A Warning from fort Laramie: June 1846
Updated: Oct 12
Fort Laramie, in what is now Wyoming, was the only real community pioneers saw on their long trek across the frontier. In 1846 it was simply a fur trading post frequented by white trappers. traders and prairie Indians. But its owners had the insight to install a blacksmith and to stock horses and cattle, coffee and beans, sugar and dried fruit, and other goods that the first wave of pioneers might need for the next leg of their journey. Here Virginia Reed and other members of the Russell Company intermingled with a friendly tribe of Sioux that was camping near the fort. The Sioux, she wrote years later, “are fine looking Indians and I was not the least afraid of them.” And several other party members, writing in letters in journals, described the physical beauty and the intricate clothing of the Sioux.
Part of the grounds of Fort Laramie today.
One fellow traveler wrote,
“About three thousand Sioux Indians were encamped in the plain surrounding the fort. The lodges, as I understood, numbered about six hundred; and the whole plain, at a distance, appeared like a vast cultivated field, from which the crop had been gathered and secured in stacks. An immense number of horses, belonging to the Indians, were grazing on the plain.”
I thought these figures must be an exaggeration until I continued west on US Highway 26 an hour and saw Fort Laramie for myself. Although the original building of that time is gone, (the property was bought by the U.S. Army in 1849 and enlarged) I realized the huge expanse of surrounding land could indeed accommodate hundreds of teepees and thousands of Indians. Jim Clyman in his later years.
Fort Laramie is also where Virginia’s father ran into an old acquaintance, Jim Clyman. Clyman was returning from California, and he vigorously warned the Russell Company to avoid a cutoff to California, called the Hastings Cutoff, that some were considering. Most took his warning to heart, but James Reed, eager to shave miles from the journey, disregarded it.
One can spend hours (I did) at the impressive Fort Laramie Museum and Visitor Center, where Sioux clothing and crafts, as well as pioneer clothing and tools, are on exhibit.
I made sure descriptions of the elegant pioneer hat and beaded Sioux moccasins in the photos below found their way into my book.
(Jim Clyman in his later years)