Fort Fred Steele was established on June 20, 1868 to guard the men who were building the
Union Pacific Railroad
Located on the west bank of the North Platte River,
the site was selected by Colonel Richard Dodge,
and named for Major General Frederick Steele, a
hero. In the beginning, the post was little more than a tent city, until some 300
troops were tasked with building the fort. In addition to the troops, more
civilians were hired to assist with the construction.
The post eventually included a sawmill, engineer, blacksmith, saddler,
wheelwright and a sutler's store, in addition to barracks, officer's
quarters and other fort buildings. Most of the buildings were constructed
of wood cut from Elk Mountain. Before long, the railroad and the fort
attracted cattlemen, sheepherders, loggers, miners and merchants to the
area and a small community sprang up around the fort.
In September, 1879, while
Major Thomas T. Thornburgh was commanding Fort
angry over prospectors invading their lands, were creating disturbances in
Colorado. Thornburgh and his men were ordered to put down the
uprising and soon set out toward the White River
Indian Agency in Rio
Colorado. However, before they arrived, the
Utes burned the
buildings of the agency and killed
Indian Agent, Nathan C. Meeker and nine employees in what is known as the
Meeker Massacre on September 29, 1889. That very day, Thornburgh and
his men arrived on the northern edge of the Ute Reservation and were
ambushed by the
Major Thomas T. Thornburgh and 13 of his
soldiers were killed. In
retaliation, over the next week, what is known as the
Battle of Milk Creek took place, subduing the
Construction of the
Union Pacific Railroad stimulated the
growth of the timber industry in southern
A sawmill was built on the east side of the North Platte River by Coe and
Carbon, who supplied the lumber for Fort Fred Steele until 1886.
After the railroad was complete, the
continued to protect the area, especially the vulnerable railroad bridge
across the North Platte River. However, by 1886, the area
had been subdued and the War Department deactivated the post on
August 7th. The troops were transferred to other military facilities and
the vast majority of the bodies buried at the post cemetery were moved to Fort McPherson
National Cemetery in
In the cemetery were the remains of 80 people who worked in or around the
fort, including 1 officer, 24
soldiers, 8 children, 2 wives, and 45 unknowns or civilians. Today, the
cemetery includes just a few remains and broken markers.
soldiers were gone, the small settlement that
had grown up around the fort remained, prospering for a time as a logging
center. During this time, the sawmill continued to prosper. Cutting and
shaping the trees in the In the meantime, only a single guard remained at the post
to oversee the property.
In 1892 and 1893, most of the buildings were sold at public
auction and were moved from the fort. In 1894, other remaining buildings
and the land were sold to the Cosgriff Brothers, who began a major sheep operation.
Establishing large herds in the area, the Cosgriffs
constructed one of the largest sheep shearing plants in the state in 1903.
In 1905, over 800,000 pounds of wool was shipped to Boston, the single largest shipment
of wool ever sent out of
Somewhere along the line, the sawmill was bought by the Carbon Timber
Company, who floated over 1.5 million timbers down the North Platte River
in 1909. Today, the remains of the Carbon Timber Company can still be seen
across the river.
In 1915, the Cosgriffs' land, including that
of the old post, was purchased by another large sheep owner by the name of
L.E. Vivion. A house, lean-to and shed that were once part of the
operation continue to stand.
The small settlement got a
reprieve when the Lincoln Highway, the nation's first
transcontinental highway, passed through the town, boosting
the economy between 1920 and 1939. During this time, some of
the old barracks and other buildings at Fort Steel were used used as gasoline stations, cafes and motels. The largest hotel, containing 22 rooms, was
housed in an old military barracks building. Unfortunately, it
burned down in November, 1923.