The Old West Continues

One of the earliest explorers of Wyoming was John Colter in 1807. While exploring the Rocky Mountains, he discovered a region of steaming geysers and towering water falls so unusual that his written reports nicknamed the area “Colter’s Hell.” The same area, in 1872, was set aside forever as a place to be enjoyed by everyone. It became known as Yellowstone, the world’s first National Park.

Wyoming owes its early settlement in part to the gentlemen of Europe. Their fondness of beaver top hats sent early-day trappers to the Rocky Mountains in search of the prized pelts. Famous mountain men such as Kit Carson, Jim Bridger, Davey Jackson and Jedediah Smith were among the trappers, explorers and traders to first roam the Wyoming territory.

Gold in California and the lure of rich land in Oregon brought increasing numbers of pioneer wagon trains rolling over the Oregon Trails through Wyoming. Pony soldiers came to protect the wagon trains from hostile Indians, and the soldiers established forts along the trails.

The most important of the western military posts was Ft. Laramie in southeastern Wyoming. Ft. Laramie became a haven for gold seekers and weary emigrants. It was also an important station for the Pony Express and the Overland stagecoaches, and it served as a vital military post in the wars with the Plains Indians. Ft. Laramie witnessed the growth of the open range cattle industry, the coming of homesteaders and the building of towns which marked the final closing of the wild, western frontier in 1890.

Wyoming was the scene of the end of the great Indian battles. Ft. Phil Kearny in northern Wyoming had the bloodiest history of any fort in the West. Thousands of well organized Indians from the Cheyenne, Arapaho and Sioux tribes fought battle after battle with the U.S. Cavalry. A famous battle took place in 1866 when 81 soldiers set out from Ft. Kearny and were drawn into a classic military ambush by Indians led by Crazy Horse and Red Cloud. None of the “blue coats” survived.

Great herds of buffalo once grazed on the rolling hills of Wyoming, giving rise to one of the state’s best known citizens, William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody. Today in the town he founded, Cody, near Yellowstone National Park, is an enormous museum dedicated to Buffalo Bill and the West he loved and helped settle. Near the turn of the century, Buffalo Bill took his Wild West Show to Great Britain and the European continent to give audiences a brief glimpse of the cowboys, Indians and other characters who lived in America’s west during Wyoming’s early days.

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