Podcast Episode 74: The Oregon Trail’s most famous stop – Fort Laramie

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In an enlightening episode of Talk with History, we embarked on a captivating journey through the past to uncover the profound history of Fort Laramie, Wyoming, and its integral role along the Oregon Trail. As a pivotal crossroads of exploration, Fort Laramie not only provided respite for pioneers braving the Oregon Trail’s challenges but also served as a site of intricate diplomatic negotiations with Indigenous nations.

This exploration underscored the intertwined narratives of courage and cooperation, reminding us that history is a dynamic force shaping our present. The episode emphasized the importance of recognizing history’s living influence and staying curious as we continue to Talk with History.

Video from Fort Laramie


Ep74 – Fort Laramie

[00:00:00] Scott: Welcome to Talk With History. I’m your host, Scott, here with my wife and historian, Jen. On this podcast, we give you insights into our history inspired world travels, YouTube channel journey, and examine history through deeper conversations with the curious, the explorers, and the history lovers out there.[00:00:35] I’m going to ask a favor that’s a little bit different to our listeners today. I want you guys, if you’re listening, To take a screenshot of your podcast player right now, take a screenshot and then text that to a friend that you think might enjoy this episode, because we’re going to talk about an interesting topic and I’m sure you saw it from the episode title today, but I bet there’s plenty of folks that probably played.[00:00:59] Oregon Trail when they were kids. So take a screenshot real quick. You can text it to a friend later, tell them to look us up and listen to this episode, because I think they’re going to enjoy it.[00:01:36] Jenn: Now, [00:01:36] Scott: today we’re embarking on a journey to the rugged landscapes of Wyoming where the echoes of the past still resonate through the walls of Fort Laramie. Our spotlight shines on an iconic waypoint of the American West where cultures collide, treaters were signed. And the dreams of a new life were kindled along the Oregon Trail.[00:02:02] Nestled at the crossroads of adventure and opportunity, Fort Laramie holds within its weathered bricks and timbers a saga that shaped the destiny of a nation. From its humble beginnings as a fur trading post in the early 19th century, to its pivotal role as a military garrison and treaty ground, this historic site witnessed tales of hardship, Camaraderie and transformation.[00:02:28] Now Jen, we got to walk for Laramie. It was a very windy 

[00:02:32] History of Fort Laramie

[00:02:32] Scott: day. Windy Wyoming. [00:02:33] Jenn: But tell us about it. So, Fort Laramie, it holds a special place in my heart because growing up in Cheyenne, this was a, probably a yearly stop for your field trips. Sure. And as you age, you learn different stories of the fort. Yeah.[00:02:50] But, uh, You kind of went at a young age, I think fourth, fifth grade is when I first went out there, and I remember learning, you know, about the families that came through on the Oregon Trail, and as you got older, you learn more about the cultures of the American Indian, and the soldier, and the treaties, and a lot of the survival, uh, that happened during that time and the change.[00:03:11] But, um, yeah, Fort Laramie, I also played Oregon trail a lot and I actually have a handheld game of it that I don’t even let the kids play. I got that for you for Christmas. Yes. And so Fort Laramie is very significant cause it’s a stop on the Oregon trail, but also on the Mormon trail. And on the California trail, so there’s like three trails that kind of go through that area of people who were homesteading, making their way out West and it would come through that area.[00:03:41] Yeah. [00:03:42] Scott: And actually for the video, that’s one of the things we show early in the video was kind of a map showing the convergence of some of these trails and how they, how everything really converged at Fort Laramie. Yeah, [00:03:52] Jenn: it did because it was pretty much the last stop before it’s going to get. Really rough.[00:03:58] Yeah before the Rockies. Before the Rockies. Before the mountains. And so Fort Laramie started out and I want to talk about the name so in 1815 there it’s along a river there and a lot of fur trapping is happening in the West for beaver pelts because everyone has their fur hats and there was a fur trapper named Jacques Oh, interesting.[00:04:24] And he went out to trap in like, um, 1918 or 1920 and he was never seen again. And the story goes that the Arapaho, who were one of the tribes out there at the time, uh, killed him and put his body in a beaver dam in that river. Huh. And so they called it the Laramie. River. And so you’re gonna get Fort Laramie, you’re gonna get the city of Laramie, all of that is named after that fur trader [00:04:55] Scott: of 1815.[00:04:57] Wow, now that’s an interesting one. That’s a little bit different. It’s not just named after some famous person who was out there first and kind of planted their flag, so.[00:05:12] Jenn: At about the 1930s, so about 15 years later, this becomes a very significant stop. for the fur trade. Yeah, 1830s. 1830s. Oh, sorry. Yes. Yes. 1830s. So about 15 years later, 1830s. So when you think of the remnant with Leonardo DiCaprio, right? These fur trappers who are out there making their living by hunting wildlife and buffalo and the hides.[00:05:38] And the beaver pelt, and because it’s right there along a river, and I talk about with this river, there’s life. This is a place where trading is happening between the white fur traders and the American Indians that are out there at the time. And so it gets started as Fort William in 1830. And that’s kind of what it is for a significant amount of time and really until about 15 years later.[00:06:04] when the U. S. Army will purchase it in 1849. And that’s when it really becomes Fort Laramie. And that’s when the Army will come on and it’s going to become, uh, you know, a trading post, a diplomatic site, and then it’s the military installations that are there. Well, [00:06:21] Scott: and it makes sense to me that The military would kind of establish itself there because, you know, us being in the military and the Navy, right?[00:06:30] Navy bases are on strategic coastal areas. Same thing with army, army forts, right? So it makes sense to me that there, it’s such a conversion, such a central point in that. Western part of what wasn’t even the United States yet. No, you know, it was really just kind of a wild Western territories That they would they would set up shop there because it was such a kind of a strategic spot.[00:06:54] Sure. [00:06:55] Jenn: So if you watch 1883 or anything like that on TV you see how the wagon trains are very vulnerable as they’re heading out west for attacks from so Fort Laramie the military kind of set it up there for a stop where you could be safe, you could [00:07:15] Scott: regroup. Because there wasn’t any [00:07:16] Jenn: treaties yet. There wasn’t any treaties yet.[00:07:18] So the first treaty would happen in 1851. And that treaty does happen because of the unrest and the attacks that are happening. And there is a compromise where the American Indians won’t attack, uh, and over 10, 000 people from the Northern Plains gathered near the fort and they pledged to allow, uh, the immigrants or the, um, the settlers to have safe passage and return for 50, 000 in antiquity goods.[00:07:46] But two years later, the piece is broken. I mean, this is just, you know, this is a time of unrest of cultures clashing in America. Uh, and you’re going to get during this time in just 1949 alone, like that one year where they first start the fort, you get. 20, 000 to 40, 000, uh, people coming through there and we show the ways they traveled.[00:08:11] The Mormons had those carts, those hand [00:08:13] Scott: carts, hand drawn carts. I mean, it’s not like they had a bunch of horse, horse drawn carts. I mean, they had some oxen, like you were pointing out in the video, but it was mostly like, them carrying it by hand. [00:08:23] Jenn: Carrying it by hand. So when you think about this, I want people to think like it wasn’t the horses.[00:08:28] It’s oxen. Oxen are a little more hardy. And not everybody has that because not everyone people are trying to make their fortune. So they don’t have really a lot of money to have those things. And plus I show the wagon and all the things that You would put in a wagon. It’s just more weight. It’s more time and people would leave those things along the way [00:08:52] Scott: And I thought it was interesting too that you pointed out with kind of some close up shots of the wagon I didn’t realize that the wheels had metal rims around them [00:09:00] Jenn: Yeah, so they’re made of wood but they have metal rims around them and that’s again for the sturdiness of the wheel and And it gives you longevity of the wheel.[00:09:09] But if you throw a wheel, just like if you play Oregon Trail, if you throw a wheel, break a wheel, you have to fix the wheel or have another wheel, or you have to leave the wagon behind, basically. And so a lot of people are walking. There’s not, you know, some people are riding horses. And we’ve talked about different characters in history, Cody, Buffalo Cody, and people who are giving assistance to wagon trains.[00:09:32] But a lot of people are walking and the handcart is just a remnant of that. Yeah. [00:09:36] Scott: And, and it was. It was pretty neat being at Fort Laramie because not only were there the new, obviously the newer buildings like the visitor center and things like that, but there were the remnants of these old buildings.[00:09:47] Like one of the shots, some of my favorite shots that I was able to get that kind of gave you the feel for what it must have looked like was the old hospital. Yes. You know, now is the old hospital is literally just some like ruins of like four or five walls, but there, there are some pretty old structures that are still [00:10:03] Jenn: standing there.[00:10:04] So they have kind of a mix of, uh, of ruins and restored structures. So there is, the hospital is ruins, but then they have some barracks that have been restored, but there were more than just that one building of barracks, but the restored barracks, you get a sense for what it looked like. They, they put cots in there, they put the tables in there, they put places where the men ate, and they show you also the tents because that also was overflow.[00:10:32] And then they have officer housing, but they have ruins of officer housing. But one of the oldest structures. And I think it’s the oldest structure in Wyoming is there at Fort Laramie. It’s old Bedlam. Yeah, that’s right. So old Bedlam was a bachelor officer’s quarters. It was built in 1849. And this is Wyoming’s oldest documented building that is still standing.[00:10:55] And like I said, it was bachelor officers quarters in the 1850s. And then it was a post headquarters 1860s. And they have it kind of recreated. So you can look in the window, you know, look in the doors and see what [00:11:08] Scott: And if I remember right you said it got the name Old Bedlam because of all this noise and sound Yeah, kept coming out of all the rowdiness that kept coming out because it was bachelors quarters, right?[00:11:18] So they’re having a grand [00:11:19] Jenn: old time which another thing I talk about is how Unless it was, they say, the big two months of when people were really coming through Fort Laramie. Probably summertime. It was boring. It really was a boring place to be stationed. And I think [00:11:34] Scott: when I did the research and I put it on the video, it was about three to four hundred men that were stationed there at any given time.[00:11:41] Probably, it probably fluxed a little bit there, but that’s a good chunk to just be sitting. And driving up to Fort Laramie was kind of my first time driving through Wyoming. Um, I may have driven in parts of Wyoming when I was really, really young, but driving, you know, from there, we had drove up from Cheyenne and it’s just vast open spaces.[00:12:04] Like I’ve never. So, driving out west in that part of the country, like you truly feel smaller out there. You get a real sense of how just grandiose everything is and then you get up to Fort Laramie and like, man, Fort Laramie is relatively well known and a lot of people kind of associate it with, with the Oregon Trail as a, as a stopping point.[00:12:26] But there is nothing around [00:12:29] Jenn: there. So when you hit it. Think about how excited people were because this is a like a communication hub. This is like The principal military post on the Northern Plains. So this is where it’s stage lines are gonna come through Pony Express is gonna come through The Transcontinental Telegraph, they’re all gonna pass through Fort Laramie.[00:12:52] And you saw how windy it was that day. [00:12:55] Scott: It was so frustrating from a filming standpoint because it was so windy it actually made it a little bit less pleasant to actually walk around and try to enjoy it. Um, I mean, it’s tough, but you were used to it, right? Cause you grew up there. [00:13:06] Jenn: That’s typical Wyoming.[00:13:08] And so we always would say windy Wyoming because it’s the plains. So when you live on the plains, there’s nothing stopping the wind. And so it can, the wind just whips through. Now it’s not cold wind. It’s like a warm wind. It’s kind of like a Santa Ana kind of thing if you live in California. But it’s very windy, but it just was interesting to to be there and to be out there and to see it As an adult after coming so many times as a children as a child but they they have again, it’s a mix of restored buildings and ruins, but they they had a demonstration where they fired a cannon And the Visitor’s Center is like an old, um, warehouse, stores warehouse, so that’s where the Visitor’s Center is now.[00:13:51] And they have a, they had a teepee out there, so you could see the American Indians who would come there. [00:13:56] Scott: And I will say one thing before we move on to kind of some of the other structures. The Visitor’s Center, so for our kids, we tend to take, you know, our kids to the Visitor’s Center so they can do whatever kind of booklet that they have for them to do for a Junior Ranger thing.[00:14:09] It’s usually some sort of scavenger hunt. The scavenger hunt at Fort Laramie is no joke. Freaking joke. I mean, we weren’t able to finish the whole thing because it’s because everything’s so spread out because there’s so much space there They don’t have to be close and confined. So I’m tracking around with our eight year old daughter And we weren’t able to finish the whole thing.[00:14:28] Jenn: It’s a lot because it was prayed ground there It [00:14:31] Scott: was so much there’s so much that you could spend an entire day there with you with kids [00:14:36] Jenn: easily well and like You’re thinking of all these families coming through on the Oregon Trail and they’re going to set up their little camps, and so they’re going to want a place along the river, they’re going to want some area, they’re going to want some space, so that’s kind of what it’s set up for.[00:14:52] We, some of the significant things that come out of Fort Laramie, we talk about pretty often is the Treaty of 1868 and that treaty is the one that is going to be controversial for the Sioux Wars. This is the one that sets up the actual reservation for the Black Hills for the Lakota Sioux. And when that’s broken, when gold is discovered and the Lakota Sioux leave, that is the treaty that they’re trying to enforce.[00:15:19] Uh, but they amend it and they break down that one reservation. in, on the Black Hills into the six other reservations leading up to Little Bighorn leading up to Little Bighorn. So it’s always the Treaty of Fort Laramie that they’re talking about. So it is a diplomatic site in that regard. It’s a well known area.[00:15:39] It’s where the American Indians would travel to, to meet with the government and the people who are representing the government there to, to [00:15:48] Scott: negotiate those treaties. Oh, yeah. I mean, and it was some relatively well known Native American leaders. I mean, I don’t know if it was. Sitting bowl or red cloud.[00:15:57] Yeah, so some very well known even even to us to the average. Yeah, you know Uh, American, you know, kind of growing up here, here in the states that, that met there to sign these treaties.

[00:16:10] Ties to American history

[00:16:10] Jenn: That’s kind of one of the things I really liked about Fort Laramie. It’s, it’s tied to a lot of American history. We talked about calamity Jane was at Fort Laramie, she’s actually was at the hospital there. Uh, this is where she’s gonna meet with the wagon train with Wild Bill Hickok, and they’re gonna leave from Fort Laramie on their way up to Deadwood.[00:16:29] South Dakota. Uh, there’s an old bordello that’s about a mile from Fort Laramie. We didn’t happen to hit that, but that is, uh, a, a, a national site and, uh, that Calamity Jane worked out of that bordello. So, I mean, of course, where there’s soldiers, there’s, [00:16:48] Scott: there’s business, there’s old [00:16:49] Jenn: doves. Um, and so the Fort is just very.[00:16:54] busy and prosperous during these Oregon Trail years, but by 1890 it’s when it’s it’s closed It’s not there. No one’s coming through much anymore. It’s it’s sold at auction I mean, [00:17:09] Scott: is that largely because had the railroads kind of gotten set up by then was it just taking it past them? [00:17:14] Jenn: Sure. So after the railroad was complete It, it kind of passed Fort Laramie, so the fort’s importance is going to be diminished.[00:17:23] Uh, the last soldier is going to leave April 20th, 1890, but, um, in 1938, President Roosevelt is going to proclaim Fort Laramie a national monument, and then it’s designated a National Historic Site in 1960. So it really doesn’t look so much different from that. You can tell that they’re working on some things and preserving some things, but really when you go there.[00:17:46] It really is a snapshot of probably what it looked like when it closed there in 1890. And that [00:17:52] Scott: really was a lot of these places we got to visit in the West was really neat because you really got to have that feel right. It didn’t they haven’t built up Fort Laramie that much and there’s nothing really around it.[00:18:04] And I can’t really think of any like brand new structures that probably weren’t. Where a former structure would have been you know, so there was a lot of the officers quarters Those ones were still built up and then they had some ruins for other kind of you had pointed out in the video some Administrative buildings.[00:18:20] Yes that were near the officers quarter one building that looked like there was there had been a theater there Was it there a school like a school at one point and actually they talk I don’t think it made it into the video, but they had talked a little bit about, um, the schooling there. It wasn’t standardized.[00:18:37] And so they were kind of like fighting for their own things. And that was something that, that led to standardization in the future within Wyoming. Um, so there, you really got, got a snapshot being there because it’s just so spread out. It’s like, you feel like you’re in the middle of the plains. You can [00:18:53] Jenn: tell that, uh, land is not an issue.[00:18:55] Not at all. There’s, so the guardhouse is there, the old guardhouse and the boys got a kick out of that, our boys, because it was built to hold 40 prisoners, but it often held a lot more. So you can imagine people getting rowdy and things like that. Very long, like makeshift. beds just to like, uh, basically, uh, put people in, in one cell and lock them all in there together.[00:19:18] Yeah. I [00:19:19] Scott: did enjoy some of what they did to kind of preserve and kind of recreate, you know, like the post office and the general store, because you even said like the men there would be so bored sometimes that they were writing a letter every day or every other day. And the Pony Express coming through there, they could deliver mail on a, I assume on a fairly regular business.[00:19:38] But we got to walk through some of the officers quarters and captains quarters. And they had a lot of artifacts that looked, if not from the period, you know, very well recreated. You know, dresses and, and. You know, kids toys and rocking horses and all the stuff. Well, [00:19:56] Jenn: because there were, like, the Lieutenant Colonel and the post surgeon brought their families.[00:20:02] So, there was, you know, women there with their children, so they did, they showed what that would look like if you had your family there. And I even think the post surgeon, he had lived there for something like, uh, 10 years with his family. Wow. So they spent a long time at Fort Laramie. What’s neat about Fort Laramie too is the river kind of hugs it like a U.[00:20:24] So the fort is inside that so you can imagine there’s lots of riverbank for people to wash their clothing and get water for cooking or you know for cleanliness and so that is what is so useful about the fort with all of these homesteaders, immigrants, you know trail People coming through is all that access to water along the the river.[00:20:50] So, uh, yeah It’s it’s it’s very neat. I definitely say visit. It’s free National Park Service and They have people again who are recreating it if you watch something like dances with wolves Something like that. Like it gives you the very much the feel of that era. It, [00:21:07] Scott: it absolutely does. And if you were kind of in that neck of the country where you’re kind of venturing up towards Little Bighorn or in the Black Hills, South Dakota, Mount Rushmore area.[00:21:19] Yeah. You’re coming from Denver. Coming from Denver. Heading up. Yeah. It’s, I mean, it’s, and, and, you know, by the way, like all this, the speed limits on the freeways out there are like 80 miles an hour. 80 miles an hour. Yeah. That, that I’ve. I guess I should have expected that, but that was just a funny aside.[00:21:35] It’s like, it’s literally 80 and people are doing 85, almost 90 everywhere out there. Cause you’re like, the roads are huge. You’re just smacking, you’re driving through like these vast expanses. It was, it was very interesting.[00:21:51] I hope that you’ve enjoyed our brief journey through the storied past of Fort Laramie, Wyoming and the indelible mark it left on the history of the American West. From the brave pioneers who ventured forth on the Oregon trail to the complex interactions between cultures at Fort Laramie. These narratives remind us that history is not a distant echo, but a living force that continues to shape our present.[00:22:20] As we stand in the footsteps of those who came before, we’re reminded of the challenges they faced, the bonds they forged, and the decisions they made that resonate across generations. Thank you for listening to the Talk With History podcast, and please reach out to us at our website, talkwithhistory. com, but more importantly, Remember, take a screenshot of your podcast player, send that picture to a friend that you think had played Oregon Trail at one point in time and died of dysentery or broke their leg, or made it to Fort Laramie, which I think you said was the halfway point in the game.[00:22:58] We rely on you, our community, to grow and we appreciate[00:23:06] you you

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The mountains are calling, let me grab a jacket and my kids.

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