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Bozeman Trail (1863-1868) - The Bozeman trail started at Fort Laramie on the North Platte river, ran northwest across the headwaters of the Powder and Tongue rivers, skirted the east side of the Big Horn mountains then crossing the Little Horn and other tributaries to the Big Horn at Fort C.F. Smith (1), passed around the northernmost spurs of the Big Horn and Pryor mountains and then cutting across the Clark's fork and other steams from the Beartooth mountains. It finally reached the Yellowstone river east of the present Livingston. From there by the Bozeman pass, it finally gained the Gallatin valley from whence the trail merged with others going to Virginia City, the mecca of the fortune hunters.
History of the Bozeman Trail
John M. Bozeman and John Jacobs first marked out the trail in the winter of 1862 and 1863. They were captured by Indians who set them adrift after taking all their arms and provisions. They reached Fort Laramie almost starved, having been reduced to a diet of grasshoppers. The same spring Bozeman undertook to bring a large party of freighters over the route from the east. The Indians attacked them and most of the party turned back and made the trip over the longer route to the west of the Big Horns but Bozeman and nine men, traveling by night, made their way by the Bozeman trail to the mines.
During the next two years, scores of caravans, several of which Bozeman accompanied, made their way across this shortest and most favored route. Once Bozeman and Bridger, who had blazed the safer trail to the west of the Big Horn mountains, ran a race which Bozeman won by a few hours although Bridger had two weeks head start. The Indians bitterly contested the passage across their favorite hunting grounds and many travelers paid with their lives for their temerity in invading the country north of the Platte.
Experience proved however, that large and well organized parties, well furnished with guns and ammunition and alert and on guard were seldom molested. One train of nearly 500 men, women and children crossed the trail in July, 1864. Often these large caravans came across burned wagons and slain men or oxen by the wayside.
In response to the hostile Indian attacks the U.S. Army built a series of forts along the Bozeman trail beginning with Fort Casper (1862-1867), Fort Phil Kearny (1866-1868), Fort C.F. Smith (1) (1866-1868), Fort Fetterman (1867-1882), Fort Reno (2) (186?-1868) and Fort Ellis (1867-1886). Fort Casper moved to Fort Fetterman when it was completed in 1867.
Chief Red Cloud redoubled his efforts in the spring of 1867 against the three northern forts and travel on the Bozeman Trail was all but cut off. For over a year the southern forts had scarcely any communication from Fort C.F. Smith (1) except from one band of Crows that reported all was well.
As a result of the military reversals and increasing pressure from the Indians under Red Cloud the U.S. Government capitulated and negotiated the 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie, which resulted in the abandonment of the three northern forts (Fort Reno (2), Fort Phil Kearny, and Fort C.F. Smith (1)) and the cessation of travel on the Bozeman Trail. The Sioux Indians destroyed the three forts immediately after the troops had left the country.
The US Army reopened the trail in 1876 after the Black Hills War ended.