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In 1863, to get to the gold strike in Montana, two miners laid out a trail along the east slope of the Big Horn Mountains, right through prime hunting grounds of the Sioux. Named after one of the miners, the Bozeman Trail was soon nicknamed The Bloody Bozeman. In 1866, while negotiating a peace treaty with the Sioux to allow travelers to use the road, the U.S. Government also sent a wagon convoy of military and civilian tradesmen to build a series of three forts along the trail.
Fort Phil Kearny
Fort Phil Kearny was built in the northern part of Johnson County and became the headquarters for the 18th U.S. Infantry. This angered the natives of the area even more and attacks on travelers of the road and the fort were common occurrences. In 1868 the government negotiated another treaty which resulted in closing the forts. Shortly after the military abandoned the fort, Sioux and Cheyenne warriors burned the “hated fort” to the ground.
“Give me 80 men and I can ride through the entire Sioux nation.” Captain William J. Fetterman is credited with allegedly making this boast upon arriving at Fort Phil Kearny, located in northern Wyoming along the Bozeman Trail. A battle-proven officer of the Civil War, Fetterman had no experience fighting Indians on the western prairies. On December 21, 1866, Captain Fetterman and exactly 80 men would ride out of Fort Phil Kearny into an ambush laid out by a combined Sioux, Northern Cheyenne, and Arapaho force numbering more than 1,000 warriors. Fetterman and his entire command were annihilated.
The Wagon Box Fight
With a continuous need for building materials and fuel, soldiers from nearby Fort Phil Kearny escorted civilian woodcutters daily to the pinery, approximately five miles north of the fort. The freight wagons used to haul wood were driven to the site and the wagon boxes were removed and arranged in an oval shape to be used as a corral for livestock and for protection in the event of an Indian attack.
On the morning of August 2, 1867, the wagon box corral was attacked by Sioux and Cheyenne Indians including the legendary leaders Red Cloud and Crazy Horse. There were 26 soldiers and 6 civilians defending the corral against approximately 800 Indians. Vastly outnumbered but equipped with recently issued breech-loading rifles, the small group within the corral was able to repel the attackers.
Johnson County Cattle War
Competition for grazing land was fierce in the Old West. Wealthy ranchers controlled huge tracts of public land and water rights. As homesteaders moved into Wyoming violence sometimes erupted. In April of 1892 in Johnson County, after several months of isolated attacks on homesteaders by wealthy ranchers, the violence came to a head.
The Wyoming Stockgrowers Association, made up of the state’s wealthiest ranchers, hired more than two dozen Texas gunmen to push the homesteaders out of Johnson County. When the hired guns, known as the “Invaders”, murdered a local rancher, approximately 200 citizens of Buffalo confronted the Invaders at the TA Ranch. After a 3 day siege, soldiers from nearby Fort McKinney took the Invaders into custody.