Although called the Bozeman Trail, the
route followed by John Bozeman and John Jacobs was really a long-used travel corridor. Indians had followed the north-south trails
through Powder River country since prehistoric times, and it was familiar to the early
Nineteenth Century explorers, trappers and traders. Captain
William Raynolds of the Army Corps of Topographic Engineers led an expedition that covered
much of the later Bozeman Trail in 1859-1860, mapping if not naming many of the landmarks
and geographic features that would become familiar to travelers during the next decade. Thus, by the time Bozeman and Jacobs made their
first explorations south from the gold fields to the Oregon-California Trail on the North
Platte River, they were entering well-traveled territory.
Their greatest contribution would be establishing a route useable by wagons,
and promoting travel on it.
book Journeys to the Land of Gold historian Susan Badger Doyle describes the
emigration period of travel on the Bozeman Trail as lasting from 1863 to 1866. It then became primarily a military transportation
road until its final closure in 1868. Although
used by later military expeditions in the 1870s and civilian settlers during the
last quarter of the Nineteenth Century, 1863-1868 is the most historically significant era
of pioneer travel and ferocious military conflict on the trail. While only thirty-five hundred people traveled its
five hundred miles during the four years of emigration, it was, as Doyle wrote, the
last great overland emigrant trail in the American West. The warfare between the United States Army and the
Northern Plains Indians that erupted along the Bozeman Trail in 1865-1866 signaled the
beginning of a ten-year struggle that eventually ended with the defeat of the last
many of the overland trails, the Bozeman Trail was really several trails running through a
broad corridor. Emigrant trains often used
differing routes from the later military roads, and travelers would deviate from
established trails at times, depending on weather, muddy terrain, and water and forage
sources. Rather than a single wagon track,
the Bozeman Trail was a system of trails that came together at certain locations, and were
separated by several miles at other times.
the Bozeman Trail corridor is still a major north-south travel route, with an Interstate
highway replacing the wagon and horseback trails. There
are markers and historical interpretive signs at many locations along the historic trail
routes. Please call (307) 684-7629 for
further information on Bozeman Trail history.
Suggestions for Further
Doyle, Susan Badger. Journeys to the Land of Gold. Helena: Montana
Historical Society, 2000.
Murray, Robert A. The Bozeman Trail, Highway to History. Fort Collins:
Old Army Press, 1999.