Fort Phil Kearny
State Historic Site

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Bozeman Trail explorer and co-founder of FPK/BTA, Mark Badgett

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Fort Phil Kearny
State Historic Site

528 Wagon Box Road
Banner, WY  82832
Phone: (307) 684-7629

THE BOZEMAN TRAIL

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     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.

     In her 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 1870’s 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 free-roaming tribes.

     As with 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.

     Today, 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 Reading:

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.

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