My new frontier historical novel, Bozeman Paymaster: A Tale of the Fetterman Massacre, will be issued by Five Star Publishing in June 2022. Between now and then, I will post a series of preludes providing historical facts that occur before the story in the book begins.
Following the Civil War, increasing pressure from miners and settlers rushing to the new goldfields in Montana Territory put a demand on the Army that ultimately led to the Fetterman disaster. The safest ways to get from the States to the goldfields were by boat up the Missouri and Yellowstone Rivers or by wagon over the Oregon Trail into Utah, then swinging north into western Montana. Both routes were long, and prospectors were anxious to get a claim staked fast. The demand for a short route between the Oregon Trail and Montana led to the development of two paths across central Wyoming (at that time still part of the Dakota Territory). Famed frontiersman Jim Bridger advocated travel up the west side of the Bighorn Mountains because it was safer from Indian attacks, but the scarcity of water made this way undesirable. John Bozeman and his partner, John Jacobs, pioneered a route up the east side of the Bighorn Mountains. Water and timber for firewood were more readily available. The Bozeman Trail became the preferred route. Unfortunately, it passed through the heart of the Plains Indians’ favorite hunting grounds.
Vast herds of buffalo roamed the prairie land east of the Bighorn Mountains. Coupled with other game, fowl, and fish, this Absaroka area provided the perfect subsistence environment for the bands of Indians who fought among themselves to control access. Originally home to the Crows, the lure of plentiful buffalo proved too tempting for the Sioux who had been forced out of their traditional lands by the expansion of the white man. The newcomers pushed the Crows north into Montana, and the Powder River country became home to the Lakota Sioux, Northern Cheyennes, and Arapahos. When the white man traversed their new homeland more frequently as he rolled up the Bozeman Trail with his wagon trains, these tribes resisted.
The resulting conflicts led to demands by white travelers for Army protection along the route and pressure for additional treaty activity on the part of the Indian Bureau to keep the tribes from blocking the way. The Army responded by directing the 18th Infantry Regiment to move west and construct a series of forts along the Bozeman Trail. The 18th had earned a fine reputation during the recent war serving with General William Tecumseh Sherman, including participating in his march through Georgia. Strangely, the fighting during the war done by the 18th was not under the command of its colonel.