In 1876, Fort Fetterman, near present-day Douglas, Wyoming, served as the embarkation site for General George Crook's three Yellowstone Expeditions into the Powder River region. General Philip H. Sheridan ordered Crook to facilitate the relocation of the Sioux and Northern Cheyenne onto the reservations at Standing Rock and Pine Ridge, Dakota Territory, after they had been driven from the Black Hills. Crook had the support from the 7th Cavalry of Lieutenant Colonel George A. Custer to the North and General J.J. Reynold's 2nd Cavalry to the East.
The Fort had been named for Captain William J. Fetterman, who was killed on December 21, 1866 near Fort Kearney, Wyoming. A year later, the army constructed Fort Fetterman to provide protection for European Americans traveling west on the Bozeman trail. After the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868, Ft. Fetterman became the most remote outpost on the Northern Plains.
The journey to Fort Fetterman possessed its own share of hardship. To reach the fort, it was necessary for troopers and teamsters to cross the high spring waters of the North Platte. The fast current made it necessary to ferry the mules across the river, “because the animals would not approach the swollen Platte; here they showed more sense than the men in charge” recounted Captain John G. Bourke. Despite their cautions, a teamster fell into the river and drowned in late July 1876.
Once at the fort, Crook and his men learned Fort Fetterman was one of the worst outposts to be assigned to during the 1870's. Troopers wrote home about the “lack of female society” and the harsh winter conditions. The soil did not support a garden, which normally would provide vegetables for the soldiers. To be stationed at Fort Fetterman was considered a punishment in the cavalry.
To prepare for the Yellowstone Expedition, soldiers at the fort organized and packed the 103 wagons and hundreds of pack mules. Crook's 1,000 man forcethen departed Fort Fetterman on May 29, 1876. Crook hoped that this imposing force of strength would encourage the Sioux and Northern Cheyenne to report to their reservations. Crook felt optimistic about his mission to relocate the Plains Indians, recanting, “He is more ready to abandon his old habits and accept civilization, than civilization is to accept him.” Two weeks later, warriors surprised Crook with a frontal assault at Rosebud Creek, forcing his troops to retreat to Camp Cloud Peak and Ft. Fetterman.
Today, Fort Fetterman State Historic Site is administered by the State of Wyoming. Only the officer's quarters and the ordnance building remain. These are decorated in period furnishings and feature multiple military artifacts, including maps and drawings of the 1870's. The State of Wyoming also has developed an interpretive trail, camping, and RV facilities for visitors.