trappers established the first permanent settlement in what would become
the state of Wyoming. Located near the confluence of the Platte and Laramie
rivers, the outpost was originally known as Fort William, in honor of
William Sublette, the captain of the mountain men who first camped here
on the night of 30 May 1834. Sublette’s company, Sublette & Campbell,
established themselves here in an attempt to compete with the already
mighty American Fur Company, owned by John Jacob Astor. Earlier that year,
the two competing companies had reached an agreement:
Sublette would abandon his outposts on the Upper Missouri and,
in exchange, Astor would abandon his trade in the central Rockies. In
Sublette’s estimation, Fort William would provide a perfect location for
conducting trade with the Sioux and Cheyenne.
In the constant
merry-go-round of the fur trade, Sublette quickly sold out to the Rocky
Mountain Fur Company (Fort Lucien) which then quickly sold out to Pierre
Chouteau, who rebuilt the outpost and called it Fort John. But none of
this could forestall the reality that the beavers were trapped out and
the buffalo trade needed the Missouri River for efficiency. Nor did all
the name changes do anything but help to insure the name by which it would
be known forever – Fort Laramie, for its location.
Throughout its history,
Fort Laramie’s most important function was probably its role as the primary
way station on the westward journey. Nearly everyone of any importance
frequented it: Thomas Fitzpatrick,
Jim Bridger, Marcus Whitman, Jason Lee, Narcissa Whitman, Pierre De Smet,
David Mitchell, Alfred Jacob Miller, Francis Parkman… Too many to name.
In 1843, close to a thousand emigrants, including children, passed by
the fort and, in the years that followed, it became increasingly evident
that the primary role of the fort had become supplying the westward expansion.
The U.S. government finally purchased the post, now in a dilapidated and
sorry state, in late 1849. It took on a central position in the government’s
relationship both with the Plains Indian tribes as well as the westward
bound emigrants. In 1851, it was tapped to host a multi-tribe treaty conference
aimed at negotiating rights of free passage through Indian lands for the
emigrants. And, in 1868, it would be the site of the great Sioux Treaty
Council. Troops would remain stationed at Fort Laramie until 1890, witnessing
and participating in all the great dramas of the westward migration and
In 1890, the fort was
abandoned and the 35,000 acre military reserve was opened for homesteading.
Its buildings were sold at auction and a long period of neglect began.
The ghosts around Fort Laramie would not die, however, and in the 1950s,
just as the site seemed doomed to crumble, the National Park Service stepped
in and reclaimed the site and history of Fort Laramie for all the generations
Service Comprehensive Management Plan
The site is a National Historic Landmark, administered by the National
Park Service. There are no known threats.
Goshen County, Wyoming. T26N/R64W.
Follow the signs to the old fort site from the town of Fort Laramie on