Will Braddock spent his first Christmas in the far west in 1867 at Fort Bridger, which at that time was still Dakota Territory. I reveal in Chapter 1 of Bear Claws, The Iron Horse Chronicles–Book Two, that Will had wintered-over at the fort with his uncle’s survey inspection team. Since Bear Claws begins in March 1868, I did not describe what Christmas would have been like at Fort Bridger. I did point out that Will would have spent a boring, cold time isolated at the famous fort. The weather that winter was brutal!
My wife, Barbara, and I visited Fort Bridger in the summer of 2012 when I took the photographs shown here. Famed mountain man Jim Bridger, along with his partner Louis Vasquez, founded the fort in 1843. Bridger identified an opportunity to provide supplies and blacksmithing services to fellow trappers working the nearby streams, wagon train emigrants bound west on the Overland/California Trail, and Mormon settlers trudging along the Mormon Trail. His efforts proved fairly successful.
The Mormons bought the fort in 1857, but when the US Army arrived to engage in the “Mormon War” in October of that year, the Mormons burned the fort down before retreating to Salt Lake City. After the war, the Army reestablished a fort there, occupying it almost continuously until 1890. Bridger’s original stockade fort was small, but the new, expanded one was patterned after the numerous open forts the military built to protect the route of the first transcontinental railroad. Today’s open fort is what Will Braddock would have known.
Fort Bridger’s location on Black’s Fork of the Green River was a good one. Over the years, in addition to serving as a supplier to the mountain men and a stop for the Oregon Trail’s travelers, the fort was a Pony Express relay barn, a Wells Fargo stagecoach station, and a Union Pacific Railroad depot. Jim Bridger battled the United States Government for years, claiming the Mormons had forced him out, wanting compensation for a lease of what he continued to think of as his property. Following his death in 1881, Congress authorized a small payment to his widow.
The site is now the Fort Bridger State Historic Site, administered by the Wyoming Department of State Parks and Cultural Resources. Modern Interstate 80 bypasses Fort Bridger, abandoning the routes of the Oregon, California, and Mormon Trails, the short-lived Pony Express, the Wells Fargo stagecoach, the first transcontinental railroad, and the original Lincoln Highway. Don’t let that deter you from visiting. It’s only three miles to the fort from Exit 34, just east of Evanston, Wyoming.
If Will Braddock were here today, he would join Barbara and me in wishing you a