While staying in Buffalo, Wyoming, we saw
a sign indicating a nearby Fort called Fort Phil Kearny. We drove
the 16 or so miles towards
Sheridan on I-90. Then we saw the sign for the Ft. Kearny exit.
The drive was a very pleasant one and the roads leading to the
fort were paved. When we got to "the fort" I got a real
surprise. The only thing still left from the original fort were
the outlines of where the original buildings had been along with
signs indicating which had gone where. Along with this, there was
a museum building with excellent displays giving the story of
Fort Kearny along with the stories of Ft. Reno and Ft. C.F.
Within a year of the Battle of the Little Big Horn, most of the
Sioux, Cheyenne, and Arapahoe had been forced to surrender and
were placed on reservations. Misguided white men tried to make
farmers of the Indians. This sedentary lifestyle was contrary to
the Indians' traditional hunting and gathering. To compound the
problem the Plains were not conducive to agriculture. The prairie
sod produced excellent grass, but without irrigation it could not
produce good crops and irrigation was seldom used.
CONNOR BATTLE - August 29, 1865. In a dawn attack, General
Patrick E. Connor led 330 troops and scouts against Chief Black
Bear's Arapahoe village. Camped on Tongue River, the Indians lost
250 lodges and 1,100 horses.
By a sudden dashing charge, Connor was victorious over superior
numbers, however, he had carried the fighting to women and
children. For this, Connor was relieved of his command. However,
the tactic was to become a common method of fighting along the
Bozeman in the years to come. Over 60 Indians were killed while
Connor lost eight men.
The Sawyers Expedition Fight - August 31 to September 1865. For
thirteen days, Arapahoe Indians fought and harassed Colonel J.A.
Sawyer's road building expedition of several wagons and about 100
men, at the Tongue River Crossing on the Bozeman Trail. This
fight was undoubtedly in retaliation for Connor's dawn attack two
days earlier on an Arapahoe village four miles to the east.
Sawyers abandoned the road project and was attempting to return
to Fort Connor (later renamed Fort Reno) when a relief party came
from General Connor and escorted them on to the Montana gold
Fort Phil Kearny was surrounded by an eight foot tall log
stockade with portals for firing rifles at attackers and
artillery bastions at two of the corners. Most western forts were
open, secured only by their garrison, but Carrington believed
strong fortifications were important, even at the expense of
completing permanent housing before winter. The soldiers cut and
hauled 12,000 logs, finally completing the stockade late in the
fall of 1866.
Garrison Life - was rigidly controlled by the military rank
structures with enlisted men and their wives socially separated
from the officers and their families. The fort was a small town,
with garden, workshop, a sutler's store and jail. For the troops,
monotonous drill was broken by the
drudgery of endless chores under the officers' watchful eyes.
Soldiers wives worked as laundresses or as servants for the
Fight of December 6th, 1866 - On December 6, four miles west of
Ft. Phil Kearny, Indians attacked a wood train as part of their
continual harassment. Several Indians were also on Lodge Trail
Ridge, Colonel Carrington sent out men on every available horse.
He split his command, sending a large force to relieve the wood
train and took a small force himself after the Indians on the
ridge. As both groups passed north of the ridge, they encountered
small parties of Indians waiting to pick off a few soldiers.
Without orders, and sometimes in violation of orders, soldiers
kept breaking away from the main column to participate in their
own little skirmishes or, in some cases, just to hide.
After the battles had continued for a while, Carrington blew
recall. Finally all soldiers returned or were rescued except for
a sergeant and a lieutenant who were killed. The Indians suffered
a loss of ten. The
helter-skelter movements of the soldiers and officers in this
battle showed the lack of training and discipline of the garrison
at Ft. Phil Kearny. They also demonstrated a lack of respect for
the Indian's ability to organize and carry out a definite battle
The Battle of 100 Hands - December 21, 1866 - climaxed a classic
Indian ruse. On December 21, 1866, Captain Fetterman led 81
infantry and cavalrymen to repel an attack on the wood cutting
detail. Taunted by a few mounted warriors, Fetterman allegedly
disobeyed orders and chased the Indians over Lodge Trail Ridge -
directly into the weapons of 2,000 Sioux, Cheyenne, and Arapahos.
The trap snapped shut on the scattered troops, and forty minutes
later, only Indians still lived.
In July of 1867, the Ft. Phil Kearny garrison received new
weapons. The Second Allin Conversion Model 1866 Rifles were
improved Model 1861 Springfields, which had been converted to
breech-loaders firing metallic cartridges. A trapdoor system
allowed quick loading through the breech, while a metal sleeve
inserted in the barrel downsized the bullet to .50 caliber. The
improved accuracy and rapid rate of fire of these rifles played a
crucial role in the Wagon Box Fight. The military already
violating the 1851 treaty
with military excursions, and by establishing Ft. Connor on the
Powder River, attempted to negotiate peace with angered tribes in
1866 at Ft. Laramie. Before these talks even began, Col. Henry B.
Carrington with the 18th infantry regiment, had been ordered to
establish three posts along the Bozeman Trail. Carrington's
arrival with a column consisting of hundreds of soldiers, women
and children, numerous supply wagons and a cattle herd, so
angered the tribes that the most militant warriors walked out of
the negotiation vowing war if Carrington
proceeded on his mission. Carrington continued on re-garrisoning
Ft. Connor, and naming it Ft. Reno; establishing Ft. Phil Kearny
as district headquarters and building Ft. C.F. Smith on the Big
Horn River. His mission was to protect travelers from hostile
warriors of the Sioux, Cheyenne and Arapahoe tribes It
became obvious that the forts were inadequately manned or armed
to perform this mission. Some historians theorize, without
documentation, that establishing the forts was designed to draw
the warriors away from Union Pacific railroad construction
The Wagon Box Fight - Aug 1867 - saw the new weapons used in
combat. Wood cutting parties, still always under threat of
attack, had prudently arranged wagon boxes, without wheels, into
a defensive corral. On August 2, 1867, hundreds of warriors
attacked. The 32 defenders fired a volley, but when the Indians
swept down while the troops reloaded, they were stunned by a
second volley on the heels of the first, and then a third. The
new Springfields held the field. Generations of mistrust and a
lack of understanding between the two
peoples caused minor incidents over the years. These came to a
head and the Indians were finally overpowered by the slaughter of
Dull Knife's Band of Cheyenne at Fort Robinson, Nebraska in 1879,
and the quelling of the Sioux unrest at Wounded Knee, South
Dakota in 1890.
Due to an inadequate subsistence base, the tribes were reduced to
the poverty level. Only recently have the Indians begun to
recover economically. This recovery has been precipitated by
energy crisis which has increased mineral extraction on tribal
lands. Johnson County was established in 1875. The town of
Buffalo, located on Clear Creek just downstream from Fort
McKinney, was charted in 1884 and became the county seat. Farming
and livestock grazing were the early industries. By 1910, the
population of the county had reached 3,453. The 1884 Legislature
also chartered the town of Sheridan and in 1888, Sheridan County
was formed. An excellent farming area, the county also produced
fine cattle and horses. The railroad reached Sheridan in 1892 and
coal mining began on a large scale. The county had a population
of 16,324 in 1910, with Sheridan, the county seat, boasting
nearly 10,000. Smaller town throughout the area were also settled
as ranching or mining communities. Some of the earliest ones
include Kaycee, Big Horn, Slack, Dietz, and Monarch.
Archaeology at Fort Kearny - The watercolor of Fort Phil Kearny
by Walter Sies depicts the fort in 1867. Immediately following
the abandonment of the fort by the military in 1868, the Indians
burned the fort. While nothing remains above ground, the portions
of the stockade below ground level did not burn. In 1971, Dr.
George Frison, WY State
Archaeologist, conducted test excavations and discovered parts of
the charred original stockade. The log walls, main gate, and the
base of the flagpole were buried three feet below. This allowed
the archaeologists to identify the exact location of the fort. An
earlier excavation done by Gene Galloway in 1961 after a road
improvement project produced a collection of ammunition, buttons,
nails and eating utensils dating from the military period. Such
discoveries enhance our knowledge of the fort - its design and
the lifestyle of its inhabitants.
The treaty of 1868 ended Red Cloud's War. He refused to talk
peace until the three forts were gone. Only armed military
convoys dared travel the Bozeman Trail. As the transcontinental
railroad neared Utah, it offered a faster, and much safer, route
to Montana's gold fields. Orders came to abandon the forts, and
by the end of August, 1868, they had been burned. On November 6,
Red Cloud rode victorious into Fort Laramie to sign a peace
As we prepared to leave Ft. Kearny I realized that I had seen
another part of the puzzle of the past. I sometimes wonder how we
survived much of what we went through in the past. However,
survive we did, and I feel that we have come out of it stronger
and hopefully wiser.