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Please note: This page contains a 2 MB .jpg file that shows a 300 degree panoramic view of the site of Fort Phil Kearny near Story, Wyoming, compiled from pictures taken in August, 1998. It may take several minutes to download. If you are interested in viewing the panorama allow the file to download completely.

In recent years, I have developed a growing interest in U.S. History, especially the Civil War and the Cavalry/Indian Battles. Other interests include early American Indian History (Anastasi), American Indian Culture and the Arts & Crafts Movement influences on American Architecture. When I vacation I typically plan a fly & drive so I have the opportunity to explore nearby national parks and historic sites. I also enjoy photography and have recently started working with Macromedia Flash and other web-enabled multimedia applications.

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Panorama of the Site of Fort Philip Kearny
(Click and hold down left mouse button inside image to navigate panorama.)

The above panorama shows an approximately 270 degree view of Fort Phil Kearny's surroundings. The panorama begins with view looking east, southeast from the site of Fort Phil Kearny, showing the Bozeman Trail and the surrounding terrain. In this panorama the photographer is standing in the northwest quadrant of the fort site. As the camera contiues to pan the horizon in a clockwise direction you will begin to see light green hills rising west of the Bozeman Trail. The tallest of these hills is Pilot Hill, this was the fort's main lookout. From here one can view the area that was under the protection of the fort during its existence.

Soundtrack credits: The following RealAudio sound clips are embedded on this page:

  • Sarah Winnemucca (Keane, Roach, Bach)
  • The Way West (Keane, Metropolitan Opera Orchestra)
  • Garyowen (Kosek, Weissberg)
All of the above selections are from the album "The Way West" an Original Film Soundtrack from Ric Burns' Epic Documentary, a special presentation of "THE AMERICAN EXPERIENCE". Music by Brian Keane.

Picture credits: The following pictures included in this page were sourced from the Fort Phil Kearny/Bozeman Trail Association web pages.

  • Sketch of Fort Phil Kearny (By Buglar Nicolai)
  • The Burning of Fort Phil Kearny (By Bernard P. Thomas)


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A Story of Fort Philip Kearny and The Fetterman and Wagon Box Fights:

Fort Phil Kearny

Map of Fort Philip Kearny and Notable Engagements

Fort Phil Kearny was the largest of three forts established along the Bozeman Trail. Colonel Carrington, of the 18th Infantry Division, established the fort in July, 1866 at the fork of the Big and Little Piney Creeks. He named the fort after a popular Union general killed in the Civil War.

For two years the fort was the focal point of a violent war between the U.S Army and the Sioux, Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians opposed to the expansion of whites into their last great hunting grounds. The Wagon Box Fight and the Fetterman Battle are the best known conflicts and will be described as you view in the direction where these engagements occurred.

 

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The tree line along the Little Piney Creek between the fort and Pilot Hill is also visible. As the scene continues you will see in the foreground, sage and brush overgrowth with occassional signs, flags and stakes. These markers indicate where various buildings of the fort, such as the officers' quarters, quartermaster warehouse, infantry barracks, hospital, surrounding 8' stockade fence (indicated by the orange flags) and main entrance once existed, as revealed through fort plans, old photographs and archeological digs.

The Bighorn Mountains are seen rising in the distance with somewhat stormy weather brewing about them. An orange flag marks the location of where the commander's quarters once stood (in this case Colonel Carrington). Continuing clockwise as the view of the Bighorns tapers off and the Sullivant Hills (light green gently sloping hills in the distance) begin to rise into view is approximately the direction of where the Wagon Box Fight took place at the end of the Wood Road, on August 2, 1867. Less then a year after the Fetterman Battle that took place on December 21, 1866.

Sketch of Fort Phil Kearny

1867 Sketch of Fort Philip Kearny

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The Wagon Box Fight:

Indian forces attempted to repeat the Fetterman victory in Summer, 1867. On August 2, 1867 about 800 Sioux warriors attacked woodcutters and soldiers camped at a cutting area five miles from Fort Phil Kearny. During initial stages of the battle, 26 soldiers and six civilians took cover inside an oval of wagon boxes used as a stock corral.

After burning another camp, the Sioux launched a series of attacks against the corral. Armed with breechloading rifles, the soldiers and civilians commanded by Captain James Powell held off the massed warriors until a relief force arrived from the fort. Three men were killed and two wounded inside the corral, while indian casualties were estimated at from five to 60 or more killed, and five to 120 more wounded.

The Sullivant Hills were named by Colonel Carrington after his wife's maiden name. As we continue panning to the right we see the Sullivant Hills rising from the west-northwest and ending rather abruptly to the north-northwest. You will see the tree line along the Big Piney Creek emerge from behind the hills and Lodge Trail Ridge rising beyond. Just beyond Lodge Trail Ridge, on what is now named Ambush Hill, out of site from Pilot Hill is where Captain Fetterman and his eighty men were ambushed and killed by the indians in the early afternoon of December 21, 1866.

The following is some background information on Captain Fetterman:

Captain Fetterman was a common personality type that occurred frequently in the Indian-fighting Army. He was arrogant and belittled the indians and their fighting ability. After arriving at Fort Phil Kearny in November, 1866, it wasn't long before his loud and aggressive manner, combined with his field experience during the civil war, enabled him to become a divisive influence at the fort. Colonel Carrington on the other hand, having had first-hand experience with the difficulties of building and maintaining the fort, shortage of hands to keep it up and made worse by the frequent indian attacks, forced him to operate cautiously. Fetterman criticized Carrington's caution and respect for the Indians' fighting ability at every opportunity.

"Give me eighty men and I would ride through the whole Sioux nation" was one of Fetterman's boasts.

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The Fetterman Battle:

The last of three attacks against the wood train during December, 1866.

December 6, 1866:

A party of Sioux attack the wood train. Colonel Carrington orders Captain Fetterman to take a cavalry company and force of mounted infantry down the wood road to relieve the besieged wood train, while Carrington took a squad of cavalry behind Sullivant Hills to cut them off. Everything went wrong. The cavalry's young lieutenant, George Grummond, became excited and dashed ahead disobeying Carrington's orders and narrowly escaped being cut to pieces in an ambush - saved by the swiftness of his horse and saber. Lieutenant Bingham, in charge of the cavalry company under Captain Fetterman, was less fortunate. When the Sioux had broken off their attack, Bingham led his cavalry in pursuit over the Sullivant Hills, across Big Piney Creek and up Lodge Trail Ridge. In excitement of the pursuit, he spurred ahead of his men and was caught in an ambush. His body was found with over 50 arrows in it. An enlisted man died in the same ambush. Several men had also been wounded in the fighting.

December 19, 1866:

After observing how the whites had fought, their lack of skill, discipline and even common sense, Red Cloud and the other leading chiefs held a council to determine their best strategy to defeat the whites. The whites had been led into ambush so easily why not bait them for a great ambush. They were convinced they had found a way to defeat them.

The Indians attacked the wagon train and Colonel Carrington sent Captain Powell out to relieve the train with explicit orders not to pursue across Lodge Trail Ridge. Powell, the most cautious of Carrington's officers, refused to let any of his men be drawn out of formation by the decoys, and turned back as ordered when he reached the top of the ridge. The Indians' plan had failed - this time.

Snow had fallen during the night.

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December 20, 1866:

The snow melted off during the day. No Indian attacks on the wood train and no sign of Indians this day. In the evening, Captain Fetterman, accompanied by Captain Frederick Brown, regimental quartermaster, came to Colonel Carrington to request permission to settle the indian problem once and for all. Now Fetterman was asking for one-hundred men instead of eighty. His belief was the only way to whip the indians was to go after them. Carrington denied permission, pleading that the fort already had its hands full and cannot spare men or horses from the regular duties and commitments.

December 21, 1866:

The load of logs being brought back today are to be the last of the season. Carrington provided a strong guard for this last logging party, a force of more than eighty men. The wood train left the fort shortly after 10:00 AM.

At about 11:00 AM the lookout on Pilot Hill signaled that the train was under attack. Carrington, pleased with the way Captain Powell handled the situation two days before, again placed him in charge of the relief column. This time Captain Fetterman, reporting with his company, came over to Carrington and demanded that he be given command of the entire force since he outranked Powell. Carrington, his hands tied by the Army policy, had no choice but to give the command to Fetterman. Later he admitted he was not happy with the change. Fetterman's company had forty-eight enlisted men. Second Lieutenant George Grummond commanded the cavalry company with twenty-seven men. This brought to 76 the number of men under Fetterman's command. While last minute inspections of arms were being made, Private Maddeon and two civilian employees, James Wheatly and Isaac Fisher, both Civil War veterans, requested and were granted permission to join Fetterman's forces. Through the strange perfection of fate Captain Fetterman had his eighty men. Unknown to them considerable numbers of the Sioux Nation lay waiting on the other side of Lodge Trail Ridge.

Colonel Carrington's orders to Captain Fetterman were explicit: "Support the wood train. Relieve it and report to me. Do not engage or pursue indians at its expense. Under no circumstances pursue over Lodge Trail Ridge". As Fetterman moved out with his company, Carrington sent his adjutant across the parade to stop him and repeat his orders. He wanted to make sure Captain Fetterman was clear with his orders. Carrington also stopped Grummond at the gate and again repeated his order: under no circumstances was he to cross Lodge Trail Ridge.

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About the time Fetterman and his troops were leaving the fort, Indians were spotted hiding in the brush across the Big Piney Creek. Colonel Carrington immediately ordered out a Howitzer to fire some canisters at them. As the shots were fired more Indians were stirred from the brush and retreated up the trail at full gallop. During this action Fetterman's forces had disappeared behind the Sullivant Hills. This was thought to be a good strategic maneuver as long as his basic orders were adhered to. A short time later Carrington realized that Fetterman's party had left without a surgeon, so he sent the assistant post surgeon C. M. Hines with an escort of four men to join with Fetterman.

Around 11:30 A.M. the lookout signalled the fort that the Indians had broken off their attack on the wood train and that the train was proceeding on its way.

At about noon, Surgeon Hines came galloping back and reported to Carrington that he was unable to see any sign of Fetterman's command and could not look further because Lodge Trail Ridge and the valley of the Big Piney was alive with hundreds of Indians. The sound of rifle fire was now plainly heard at the fort. The sound was coming from the northwest in the direction of Peno Creek. Realizing the intensity of the fire, Carrington knew there was big trouble and immediately ordered Captain Tenedor Ten Eyck to take a force to relieve Fetterman. Ten Eyck left the fort with a force of 54 men, an ambulance and wagons. Carrington sent another column of forty men to join up with Ten Eyck. He led them across Big Piney Creek, then to the right and onto a ridge that paralleled the trail. As they reached the high point of the ridge the sound of gunfire died out. This was about 12:45 P.M. The soldiers on the ridge gasped at the thousands of Indians they saw. When Ten Eyck and his forces were detected on the ridge, the Indians began swarming toward the base of the ridge and started taunting the soldiers to come down and fight. Why the Indians, in such overwhelming numbers did not attack, is a mystery.

The Indians began to thin out as they withdrew to the west on their ponies. Ten Eyck's forces were finally able to view the remains of the aftermath: all the soldiers were dead. Dusk came early on this cloudy, blustery day, the shortest day of the year as Captain Ten Eyck led his forces down the ridge. The totality of the disaster became clear as they approached the stripped, scalped and mutilated bodies. The bodies of Fetterman and Brown were found with bullet wounds and powder burns on their temples. They apparently shot each other to prevent being captured.

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The bodies of Fetterman's command, beginning to freeze into rigid shapes, were loaded onto the ambulance and wagons. There were 49 bodies collected and returned to the fort that evening. Meanwhile, Carrington was doing all he could to keep the fort secured and prepared for the worst. Carrington was feeling a growing sense of doom as the events played out and upon receiving a message from Ten Eyck. He sent the message to report back to Carrington once he and his troops had reached the top of the ridge overlooking the numerous Indians.

Later Indian accounts of the battle reported that Captain Fetterman did stop at the crest of Lodge Trail Ridge. The Indians, fearful that their plan would fail went all out to antagonize Fetterman and his forces. Then, Indians mustered earlier by the cannister shot from the fort, joined the decoys in tempting Fetterman. The site of more Indians to kill was probably more temptation than they could hold and pursued them past the ridge and into their trap.

In conclusion:

August, 1868:

In the Treaty of 1868, the U.S agreed to close the forts along the Bozeman Trail as the Union Pacific Railroad reached a point to the west where travelers could bypass the Bozeman Trail. Fort Phil Kearny was abandoned in August, 1868 and burned soon after by the Cheyenne.

Cheyennes Burning the Fort

Painting Depicting the Burning of the Abandoned Fort Philip Kearny
By Bernard P. Thomas

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