas to feed the settlers of the Plains.

This trail was part of the Bozeman Trail.

These are the last photos we took of Edith 1, taken on that day.
Edith 1 was a good car. We did not trade her due to any lack of satisfaction with her. She was having a battery issue, but the real reason for trading her now was that finding the F-150 exactly the way we had agreed we wanted in the future, (even the same color) also afforded us the opportunity to be able to travel and camp in campgrounds and national/state forests or BLM areas in a more secure and easy way, with a deck above the wheel wells (with storage below) and a topper.  

The next day we went back to Fremont Motors in Sheridan, to see if we could work out a workable deal  on the F-150, to trade the Explorer.  Bill has been a car and truck salesman so he knew the ‘game,’ even impressing the salesman and sales manager with his 'big city tactics'. Eventually, they gave in and gave us our deal. So we now have a new toad… EDITH2

On the 5th, after an enjoyable, though albeit expensive (with the truck purchase) visit we left on Wednesday, August 2… on to the Lazy R Campground in Ranchester, WY, for a few days of R&R and a visit to a Bighorn Scenic Byway and Medicine Wheel.

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