Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Fort Laramie: Oasis on the Oregon Trail - Part Two

parade ground

As the years passed, Fort Laramie's function changed, and so did its buildings. When the threat of war with the Native Americans diminished after the Treaty of 1868, more officers brought their wives to the fort, and that brought more changes. While bachelor officers might share rooms in Old Bedlam, married officers needed houses, and so a number of buildings were constructed along what became known as Officers’ Row. The captain’s house, which has been reconstructed, is a two-family dwelling representative of the era. 

captain's house

So too is what has been called the Burt House, named after Lt. Col. Andrew Burt, who served two tours of duty at the fort.

Burt House and Sutler's Store

During the fort’s final decade, boardwalks lined Officers’ Row. Houses were surrounded by picket fences, many yards had flower gardens, and women strolled along the boardwalks carrying parasols. There were even birdbaths. But, since this was Wyoming with its infamous winds, the birdbaths weren’t the typical basin-on-a-pedestal style one might find in an eastern garden. Instead, they were circular depressions in the ground, ringed by bricks or stones. 



That era ended when the Army no longer needed a large military presence in the area. In 1890 Fort Laramie was decommissioned and its buildings sold at public auction. The fort might have become nothing more than a memory, but a group of Wyoming residents was determined that this part of American history not be lost. Thanks to their efforts, the State of Wyoming acquired the fort in 1937, and in 1938 it became part of the National Park System.

 Fort Laramie is now a National Historic Site and a must-see spot for anyone interested in the pioneers’ travels as well as life on the early frontier. Portions of the old fort have been reconstructed, providing an opportunity to see both the interior and the exterior of representative buildings. And while only foundations of other buildings remain, those foundations give visitors an idea of how extensive the fort was.

Many things have changed over the almost two centuries that a fort has existed on this site in eastern Wyoming, but what hasn’t changed is the beauty of the surrounding area and the feeling of history that surrounds visitors to the fort that welcomed so many emigrants.

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