I was hoping to get to the Fetterman Monument and the Wagon Box Battle Monument before nightfall after leaving Devil’s Tower but it just wasn’t going to happen. Our stops in Rapid City and Devil’s Tower took too long. This is why Erin and I fly by the seat of our pants on trips, because if you try to set a rigid schedule, you will miss things. So this was no setback, this was standard protocol for us.
I had first heard about the Fetterman Fight while watching Ken Burns’ The West. They spoke of a battle where a boastful army officer had led his men away from Fort Phil Kearny into a trap set by several bands of natives and gotten everyone killed. When they discovered the bodies they were all mutilated except for one single unarmed bugler, his body covered in a buffalo robe, a sign of respect for fighting with bravery. At first, while I was fascinated, I was terribly confused. Living in Kearney, NE, I am well aware of Fort Kearny and how it’s history has played into the history of Kearney, NE. So I was surprised that I had never heard of this fight. But upon taking a closer look at the facts it was clear to see why. The battle took place at Fort PHIL Kearny, not Fort Kearny. Why the military would name the two forts so similarly, I don’t know exactly. Probably to confuse someone like me more than a century later. Some dead guy is rolling over in his grave with laughter.
Never the less, I was intrigued by this story. So when planning out our vacation for the following summer, I noticed we were passing right by the site of the battle and made it a priority to stop. When else would I be the area? Quite possibly never.
When we left Devil’s Tower it was dusk, with 2 and half hours of driving ahead of us, so there was no way we’d make it to the monuments before nightfall. So we drove to Sheridan, WY, about half an hour north of the monuments to stay the night. We got up the next morning and trekked back south to see the monuments before heading back north to our next stop, Little Bighorn Battlefield. Backtracking like this took us over an hour behind, but I did not want to miss this bit of history.
Oh man, what a beautiful morning it was. Magnificent, open, clear skies, and mild, warm weather. Just past the parking area was the monument, past that, a trail that followed across the scene of the battle with informational markers that detailed the happenings, history and background of the fight. We went down the trail a short ways, took in the beauty of our surroundings and the read the markers along the trail. Not very far along the trail Erin (who has no interest in history) was already ready to go, but I wanted to continue on. I told her one more trail, one more marker… She finally went back to the Jeep and I went almost the entire trail and raced back hoping she wouldn’t know how much I really saw, after saying I would only go so far. But I really found the place fascinating and did not want to turn back and miss one single detail.
A person can read all about a battle, historical site or happening all day long and paint a picture in their mind, but there is nothing like really being there and aligning what you’ve read with the actually place. I always take the time to look around and re-imagine the scene with new eyes. But alas, Erin was ready to go down the road. We had plenty more to do that day and although the weather and scenery was beautiful, we could not stay forever.
Our next stop in the area was the Wagon Box Fight site, but that will be for another time. On the way back to the interstate from that site we came across Fort Phil Kearny, but Erin did not want to stop. And though I regret not stopping, our whole day was to be filled with historical stops she did not care about so I decided to give her a break. As we took the winding rural roads back to the interstate we came across another monument. One that commemorated the ride of John ‘Portuguese’ Phillips, the man who rode 4 days through a blizzard to bring the news of the Fetterman Massacre to Fort Laramie. It was neat to see all this history tying together.
What: Fetterman Monument
Who: History Buffs
Where: Outside of Banner, and Story, WY
When: When weather permits
How: You will be driving. Although biking from Banner or Story is another option. Once there you will go down the trails on foot.