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David Fisk (Lens of
Fort Bridger State Historic Site
Fort Bridger was first established in
1843 as a trading post by
and his partner,
Louis Vasquez, on the on Black's Fork of the Green River.
Planning to trade both with the
Indians and the westward bound
emigrants, the first "fort" was composed of two double-log houses
about 40 feet long, joined by a pen for horses, and provided
a small blacksmith shop.
Westward bound emigrants who looked
forward to the stop and a break from the long monotonous days of
traveling, were often disappointed upon their arrival at Fort
Fort Laramie, a "civilized" outpost, in their
minds, Fort Bridger was little more than a crude collection
rough-hewn log buildings.
Fort Bridger drawing.
Of the fort, emigrant Edwin Bryant
would say, "The buildings are two or three miserable log cabins,
rudely constructed and bearing but a faint resemblance to
Another, named Joel Palmer, remarked: "It is built of poles and dabbed with mud; it is a shabby concern.
Here are about 25 lodges of
Indians, or rather white trapper's
lodges, occupied by their
Indian wives. They have a good supply of
skins, coats, moccasins; which they trade for flour, coffee,
When the Mormon
Pioneer Company reached the fort on July 7, 1847, they spent a day
there but considered the prices of supplies too high at the remote
trading post. When a group of Mormons settled near Fort Bridger,
tensions arose between
Bridger and the new
settlers. The next year, the Mormon settlers reported to Brigham
Young, in Salt Lake City, that
Bridger was selling liquor
and ammunition to the
Indians, a violation of
Young, who was a federal
determined to stop the practice and on August 26, 1853, a Mormon
militia of forty-eight men started for Fort Bridger from Salt Lake
was warned and escaped minutes before the Mormons arrived. When
the Mormons arrived, they discovered plenty of liquor, which they
destroyed, but found no ammunition.
That same year, the
Mormons established Fort Supply specifically for Mormon emigrants,
about twelve miles south of Fort Bridger.
a letter to General B.F. Butler, a U.S. Senator, in October 1853
claiming he was "robbed and threatened with death by the Mormons"
and that over $l00,000 of his goods and supplies had been stolen.
The following spring,
Brigham Young sent fifteen well-armed men to take control of
Fort Bridger, as well as the Green River ferries, both of
which would become an integral part of the Mormon settlement
plan. The men built a large stone wall around the fort and
several stone buildings.
Mormons controlled the fort for the next year until
returned in July, 1855. The Mormons asked him to sell, but he
refused when he noticed the improvements. The next month, he
finally agreed to the sale, under some pressure from the Mormon
militia. Agreeing on a sale price of $8,000, $4,000 was paid
immediately, and the balance was to be paid in November, 1856,
fifteen months later.
This image available for
photographic prints and downloads
meantime, tensions continued to broil between the Mormons and
other settlers of the area. In the
Presidential Election of 1856 the Republicans attacked both
polygamy and slavery and though Democrat, James Buchanan was
elected, he too opposed the practice of polygamy. More
importantly, he opposed the dominance of
Utah Territory by the
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormons,) seeing
it as a violation of American principles. These tensions soon led
to the "Utah War" of 1857- 58. In the meantime,
never received the balance $4,000 owed him for his fort.
became a point of contention in the fall of 1857 when the U.S.
Army, under the command of General Albert Sidney Johnston, marched
across the high plains planning to use the fort as a base to enter
Utah Territory. However, before the Army arrived, "Wild Bill"
Hickman and his brother burned both Fort Bridger and Fort Supply
on the night of October 7, to keep them from falling into the
hands of the approaching United States Army. As a result,
Johnston's Army, with little shelter and inadequate food supplies,
endured an insufferable winter awaiting the spring thaw.
the "Utah War" did not actually involve any battles between the
Army and the Mormon militia, there was significant destruction of
property. At the height of the conflict, more than 100
California-bound settlers from
Arkansas were killed by Mormon
militia and local Paiutes, in the Mountain Meadows massacre in
At the end of hostilities, Brigham Young paid
the remaining $4,000 owed on the fort during the peace
negotiations and thought he owned it. Though the government
accepted the payment, they rejected Brigham Young's claim to the
fort, and furthermore, refused to recognize
continuing claims to the fort.
Instead, the fort was profitably run by William
Alexander Carter, who had come with William Alexander Carter and Johnston's Army as a sutler or storekeeper. He stayed there
with his family rebuilding and restocking the fort, and he
eventually became wealthy. A highly respected man, he was soon
known as "Mr. Fort Bridger,"
Civil War, the garrison
dwindled in numbers as soldiers were sent back east. However,
regular troops returned in 1866, utilizing the fort as a base of
operations for southwestern
Wyoming and northeastern
post guarded stage routes and the transcontinental telegraph line,
accommodated a Pony Express station, patrolled emigrant trails,
took action against
Indian raids, guarded the miners who moved
into the South Pass and Sweetwater region, and protected and
supplied workers building the Union Pacific Railroad not far to
Treaties were signed at the fort with
Shoshones in 1863 and 1868, the second creating a
reservation east of the Wind River Mountains. Although
strategically located, the fort never served as a base for any of
the major military expeditions of the 1870's against the
in the region, but some of the garrison was reassigned for
fighting purposes. Temporarily abandoned in 1878, the post was
reactivated in 1880. A decade later it was abandoned by the
In the meantime,
continued to press for his claim for payment, gaining no
resolution by the time of his death in July, 1881. Only after
almost two decades of effort by his descendants, was the matter
finally settled when Congress appropriated $6,000 for the family.
Successful sutler, William Carter's family
continued to live at the fort until 1928, when it was sold to the
Wyoming Historical Landmark Commission for preservation.
Today, the fort is a
Wyoming State Park, that contains a group of well-preserved and
maintained structures. Some restoration has been accomplished,
including the 1884 barracks building, which now houses a museum.
Crumbling ruins of the commissary building and the old guardhouse,
both built in 1858, are visible. In better condition are the 1884
"new" guardhouse, the 1858 sentry box and officer's quarters. Also
standing is the sutler's store, Pony Express stables, post office,
a group of lesser buildings, and a portion of the wall constructed
by the Mormons. The foundations of other buildings are marked.
Interred in the cemetery are
daughter and Judge W. A. Carter, pioneer rancher in the area.
Portions of the original fort grounds and some buildings are
located on privately owned property outside the State-owned area.
Fort Bridger is south of I-80 at Exit
The former Commissary and a couple of the stores at Fort Bridger State
Park, photo by
John J. and Barbara R. Thomas
Fort Bridger State Historic Site
PO Box 112
of America, updated January, 2013.
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