Encyclopedia of the Great Plains

David J. Wishart, Editor


The Bozeman Trail served as the most direct route from Julesburg, Colorado, through the Powder River Country to the gold fields of Montana in the mid-1860s. Mapped and marked by John M. Bozeman and John M. Jacobs, the road veered northwest from the Oregon-California Trail at Bridger's Ferry (Fort Fetterman after 1867) on the North Platte River in eastern Wyoming, skirted the Big Horn Mountains to the Yellowstone River valley, and crossed Bozeman Pass to Virginia City, Montana.

Lakotas, enraged by this invasion of their hunting grounds, attacked travelers along the route. The U.S. army provided protection with military escorts and by establishing Forts Reno, Phil Kearny, and C. F. Smith in 1866. Nevertheless, Lakota, Cheyenne, and Arapaho warriors continued warring against construction parties and wagon trains. The Native Americans experienced both dramatic victories and demoralizing defeats. Following their Sun Dance in the summer of 1867, the Lakotas planned to destroy all the forts. Their advantage disappeared when the army replaced their muzzle-loaders with the more accurate, fastershooting Springfield breech-loading rifles. During two decisive conflicts in August 1867, the Hayfield fight near Fort C. F. Smith and the Wagon Box fight near Fort Phil Kearny, small military detachments repelled overwhelming numbers of Indian attackers. In 1868 Red Cloud signed the Fort Laramie Treaty, agreeing to settle his Lakotas on the Great Sioux Reservation. In return, the United States abandoned the Bozeman Trail.

See also WAR: Sioux Wars.

Jay H. Buckley Brigham Young University

Hebard, Grace R., and Earl A. Brininstool. The Bozeman Trail: Historical Accounts of the Blazing of the Overland Routes into the Northwest, and the Fights with Red Cloud's Warriors. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1990.

Murray, Robert A. The Bozeman Trail: Highway of History. Boulder CO: Pruett Publishing Company, 1988.

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