Fort Laramie

Distance: 788 miles from Nauvoo

The site was originally known as Fort William, then Fort John. The original site was abandoned and Fort Laramie constructed nearby, taking its name from a French trapper, Jacques LaRamie. It always served as a trading post, even after it became a legitimate U.S. military outpost in 1849. As a major resting and reprovisioning point for almost all emigrants on the trek west, it was a welcome sight.

At Fort Laramie, Brigham Young’s vanguard company met an advance party of the Mississippi Saints who had wintered with the sick detachment of the Mormon Battalion at Pueblo. Fort Laramie would also play a role in one of the great tragedies in Mormon history. In the late fall of 1856, the Willie Handcart Company failed to obtain additional provisions while at the fort, a circumstance that proved fatal for many members of the company when they were caught in early snows only 130 miles to the west of Fort Laramie.

Journal Entries

Wilford Woodruff

June 1, 1847

"We traveled in the afternoon [] miles and camped on the bank of the Platte opposite of Fort Laramie within 1½ miles of the fort.

"When we arrived we saw some men approaching us from the fort. When they arived on the bank we found them to be a part of the company of the Mississippi brethren who had been to Pueblo through the winter. Brother Crow and his family, 7 wagons and 14 souls were the individuals who were at the fort. They soon stood upon the bank of the river. We lanched our boat and crossed the stream to them. . . .

"Br. Crow came across and met in council with us, and informed us that the remainder of the Missippi company with the portion of the Mormon Battalion that was at Pueblo would start for Laramie about the first of June and follow our trail onto California."

2 June 1847

"In company with the Twelve and others I crossed to the river to visit the fort and those who inhabit it. We examined for[t] St. John which is now evacuated but the walls are standing. The dimentions of St. John are 144 by 132 outside. The inside of the fort contained 16 rooms, 7 rooms on the northwest and 7 on the southeast, one on the South, the largest on the north, 98 feet long 47 wide."

"The Oregon trail runs one rod from the S.W. corner of the fort."

"We next visited Fort Laramie now occupied by 38 persons. French mostly, who have married the Sioux. Mr. Burdow is the superintendent. This fort is 168 by 116 outside. There are 6 rooms upon two sides, and 3 rooms upon the north and 3 upon the south occupied by stores, blacksmith, and dwellings. It is quite a pleasant situation for a fort" (Wilford Woodruff's Journal, 1833–1898, typescript, ed. Scott G. Kenney, 9 vols. [1983], 3:192–93, spelling and punctuation modernized).

Patty Bartlett Sessions

July 17, 1847

"Start 8 o'clock go 16 [miles]. At noon [we] kill another buffaloe and draw it into camp . . . dress it while the team[s] are baiting. . . . Hear that letters have come from pioneers. . . . I gather a few dry weeds [and] build a little fire on buffaloe dung. . . . Broiled some meat for my dinner . . . drank sweetened ginger and water.

"I have seen many thousands of buffaloe today. One crossed our track just forward of us. We had a fair view of him. camp[ed] on the river, no wood.

"Sunday [July] 18 Baked mince pies, bread and meat over buffaloe dung. 4 o'clock, called together to hear letters read. . . .

"Thursday [July] 22 Heard this morning that Indians killed 13 buffaloes close by us yesterday, but none seen by us only the carcases of the buffaloe found warm. The men are commanded to sleep with one hand on the lock of his gun. Last night we saw more than two thousand buffaloe at one time. Saw an encampment of Indians and as soon as we camped there was more than 100 came to our camp. It is the first I have seen since we left Winter Quarters. We have fired the cannon and one six shooter for them to see and hear. Gave them some bread and they feasted. They rode around the camp and then we rang the bell. Our men paraded and motioned to them to go away. They went" (Patty Baudlett Sessions, quoted in Kenneth L. Holmes, ed., Covered Wagon Women, Diaries & Letters from the Western Trails, 1840-1890, [1983], 1:171, 173).

Courtesy Church History Library and Archives

Brigham Henry Roberts

Summer 1866

"[I] and a boy about [my] own age [nine years old] had become interested in some ripening yellow currants along one of the banks of a stream, and lingered until the train had passed over a distant hill.

Before [we] realized it [we] were breaking camp regulations. . . . The caps at last filled, [we] started to catch the train. . . . Coming to the summit of a swale in which the wagon road passed. To [our] horror [we] saw three Indians on horseback.

Many atime Captain Chipman had warned [us] of the possibility [of being captured]. . . . It was therefore with magnificent terror that [we] kept on slowly towards these Indians whose faces remained immobile and solemn with no indication of friendliness given out at all.

[I] approached [my] savage knowing not what to do, but as [I] reached about the head of the horse [I] gave one wild yell, the Scotch cap full of currants was dropped and [I] made a wild dash to get by, and did, whereupon there was a peal of laughter from the three Indians.

"The running continued until each [of us] had found his proper place beside the wagon to which he was assigned. The [f]right was thought of for several days at least by strict adherence to camp rules about staying with your wagon" (Brigham Henry Roberts, "The Life Story of Brigham H. Roberts" [typescript, n.d.], B.H. Roberts papers, special collections, Marriott Library, University of Utah, 23–24).

William I. Appleby

September 5, 1849

"Traveled about fifteen miles. Passed some traders' encampment, stopped a short time at noon, set three wagon tires, and encamped about two miles beyond Fort Laramie. During the day we passed the graves of three gold diggers, all from the state of Missouri, we believe. The wolves had disenterred one. Stoves, broken ploughs, pieces of wagons, iron, etc., lies strewn along the roads. I visited the Fort the following morning, purchased twenty-eight pounds of bacon at ten cents per pound and carried the same on my back to camp, some two miles" (Journal of William I. Appleby, 5 Sep. 1849, as reprinted in the Journal History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 27 Oct. 1849, 77:13).

John Chislett

September 1856

"We reached [Fort] Laramie about the 1st or 2nd of September, but the provisions, etc., which we expected, were not there for us. Captain Willie called a meeting to take into consideration our circumstances, conditions, and prospects, and to see what could be done. It was ascertained that at our present rate of travel and consumption of flour the latter would be exhausted when we were about three hundred and fifty miles from our destination. It was resolved to reduce our allowance from one pound to three-quarters of a pound per day, and at the same time to make every effort in our power to travel faster. We continued this rate of rations from Laramie to Independence Rock (John Chisltett, as quoted in LeRoy R. Hafen and Ann W. Hafen, Handcarts to Zion:The Story of a Unique Western Migration, 1856–1860, [1960], 101).