hh20g.htm =c@8" =c BDGt &H &Ȥ %~ (h =c@ 'ITEXTR*ch8X^ڸdf NPS Historical Handbook: Fort Laramie

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painting of Fort Laramie
Fort Laramie in 1849.
From An Expedition to the Valley of the Great Salt Lake of Utah by Howard Stansbury.

The California Gold Rush

Meanwhile, these troops had been preceded, accompanied, and followed over the trail by some 30,000 goldseekers bound for California, a few thousand Mormons en route to Utah, and additional troops of Mounted Riflemen pushing west to establish a post at Fort Hall in Idaho.

Many of those who trekked westward from the Missouri did not even reach Fort Laramie. The dread Asiatic cholera took a terrible toll along the banks of the Platte. Fresh graves, averaging one and a half to the mile, marked the 700-mile trail from Westport Landing to the Laramie. Beyond Fort Laramie the ravages of disease abated, but already many trains were short of men and stock. These conditions and the rougher roads ahead frequently forced the abandonment of wagons, personal property, and stocks of provisions. However, not all of the westward surging throng reached Fort Laramie with surplus supplies. Many were thankful to be able to replenish dwindling supplies at the commissary as well as to obtain fresh draft animals, repair failing wagons, and mail letters to "the States."

While purchase of the adobe trading post provided the Army with a measure of shelter for men and supplies, it was far from adequate. In late June 1849, Major Sanderson reported that the entire command was already employed in cutting and hauling timber and burning lime. Stone was also quarried and a horse-powered sawmill placed in operation. By winter, a two-storied block of officers' quarters (to become known as "Old Bedlam"), a block of soldiers' quarters, a bakery, and two stables had been pushed near enough completion to be occupied.

That winter was mild and uneventful at Fort Laramie, but by early May 1850 the high tide of westward migration began. Goldseekers and homeseekers bound for California, Oregon, or Utah thronged the trails on both sides of the Platte and converged on the fort, where, by August 14, a record had been made of 39,506 men, 2,421 women, 2,609 children, 9,927 wagons, and proportionate numbers of livestock. Also, 316 deaths en route were recorded, for cholera again raged along the trail in Nebraska. The graves along the trail east of Fort Laramie were only outnumbered by the bodies of dead draft animals and piles of abandoned property westward toward South Pass.

Meager blacksmithing and repair facilities were available to the emigrants at Fort Laramie. Supplies could be purchased at the commissary and at the sutler's store, whose adobe walls were first noted that year. The sutler, John S. Tutt, also had brisk competition from numerous oldtime mountain men who set up shop along the trails nearby.

The post commander reported further progress in new construction during 1850. The stonewalled magazine was probably completed that year, "Old Bedlam" neared completion, and a two-storied barracks was begun. Lured by gold, however, troops as well as civilian artisans deserted the post to such an extent that Mexican labor was imported for building and experimental farming.

In 1851, the gold fever subsided somewhat, but Mormon emigrations increased and in all probability 20,000 emigrants trekked westward past the fort. Cholera was not epidemic and emigration was less eventful, but the fort was busy preparing to play host to other visitors.

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