Fort Fetterman, located north of Douglas, Wyoming, is situated on a plateau above the valleys of LaPrele Creek and the North Platte River. The fort was established as a military post on July 19, 1867, because of conditions that existed on the Northern Plains at the close of the Civil War. Civilization was advancing across the frontier along the line of the Union Pacific Railroad and the fort was needed as a major supply point for the army operating against the Indians. On July 31, 1867, the post was named Fort Fetterman in honor of Captain William J. Fetterman who was killed in a fight with Indians near Fort Phil Kearny, December 21, 1866. Major William McEnery Dye, with Companies A, C, H, and I, 4th Infantry, was assigned to build the post. In a letter to the Adjutant General, Major Dye described the post and surrounding country as ...situated on a plateau...above the valley of the Platte, being neither so low as to be seriously affected by the rains or snow; nor so high and unprotected as to suffer from the winter winds."
Unfortunately, Major Dye's optimistic view of the site did not hold true for winter months. In November of 1867, Brigadier General H.W. Wessells became commanding officer at the fort. According to his report to the Department of the Platte, ..."officers and men, were found under canvas exposed on a bleak plain to violent and almost constant gales and very uncomfortable..." the garrison managed to get through the winter and the fort continued to grow and develop until 1870, it was well established, and destined to play a conspicuous part in the Indians wars for the next few years. Jim Bridger, Wild Bill Hickock, Calamity Jane and "Buffalo Bill" Cody were among the colorful personalities of the time whose activities and travels took them frequently to Fort Fetterman.
In accordance with the Treaty of 1868, Forts Reno, Phil Kearny, and C.F. Smith, along the Bozeman Trail were abandoned. Fort Fetterman, alone, remained on the fringe of the disputed area. As an outpost of civilization on the Western frontier, the fort represented protection and a haven to travelers. Fort Fetterman was always considered a hardship post by officers and men who were stationed there. On May 18, 1874, Captain F. Van Vliet, of Company C, 3rd Cavalry, felt so strongly about the hardships on his men that he wrote to the Adjutant General requesting his company be transferred because there was "...no opportunity for procuring fresh vegetables, and gardens are a failure. There is no female society for enlisted men...the enlisted men of the company are leaving very much dissatisfied, as they look upon being held so long at this post as an unmerited punishment...whenever men get to the railroad there are some desertions caused by dread of returning to this post..."
Desertions were common, and the post frequently lacked adequate supplies and equipment. Supplies had to be hauled from Fort Laramie to the southeast or from Medicine Bow Station on the Union Pacific Railroad. Luxuries were scarce and pleasures few. However the soldiers found some diversion from the garrison life at a nearby establishment known as the "Hog Ranch."
During the mid-1870s, Fort Fetterman reached its pinnacle of importance when it became the jumping-off place for several major military expeditions. It was the base for three of General George Crook's Powder River Expeditions and Colonel Randall Mackenzie's campaign against Dull Knife and the Cheyenne Indians. These events contributed to the end of the resistance by the Plains Indians who shortly after were confined to reservations. With the passing of Indians from the scene, the fort had outlived its usefulness.
When the military abandoned the fort in 1882, it did not die immediately. A community grew up at the post and after 1882, it was an outfitting point for area ranchers and for wagon trains. The boom was short-lived, however, and in 1886, the town of Douglas was founded a short distance to the south. The old fort, in a state of decay, lost out as a town and declined rapidly. Most of the buildings were sold, dismantled or moved to other locations.