Ten years prior to the epic Battle of the Little Bighorn ("Custer's Last Stand"), Fort Phil Kearny faced a surprise attack by Arapahoe, Cheyenne, and Lakota tribes that devasted the fort and left survivors to bury 81 men in the brutally frigid temps of December 1866. Fort Phil Kearny State Historic Site's Interpretive Center and Gift Shop narrates this dramatic story and others that illustrate Native and Soldier life, engagements, and terrain at the feet of the Big Horn Mountains. Encompassing over 1000 acres and three major interpretive locations, visitors will be amazed by the rich history of the sites, diverse wildlife, and breathtaking views across what the Lakota people called "The Picnic Basket" for it's wealth of restorative offerings. Outdoor exhibits guide visitors though all historic sites and a nature trail takes visitors through a shady path along Lower Piney Creek.
Visitors are encouraged to begin at the Fort Phil Kearny Interpretive Center where staff provide an introduction to the Fort and the Fetterman and Wagon Box Fight Sites, each about 3 miles from the Fort. The Fight Sites include parking, monuments, and posted interpretation detailing the battles.
2014 - 2018 Fort Phil Kearny State Historic Site will be recognizing the 150th Anniversaries of Bozeman Trail Milestones and Indian Wars Engagements. Celebrations will include new exhibits, site developments, and presentations/programming. Stay updated through fortphilkearny.com.
Fort Phil Kearny State Historic Site is located just 20 miles south of Sheridan on Interstate 90, Exit 44. At the Fort location the visitor will find an interpretive center with exhibits, videos, bookstore, and self-guided tours of the fort and outlying sites. The fort tour leads the visitor through the site to building locations, archaeological remains, and interpretive signs pinpointing the surrounding historic landmarks. A Civilian Conservation Corp Cabin has been refurbished to depict the quarters of an Officer’s wife and a Non-Commissioned Officer’s Quarters. In addition to the historic interpretation, this site provides three picnic areas and a restroom for visitor use.
- 2014: 150th Anniversary of first Cattle Drive on Bozeman Trail
- 2015: 150th Anniversary of Connor Battle/Construction of Fort Reno
- 2016: 150th Anniversary of Construction of Fort Phil Kearny and Battle of the 100 In The Hand (Fetterman Massacre)
- 2017: 150th Anniversary of the Wagon Box Fight
- 2018: 150th Anniversary of the closing/burning of Fort Phil Kearny and Signing of the 1868 Treaty
The two satellite sites of Fort Phil Kearny are the Fetterman Fight and the Wagon Box Fight battlefields. These two sites are located within a five-mile radius of the Fort Phil Kearny Visitor Center. Maps to the sites and interpretation are available at the Visitor Center. At both battlefields, the visitor will find an interpretive trail which leads through the battle providing both Indian and White perspectives of the conflict. The visitor can go to the actual locations of the skirmish lines and Indian charges and see the weapons and personnel involved. The Wagon Box Fight site provides the visitor with restroom facilities; also a picnic area where they may relax and enjoy the beautiful scenery. All interpretive trails and facilities are either partially or fully accessible for the ADA. Guided tours of these three sites for social groups, schools, or special events may be scheduled through advance reservation.
Fort Phil Kearny is designated "day use only." There is no camping allowed at this site. The nearest State Park campground is Connor Battlefield located at the town of Ranchester. Named for a popular Union general killed in the Civil War, Fort Phil Kearny was established at the forks of the Big and Little Piney Creeks by Col. Henry B. Carrington of the 18th U.S. Infantry in July, 1866. The Mission of this fort and two other posts along the Bozeman Trail--Forts Reno and C.F. Smith--was three- fold: to protect travelers on the Trail; to prevent intertribal warfare between Native Americans in the area; and to draw attention of Indian forces opposed to Euro- American westward expansion away from the trans-continental railroad construction corridor to the south.
All three Bozeman Trail forts were stockade fortifications, with Fort Phil Kearny being the largest. Enclosing seventeen acres, the fort wall was eight feet high, 1,496 feet in length, and tapered in width from 600 feet on the north to 240 feet on the south. More than four thousand logs were used to erect the stockade, while over 606,000 feet of lumber and 130,000 bricks were produced in 1867 alone for the extension building construction.
During its two year existence, Fort Phil Kearny was the focal point of a violent war between the U.S. Army and the Sioux, Cheyenne, and Arapaho Indians opposed to intrusions into the last great hunting grounds on the Northern Plains. Besides the Fetterman and Wagon Box battles, many smaller fights took place in the area.
By 1868, the Union Pacific Railroad had reached a point to the west where travelers could bypass the Bozeman Trail route by going to Montana through Idaho, thus making the Bozeman Trail forts expensive liabilities. In the Treaty of 1868, the United States agreed to close the forts and the trail. Fort Phil Kearny was abandoned by the Army in early August, 1868, and burned soon afterwards by the Cheyenne. In 1963, Fort Phil Kearny was designated a National Historic Landmark. Today, portions of the fort site and the Fetterman and Wagon Box battlefields are included within the Fort Phil Kearny State Historic Site boundaries.