Native Americans, mountain men, traders, emigrants, and the U.S. Army all visited or lived in the Casper area – the Upper Platte Crossing – during the mid-1800s. The North Platte River valley was the pathway for the Oregon/California/Mormon Pioneer/Pony Express trail corridor and the transcontinental telegraph line.
Wyoming was home to the Shoshone, Crow, Lakota, Cheyenne, Arapaho, and Utes in the 1840s when wagon after wagon of west-bound emigrants followed the North Platte to this area, crossed the river, and continued west along the Sweetwater River to South Pass.
In 1847, Brigham Young led the Mormons from Winter Quarters in present-day Nebraska to their new home in the Great Salt Lake Valley. The Pioneer Party arrived at present-day Fort Caspar on June 12. Faced with a flooding North Platte, Young commissioned the construction of a ferry boat to ensure a safe river crossing. The completed ferry consisted of cottonwood dugout canoes, planking for a deck, two oars, and a rudder.
Other trains of emigrants contracted with the ferrymen to carry them across. On June 19, Brigham Young named nine men to remain and operate the ferry while the rest of the party continued the journey west. Through the 1852 season, Mormon men returned to the Casper area to operate the ferry business. Eventually utilizing a rope and pulley system, the Mormon ferry could float a loaded wagon across the river in just 5 minutes. Because of the heavy emigrant traffic, other ferry businesses operated in the Casper area as well.
John Baptiste Richard (Reshaw) arrived at present-day Evansville in 1852 and built the first permanent structures in the area. His wooden toll bridge and trading post served trains of emigrants and other travelers. The bridge’s popularity put the ferry operations out of business.
In the late 1840s and early 1850s, Native American and emigrant conflicts were few along the trails. By 1855, hostilities increased and U.S. troops established a fort at Richard’s bridge. Lieutenant Deschler and members of the 6th Infantry, 10th Infantry, and 4th Artillery staffed Fort Clay in November 1855. Named Camp Davis in March of 1856, the outpost of Fort Laramie was abandoned in November 1856.
Soldiers were also stationed there in 1858-59 because the army needed to maintain a route to supply troops involved in the Mormon War. Captain Joseph Roberts of the 4th Artillery established Post at Platte Bridge nearby in July 1858. This camp, informally known as Camp Payne, was abandoned in May 1859.
The first permanent occupation at the Museum was in 1859 when Louis Guinard built a bridge and trading post. Guinard’s post also became an Overland Stage Company stage stop from 1859-1862 and a Pony Express relay station in 1860-1861. The completion of the transcontinental telegraph line in October 1861 added a Pacific Telegraph Company office to the site.
Platte Bridge Station/Fort Casper
Companies A, B, C, and D of the First Battalion of the 6th Ohio Volunteer Cavalry (O.V.C.) reached Fort Laramie on May 30, 1862. Regimental commander Lieutenant Colonel William O. Collins received orders on June 3 to proceed with three companies west along the trail to South Pass. His purpose was to protect the employees and property of the Overland Mail Company and the Pacific Telegraph.
During the first week of June 1862, the troops from Company D, 6th O.V.C., began establishing an outpost near Guinard’s bridge. Soldiers spent much of the summer repairing the telegraph line damaged by raiding Shoshone, Lakota, Cheyenne, and Arapaho. The raiding was so successful that on July 11, 1862, the Postmaster General of the United States ordered all mail carriers to abandon this portion of the route in favor of the Overland Trail through southern Wyoming.
By the end of 1862, Platte Bridge Station had taken shape. On October 27, Captain Peter Van Winkle reported that he had 28 men, completed quarters and stabling, and enough rations to last until April. On November 1, Van Winkle reported three officers and 60 men for duty, two on detached service, one sick, three absent sick, and four awaiting discharge. He had 62 serviceable horses.
In July 1863, Collins organized a Second Battalion of Ohio Volunteer Cavalry consisting of Companies E, F, G, and H. The State of Ohio consolidated it with the first battalion to form the 11th Ohio Volunteer Cavalry. Because his regiment was 50 men short when he recruited the new companies in 1863, Collins gave Confederate prisoners of war a chance to join. Men enlisted in this manner were known as "Galvanized Yankees." By October 10, the troops arrived at their new posts.
Companies A, B, C, and D of the 11th O.V.C. were scheduled to muster out at Omaha, Nebraska, in April 1865. To fill the gap, the 11th Kansas Volunteer Cavalry was sent out. The Kansas troops arrived in the area April 19 and established regimental headquarters about six miles from Platte Bridge Station at a temporary tent camp called Camp Dodge. Additional reinforcements in the region included members of both the 3rd and 6th U.S. Volunteer Infantry Regiments, made up of “Galvanized Yankees.”
In response to the 1864 Sand Creek Massacre of Black Kettle’s Cheyenne by Colonel Chivington’s militia in Colorado Territory, Plains tribes increased raids along the trails the following spring. In July 1865, Lakota, Cheyenne, and Arapaho gathered to attack Platte Bridge Station. On July 26, Lieutenant Caspar Collins led a small detachment from Platte Bridge Station to escort an army supply train traveling from Sweetwater Station. Less than a mile from the bridge, Collins’ men were ambushed and had to fight their way back to the fort. Five soldiers including Collins were killed in the Battle of Platte Bridge. Sergeant Amos Custard and 24 men with the supply wagons were attacked later that day five miles west of the fort. Only three soldiers survived the Battle of Red Buttes.
On October 26, new troops from Company A, C, F, and G of the 6th West Virginia Volunteer Cavalry arrived at Platte Bridge Station. The October post return for 1865 reported the following troops on duty: nine officers and 82 men of the 6th West Virginia, two officers and 149 men of the 11th Ohio, and three officers and 11 men of the 6th Infantry.
More troops necessitated a new fort, which the army began building in the fall of 1865. Over the next two years, the army built more than 20 new buildings to house 400-500 soldiers. By Special Order 49 dated November 21, 1865, Major General John Pope changed the name of Platte Bridge Station to Fort Casper, misspelling the fallen lieutenant’s name. Pope chose the lieutenant's first name because there already was a Fort Collins in Colorado named for his father.
On June 28, 1866, Captain Richard Morris of the 18th U.S. Infantry took command of Fort Casper. The first post return indicated that one officer and 50 men of Company A and one officer and 65 men of Company C were in residence. On October 3, new troops from Company E, 2nd U.S. Cavalry arrived to reinforce the garrison.
A factor in the decline of Fort Casper was the construction of the Union Pacific Railroad and with it a new transcontinental telegraph line. It reached Cheyenne in the fall of 1867 and would soon spell the end of organized migration along the Oregon/California/Mormon Pioneer Trail corridor. As a result, the army began to establish new military installations to protect the railroad route across southern Wyoming. Hostilities had also increased along the Bozeman Trail, and a new post was being constructed near present-day Douglas, Wyoming. When orders were issued to abandon Fort Casper on October 19, 1867, troops and “all useful materials,” including buildings, were transferred to Fort Fetterman.
Homesteaders and ranchers arrived in the Casper area by the late 1870s, and the grounds of Fort Casper became part of the CY Ranch. In 1936, Casper citizens and the Works Progress Administration reconstructed Platte Bridge Station using sketches made by Caspar Collins and others in the 1860s. Reconstructions of the Mormon ferry and a section of the Guinard bridge are also part of the site.