Fort Caspar
   Originally founded in 1859 along the banks of the North Platte River as a trading post and toll bridge on the Oregon Trail, the post was later taken over by the Army and named Platte Bridge Station to protect emigrants and the telegraph line against raids from Lakota and Cheyenne in the ongoing wars between those nations and the United States.
   The area where Platte Bridge Station was located had been the site of various temporary Army encampments over a period of years before the establishment of the fort, or "station" itself. The fort was located on the south side of the North Platte, near the western edge of present-day Casper, at one several local points where the Emigrant Trail crossed from the south side to the north side of the river. In 1847, during the first Mormon wagon train to present-day Utah, Brigham Young commissioned a ferry at the site for later emigrants. The ferry consisted of cottonwood dugout canoes and planking for a deck, with two oars and a rudder. On June 19, Young named nine men to remain to operate the ferry while the remainder of the party continued the journey westward. A group of Mormons returned to the site each summer between 1847 and 1852 to operate the ferry. The ferry was moved to a different spot on the North Platte in North Casper in 1849. It was eventually replaced with a rope-and-pulley system that could make the crossing in five minutes.
   In following years, trader John Baptiste Richard established a trading post several miles downriver of the crossing. The U.S. Army established its first presence in the area in 1855, erecting Fort Clay near Richard's trading post. In 1859, when the site was part of the Nebraska Territory, Louis Guinard built a competing bridge at the trading post, called the Platte Bridge Station, at the site of the old Mormon Ferry crossing. From 1860–1861, the Pony Express operated a station at the site.
   By the middle 1860s, the increasing presence of emigrants and other white settlers in the region began to cause friction with the Lakota and Cheyenne. In response, and partly to protect the new telegraph line, the Army began increasing its presence in the region in 1861 by sending a detachment to guard Guinard's bridge. Many of these troops, who created a series of "stations" along the Oregon trail, were from various state units raised during the Civil War. In 1862 the Army purchased the Guinard's Platte Bridge station.
   Companies A, B, C, and D of the First Battalion of the 6th Ohio Volunteer Cavalry (O.V.C.) reached Fort Laramie on May 30, 1862. Regimental commander Lieutenant Colonel William O. Collins received orders on June 3 to proceed with three companies west along the trail to South Pass. His purpose was to protect the employees and property of the Overland Mail Company and the Pacific Telegraph.
   During the first week of June 1862, the troops from Company D, 6th O.V.C. began establishing an outpost near Guinard’s bridge. Soldiers spent much of the summer repairing the telegraph line damaged by raiding Shoshone, Lakota, Cheyenne, and Arapaho. The raiding was so successful that on July 11, 1862, the Postmaster General of the United States ordered all mail carriers to abandon this portion of the route in favor of the Overland Trail through southern Wyoming.
   By the end of 1862, Platte Bridge Station had taken shape. On October 27, Captain Peter Van Winkle reported that he had 28 men, completed quarters and stabling, and rations to last until April. On November 1, Van Winkle reported three officers and 60 men for duty, two on detached service, one sick, three absent sick, and four awaiting discharge. He had 62 serviceable horses.
   In July 1863, Collins organized a Second Battalion of Ohio Volunteer Cavalry consisting of Companies E, F, G, and H. The State of Ohio consolidated it with the first battalion to form the 11th Ohio Volunteer Cavalry. Because his regiment was 50 men short when he recruited the new companies in 1863, Collins gave Confederate prisoners of war a chance to join. Men enlisted in this manner were known as "Galvanized Yankees." By October 10, the troops arrived at their new posts.
   Companies A, B, C, and D of the 11th O.V.C. were scheduled to muster out at Omaha, Nebraska, in April 1865. To fill the gap, the 11th Kansas Volunteer Cavalry was sent out. The Kansas troops arrived in the area April 19 and established regimental headquarters about six miles from Platte Bridge Station at a temporary tent camp called Camp Dodge. Additional reinforcements in the region included members of both the 3rd and 6th U.S. Volunteer Infantry Regiments, made up of “Galvanized Yankees.”
   In response to the 1864 Sand Creek Massacre of Black Kettle’s Cheyenne by Colonel Chivington’s militia in Colorado Territory, Plains tribes increased raids along the trails the following spring. In July 1865, Lakota, Cheyenne, and Arapaho gathered to attack Platte Bridge Station. On July 26, Lieutenant Caspar Collins led a small detachment from Platte Bridge Station to escort an army supply train traveling from Sweetwater Station. Less than a mile from the bridge, Collins’ men were ambushed and had to fight their way back to the fort. Five soldiers including Collins were killed in the Battle of Platte Bridge. Sergeant Amos Custard and 24 men with the supply wagons were attacked later that day five miles west of the fort. Only three soldiers survived the Battle of Red Buttes.
   On October 26, new troops from Company A, C, F, and G of the 6th West Virginia Volunteer Cavalry arrived at Platte Bridge Station. The October post return for 1865 reported the following troops on duty: nine officers and 82 men of the 6th West Virginia, two officers and 149 men of the 11th Ohio, and three officers and 11 men of the 6th Infantry.
   More troops necessitated a new fort, which the army began building in the fall of 1865. Over the next two years, the army built more than 20 new buildings to house 400-500 soldiers. By Special Order 49 dated November 21, 1865, Major General John Pope changed the name of Platte Bridge Station to named after 2nd Lt. Caspar Collins killed while leading a small detachment to escort an army supply train to the station.
 In July 1865, accompanied by survivors of the Sand Creek Massacre which occurred the previous November in Colorado, a party of several thousand Cheyenne and Sioux, approached Platte Bridge Station from the north intending to attack the soldiers camped there. They had previously scouted the area and selected it because the soldiers camped there were not in a fort but camped in tents on the south side of the river. Initially only a small party of Indians showed themselves to the troops, the remainder of the Indians remaining concealed. Knowing that an eastern bound Army wagon train was due to come in, the officers of the post discussed attempting to relieve the post and drive off the Cheyenne and Sioux warriors, so that the wagon train could come safely in. Lieutenant Caspar Collins of the 11th Ohio Cavalry volunteered to lead the effort, with the troops involved in it being from the 11th Ohio Cavalry and 11th Kansas Cavalry.
   Among those leading the Indian warriors were Red Cloud and the famed warrior Roman Nose. George Bent, the half Cheyenne son of William Bent who survived the Sand Creek Massacre, participated in the battle as a Cheyenne warrior, and later wrote about it in his letters.
   On the first day the Indians were unsuccessful in luring the troops into an ambush. On the second day Collins and his small troop crossed north over the Platte Bridge to attack a party of hostile Indians who had approached the north side of the bridge. The Indians had shown a few warriors in order to lure the soldiers into an ambush while concealing large bands of warriors near the bridge and over the crest of the hills. When Collins followed the small party of visible Indians into the hills he encountered a large force of Indians but when he attempted to flee to the bridge found his retreat cut off by another large party of warriors. In the ensuing fight to get back to the station he lost control of his horse and it raced straight at the attacking Indians. Survivors told of seeing Lt. Collins with an arrow in his forehead, his reigns in his teeth and a pistol in each hand charging straight at the oncoming Indians. He was later found with twenty four arrows in his body. Their bodies and those of their dead horses laying along the road for the space of a mile. The battle lasted only a few minutes with the Sioux and Cheyenne suffering only a few casualties. However, they were prevented from crossing Platte Bridge into the Army camp due it being guarded on the south side by a mountain howitzer. The battle became known as the Battle of Platte Bridge Station.
   Major General John Pope changed the name of Platte Bridge Station to Fort Casper. General Pope chose the lieutenant's first name (and misspelled it) because there was already a Fort Collins in Colorado named for his father.
   On June 28, 1866, Captain Richard Morris of the 18th U.S. Infantry took command of Fort Casper. The first post return indicated that one officer and 50 men of Company A and one officer and 65 men of Company C were in residence. On October 3, new troops from Company E, 2nd U.S. Cavalry arrived to reinforce the garrison.
   A factor in the decline of Fort Casper was the construction of the Union Pacific Railroad and with it a new transcontinental telegraph line. It reached Cheyenne in the fall of 1867 and would soon spell the end of organized migration along the Oregon/California/Mormon Pioneer Trail corridor. As a result, the army began to establish new military installations to protect the railroad route across southern Wyoming. Hostilities had also increased along the Bozeman Trail, and a new post was being constructed near present-day Douglas, Wyoming. When orders were issued to abandon Fort Casper on October 19, 1867, troops and “all useful materials,” including buildings, were transferred to Fort Fetterman.
   Homesteaders and ranchers arrived in the Casper area by the late 1870s, and the grounds of Fort Casper became part of the CY Ranch. In 1936, Casper citizens and the Works Progress Administration reconstructed Platte Bridge Station using sketches made by Caspar Collins and others in the 1860s. Reconstructions of the Mormon ferry and a section of the Guinard bridge are also part of the site.

   The Army officially renamed the post Fort Casper to honor Collins, using his first name of Caspar since an existing post in Colorado was already called Fort Collins, after Collins' father. In response to the attacks, the Army established a permanent garrison of 100 troops at the site.
   The wagon train itself (Companies D & H, 11th Kansas Cavalry), commanded by Sergeant Custard (Company H), was attacked the same day, the soldiers being transported being completely overrun with only a few survivors. The soldiers were in wagons, without horses, being on their way east. According to the Indians the battle lasted about half an hour with one person escaping, a teamster, 22 troopers killed and 8 Indian warriors. Many Indian warriors were wounded. The Indians, as was their custom, took no prisoners. That battle became known as the Battle of Red Buttes.

  

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Copyright - Trails to the Past - Thursday, 23-Oct-2014 09:51:04 MDT