Trails and Emigrants
Economic depressions in 1837 and 1841 frustrated farmers and businessmen east of the Mississippi. The collapse of the international fur trade in 1839 intensified the hard times. These economic concerns and fear of British domination of the Oregon territory became catalysts for people to relocate to the Oregon Territory. Consequently, the primitive trails that early trappers, explorers and missionaries forged came to serve over 200,000 pioneers bound for California, 50,000 bound for Oregon, and 70,000 Mormons headed for Utah. Casper was the northernmost point on their respective treks and was the point at which they abandoned the North Platte River that had guided them through Nebraska and much of Wyoming. West of here, pioneers picked up and followed the Sweetwater River west.
Between 1847 and 1855, the Mormons, on their way from Nauvoo, Illinois to the Great Salt Lake passed through the area. Brigham Young established “Mormon’s Ferry” that served many emigrants until 1852, including many “49ers” bound for California’s gold fields.
Hostilities between Indians and settler were few along the trail until 1855. In 1858-59 U.S. Soldiers had to be dispatched to the region during what was called the “Mormon War”. Shortly thereafter, the first permanent settlement along the river was established, when Louis Guinard built a bridge and trading post in 1859. Guinard’s post to become an overnight stage stop, a Pony Express mail stop, and later a Pacific Telegraph Office.
In 1861, a volunteer cavalry company was ordered to Guinard’s Bridge to guard against Indian raids, which were becoming more frequent. Between 1862 and 1865, Platte Bridge Station was outfitted as a one-company military post. In July 1865, the Sioux and Cheyenne, under Red Cloud, outraged by the Chivington Massacre at Sand Creek in Colorado, resolved to eliminate Platte Bridge Station. In the ensuing Battle of Platte Bridge, Lieutenant Caspar Collins, (son of Col. William Collins for whom Ft. Collins, CO is named) lost his life. Later that year, the Army changed the outpost’s name from Platte Bridge Station to Fort Caspar, to honor the fallen lieutenant. Fort Caspar became the headquarters for soldiers escorting wagon trains on the Oregon Trail until it was abandoned in 1867. (When the town name of Casper was recorded, a frontier Army clerk is said to have incorrectly spelled our namesake.)