Fort Bridger

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Fort Bridger
Fortbridger.JPG
Fort Bridger
Fort is located in Wyoming
Fort
Fort
Site of fort in Wyoming
Location Uinta County, Wyoming, USA
Nearest city Fort Bridger, Wyoming
Coordinates 41°19′4″N 110°23′31″W / 41.31778°N 110.39194°W / 41.31778; -110.39194Coordinates: 41°19′4″N 110°23′31″W / 41.31778°N 110.39194°W / 41.31778; -110.39194
NRHP Reference # 69000197
Added to NRHP 4/16/1969

Fort Bridger was originally a 19th-century fur trading outpost established in 1842 on Blacks Fork of the Green River and later a vital resupply point for wagon trains on the Oregon Trail, California Trail and Mormon Trail. The Army established a military post here in 1858 during the Utah War until it was finally closed in 1890. A small town, Fort Bridger, Wyoming, remains near the fort and takes its name from it.

Bridger's Trading Post[edit]

The post was established by the mountain man Jim Bridger, after whom it is named, and Louis Vasquez.[1]

In 1845, Lanford Hastings published a guide entitled The Emigrant's Guide to Oregon and California, which advised California emigrants to leave the Oregon Trail, at Fort Bridger, pass through the Wasatch Range, across the Great Salt Lake Desert, an 80 mile waterless drive, loop around the Ruby Mountains, and rejoin the California Trail about seven miles west of modern Elko (also Emigrant Pass). The ill-fated Donner Party followed that route, along which they were met by a rider sent by Hastings to deliver letters to traveling emigrants. On July 12, the Reeds and Donners were given one of these letters,[2] in which among other messages, Hastings claimed to have "worked out a new and better road to California", and said he would be waiting at Fort Bridger to guide the emigrants along the new cutoff.[3]

Mormons and Fort Bridger[edit]

The Mormons arrived at Fort Bridger in 1847 guided by Kit Carson. Fort Bridger was the last stop on the way to South Pass. Disputes arose between Bridger and the leader of the Mormons. After a long delay at the fort, Bridger agreed to allow them to winter near The Great Salt Lake discovered by Bridger while scouting new trapping grounds for The Rocky Mountain Fur Company. Bridger had put a claim on land as a future homestead for himself and his family. By 1853, a militia of Mormons, under trumped up charges as part of the Mormon War for Independence, was sent to arrest him for selling alcohol and firearms to the Indians. When they encountered the mountain men who maintained the river crossing the Mormons murdered many. They then attacked the fort. Bridger managed to get the wives and children out. Near the existing fort, the Mormons established their own Fort Supply the same year. The Mormons stole the fort and went on a rampage killing every Indian they encountered.

The mountainmen traveled out of the mountains for one of the few times in their lives to seek help from the United States Government. The President of the United States ordered The Army to send an expedition and quell the Mormon Rebellion. Jim Bridger was appointed Chief of Scouts.[4]

Fort Bridger, 1850.
Fort Bridger, 1858. By Samuel C. Mills, photographer with the Simpson Expedition. Courtesy Library of Congress.

Utah War[edit]

Relations deteriorated between Mormon leaders in Utah Territory and federal authorities in Washington, D.C. Following the election of President James Buchanan, the United States Army was ordered to Utah to install a new governor, replacing Brigham Young, as well as to establish a military presence. As the Army advanced, the Mormons in the Green River valley withdrew, burning Fort Supply and Supply City. On the night of October 7, 1857, "Wild Bill" Hickman set fire to Fort Bridger to keep it from falling into the hands of the approaching United States Army during the Utah War. The army wintered near Fort Bridger. In June 1858, as the majority of Johnston's Army set off for Salt Lake City, two companies of troops remained behind and established Fort Bridger as an official Army post. The other troops continued on and eventually established Camp Floyd south of Salt Lake City.[5]

William A. Carter was appointed as post sutler at Fort Bridger in 1858. Perhaps more than any other individual, the history of the post revolves around this civilian merchant who remained at the center of the post's activities for its entire history.

At the end of the hostilities, the United States Congress rejected Brigham Young's claim to the fort, nor did it recognize Jim Bridger's continuing claims to the fort.

Fort Bridger as Pony Express Station[edit]

Named after Jim Bridger. The first owner of the fort was perhaps the most picturesque figure in early Wyoming. He was often called the ‘Daniel’ Boone of the Rockies. Fort Bridger, which he built and Bridger’s Pass, which he discovered were named for him. This historical fort has several interesting old buildings still standing; the old Pony Express barn and the Mormon protective wall are still in existence there.[6]

Map of the Pony Express Route in 1860
by William Henry Jackson ~ courtesy the Library of Congress

Civil War[edit]

Following the outbreak of the American Civil War in 1861, all the federal troops in Utah Territory were withdrawn to fight the Confederate States Army in the east. The following year, Colonel Patrick Edward Connor was sent to Utah with a column of California Volunteer Cavalry and Infantry, establishing Fort Douglas near Salt Lake City. Connor later sent two companies and reestablished Army presence at Fort Bridger. A variety of volunteer units were stationed at Bridger during the Civil War.

Return of the Regular Army[edit]

In 1866 with the muster out of the volunteer units, the Regular Army returned to man Fort Bridger. The first were companies of the Eighteenth Infantry. The isolation of the post decreased some in 1869 when the Union Pacific Railroad was built through the area. Ultimately, the expansion of the railroads in the west made this and other forts obsolete.

Fort Bridger was first abandoned in 1878 but then re-established two years later. The post was finally closed by the army in 1890.

Town of Fort Bridger[edit]

After the departure of the Army, the buildings were sold off and the site soon became a cattle town in southwest Wyoming. A hotel was established in the old Commanding Officer's Quarters and the large stone barracks eventually became a milking barn.

Fort Bridger State Historic Site[edit]

In 1928, Fort Bridger was sold to the Wyoming Historic Landmark Commission for preservation as a historic monument, now designated as Fort Bridger State Historic Site. Several original buildings remain and have been restored. The 1888 stone barracks contains a museum with artifacts from different time periods in the fort history. Visitors can also tour a reconstructed trading post and an interpretive archaeological site.

Annual fur-trade rendezvous at Fort Bridger[edit]

The Fort Bridger Rendezvous is a celebration of the fur-trade era that existed in the 19th century. The rendezvous at Fort Bridger has been an annual event since the mid-1970s. It is now one of the largest rendezvous in the west, drawing hundreds of merchants and several thousand visitors each year. The rendezvous is run by the Fort Bridger Rendezvous Association, a non-profit organization. Events include primitive demonstrations, cook offs, black-powder rifle shooting, knife throwing and hawk contests, candy cannon, native American Indian dancing, story telling, magic shows and more. A large portion of the rendezvous is commerce. All products sold within the fort during the rendezvous must pre-date or be a replicate of something that pre-dates 1840.

Photographers at Fort Bridger[edit]

Photographers had been passing through this frontier military post since almost the inception of the art form. Daguerreotypist John Wesley Jones visited the garrison in 1851 and Samuel C. Mills, traveling with the Army bound for Utah, produced at least one image of Fort Bridger in 1858. Salt Lake City photographer Charles W. Carter came during the winter of 1866-67 and his former mentor, Charles Savage, visited a number of times between 1866 and the early 1870s. The noted Union Pacific Railroad photographer Andrew J. Russell also stopped here in 1869. Census records show a photographer named Simeon Pierson at the post in 1870. In 1876-77, a soldier, Private Charles Howard ran a studio at the post.

Archaeology[edit]

Dr. Dudley Gardner began work at Fort Bridger in 1990. Over the past fifteen years, he and his students have uncovered a portion of Bridger's original post, the Mormon fortification and the Army's subsequent occupation. Work is currently advancing on the official excavation reports.

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ J. Cecil Alter, Jim Bridger (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1962).
  2. ^ Johnson, pp. 6–7.
  3. ^ Andrews, Thomas F. (April 1973). "Lansford W. Hastings and the Promotion of the Great Salt Lake Cutoff: A Reappraisal". The Western Historical Quarterly 4 (2): 133–150. 
  4. ^ Jim Bridger Mountain Man by Stanley Vestal 1946 pages 159-161,162, 200, 214
  5. ^ R. S. Ellison, "Fort Bridger: A Brief History," (1931).
  6. ^ Godfrey, Anthony. Pony Express National Historic Trail Historic Resource Study. National Park Service, August, 1994: http://www.nps.gov/archive/poex/hrs/hrs.htm

External links[edit]

  • Fort Bridger page, Wyoming Department of State Parks and Cultural Resources
  • Fort Bridger info from the Wyoming State Historic Preservation Office
  • Fort Bridger - Legends of America information
  • [1] - Additional information about the Fort Bridger Rendezvous.