Saturday 3rd August 2019 – HERE I AM …

… again, back in the Story Pines Motel or whatever it’s called.

The reason is that there’s a charabanc outing from the town tomorrow and there was a spare seat on it. And as it’s going to places that I would have wanted to visit had I known about them and there’s a guide going too, then include me in!

After all of the messing about last night, it was rather a late night and as a result, something of a struggle for me to rouse myself. I wasn’t in much of a shape to do much for a while so I sat and vegetated.

My breakfast porridge was nice though.

By the time that I had gathered my wits (which doesn’t take long these days what with one thing and another) and had a coffee kindly provided for me by the landlady, I hit the streets.

First on the cards today was a delightful drive down the road a couple of miles to a field at the foot of an escarpment in the Rocky Mountains.

This field is forever immortalised as the site of what became famous as “the Wagon Box Fight”. A group of US soldiers was protecting a gang of woodcutters, who had taken all of the boxes off their conestoga wagons so that they could carry more timber down to the sawmill.

Luckily the officer in charge had had the foresight to arrange the boxes into a kind of defensive corral, because suddenly they were set upon by a band of Native Americans.

The tactics that the natives applied was to incite the soldiers to fire, and then charge before they had time to reload their single-shot muzzle-loaders.

But what they hadn’t realised was that just before the event, the weapons of the soldiers had been replaced with breech-loading repeating rifles. So when they charged, they were met with several other volleys.

A sentry post on a hill a few miles away saw the fight and sent a signal to a relief column which was armed with a mountain howitzer, and they put the native Americans to flight.

Interestingly, the report at the time puts the number of natives killed by the 26 defenders of the wagon boxes as “over 1500”. A later investigation put the number as “no more than 60”.

There was a report that after this incident a more substantial stockade was built a few hundred yards away. And looking carefully, I could make out a trace of what would correspond with an earthen mound in the area where this was said to be.

Next stop was several miles down a dirt track to Fort Phil Kearny, and while I was there we had 5 minutes of rain. The fort was built in 1866 to protect emigrants on the Bozeman Trail north, in defiance of a treaty with the Native Americans. Those latter were not at all happy and in the two years that the fort was operational there were countless conflicts, the most famous of which I’ll talk about later.

The fort was eventually abandoned after just two years and the jubilant natives burnt it to the ground. It was first excavated in the 1960s but a full-scale programme was launched in the 1990s and the entire site has been mapped. Pickets placed in the ground show the outlines of the walls and the buildings and an entrance has been reconstructed.

On that note I headed off to the nearest big town, Buffalo, for fuel and groceries. I found both (or at least, I thought that I had) at the same place but while I was fuelling up, they closed the shop.

So much for that. I ended up at a local Dollar Store and from there the local IGA supermarket.

And more bad news – my Canadian bank card has now ceased to function. I shall have to get onto that.

A beautiful drive through the countryside (as much as I could because Interstate 90 has simply wiped out much of the traditional route) saw me back near Story and heading into the hills on the other side. I found the only shade in Wyoming where I could eat my lunch, and then headed further up to where the old Highway 87 (which replaced the Bozeman Trail) was washed out.

Here on the peak of a hill is a monument to a Lieutenant Fetterman, 78 soldiers and 2 civilian volunteers.

in December of 1866 native Americans had been intimidating a wood supply train and Colonel Carrington, in charge of Fort Phil Kearny, ordered Fetterman to take a detachment to push the natives away, but under no circumstances go beyond a certain ridge, which was the last line of sight from the fort.

The soldiers did as they bid, but here the issue becomes confused. As the soldiers stopped, a group of natives taunted them for their timidity. One of the officers – some say Fetterman but other say Lieutenant Grummond in charge of the cavalry detachment – rose to the bait and pursued the band. So as one shot off, the others followed.

The natives ran away, leading the soldiers into an ambush which was carefully sprung. Evidence from a party that visited the site the next day found evidence of panic and indiscipline as the soldiers fled in chaos, but no-one answered for this because not one of Fetterman’s party remained alive.

it was that heaviest defeat suffered by the US Army at the hands of the natives until Little Big Horn 10 years later

All but one of the bodies had been horribly mutilated. That one, of bugler Metzler, had been covered with a buffalo robe as a mark of respect. His bugle was battered and shapeless, leading to the conclusion that after running out of ammunition, he fought the natives in hand-to-hand combat using his bugle as a weapon, and his bravery earned him the right to respect.

Drenched in sweat and with a thirst that you could photograph after my long walk in the heat of the sun, I headed back through the herd of cows to the car and drove back to my motel.

First thing that I did was to sit on the porch and drink a can of flavoured water. Second thing that I did was to crash out for half an hour.

I managed tea tonight – some vegetable soup with bread. The appetite isn’t quite back but I’m still coping all the same.

And now an early night as I’m off of my outing tomorrow.

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