I chose the title of this post in deference to my traveling companion, Hondo. In 1930, Hondo (aka John Wayne) starred in The Big Trail. In the movie, a young trapper named Breck Coleman (played by a young John Wayne) leads a wagon train of pioneers along the Oregon Trail. It was Hondo’s first leading role and a big hit for him. Much of the film was shot in Wyoming, where this post is about.
Crossing into Wyoming
As we left Nebraska the terrain began to change. It was still pretty much unpopulated treeless scrub plains. Good for some cattle grazing and that’s about it. The hills became a bigger and had longer ascents.
Our objective and the pioneers, was to get to Fort Laramie. This was another fort established to protect travelers on the Trails. It originally started as a trading post in 1834 and was called Fort John. In 1849, the US army acquired it, renamed it to Fort Laramie, and grew it to be the major military outpost on the western plains. For the trail pioneers, it was a safe place to camp and to resupply.
Fort Laramie played a central role in dealing with the Northern Plains Indian Nations. It hosted two major treaty signing events – The Horse Creek Treaty of 1851 and The Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868. These treaties attempted to provide safety for the pioneers traveling across tribal lands and at the same time provide definitive territory for the tribes.
The Horse Creek Treaty circumstances were somewhat unique. The US Army wanted to secure safe passage for the pioneers across the Indian Territory. The Native Tribes also wanted peace and to have their tribal lands clearly delineated and set aside. The US government invited all the northern plains tribes. It was not just the chiefs who showed up. Everyone came – over 10,000 Native Americans came to Horse Creek. There were 21 native chiefs who signed the Treaty. But the treaty was doomed before it was signed. Congress cut the agreed upon annuity payment funding and changed the term of the agreement. And hostilities continued as the pioneers flooded across the plains.
Today, Fort Laramie is a National Historic Site. Several of the buildings have been restored and are open for touring. The parade grounds are huge. Here’s some pictures from my visit.
Guernsey Historic Sites
About 15 miles west of Fort Laramie, there are two other significant Oregon Trail sites. In the town of Guernsey there’s an impressive set of wagon ruts that go over a small hill. Thousands of steel-rimmed wagon wheels wore a deep path through a set of sand stone. It’s impressive to see.
The other historic site in Guernsey is Register Cliff. This is a large sandstone cliff along the North Platte where the pioneers passed by, Register cliff is a place where many (pioneers and present day folks) carved their names into the soft stone.
Register Cliff was another impressive site.
Our foray into Wyoming got off to a good start. We didn’t have any bad weather, Indian attacks, or calamities like Hondo had to deal with in The Big Trail. But Hondo did get to relive his glory days. I did a see a big diamond back rattler relaxing in the road at Fort Laramie but that was the only bit of danger we came close to.
So, we kept going. Heading west like the pioneers, following The Big Trail along the North Platte, and looking for Fort Casper.