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Compass American Guides: Wyoming, 5th Edition
Fort Phil Kearny State Historic Site
Fort Phil Kearny State Historic Site Review
Fort Phil Kearny State Historic Site was the focal point of Red Cloud's War, and Phil Kearny was probably the most fought-over fort in the West. This is the largest 8-foot stockaded, Hollywood-style fort ever built by the U.S. military, covering 17 acres; it experienced almost daily skirmishing against Cheyenne or Lakota warriors. Its location eventually led to major battles, including the December 21, 1866, Fetterman Fight, in which 81 soldiers were killed (the only time in American military history that a whole command was defeated to the last man) and the August 2, 1867, Wagon Box Fight, in which 32 men held their position in a daylong fight against more than 800 Lakota. This battle was considered a victory by both sides.
The fort's mission was to protect travelers on the Bozeman Trail going to the goldfields in southern Montana. However, there are theories that it may have been placed in what were the last and best hunting grounds of the Northern Plains tribes in order to draw them away from the railroad construction across southern Wyoming that was occurring at the same time. In the fall of 1868 the U.S. government signed the Fort Laramie Treaty, ending Red Cloud's War—the only war Native Americans won against the United States. The treaty closed the Bozeman Trail, making all the land between the Black Hill and Big Horn Mountains, and the land between the Yellowstone and North Platte rivers, unceded Indian land where whites could not go. However, it also for the first time established Indian Agencies along the Missouri River for the different Lakota tribes. So, although the Indians won the war, they lost the peace. As part of the treaty, Fort Phil Kearny was abandoned in August 1868. Within two weeks, it is believed, Cheyenne, under Two Moon, occupied and then burned the fort to the ground. No original buildings remain at the site, but fort building locations are marked, and the visitor center has good details. The stockade around the fort was re-created after archaeological digs in 1999.
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