Bozeman Trail

Bozeman Trail

The Bozeman Trail was an overland route connecting the Oregon Trail to the gold rush territory of Montana. The flow of white pioneers and settlers through territory of American Indians provoked their resentment and attacks. The U.S. Army undertook several military campaigns against the Indians. The trail was so important for its association with US frontier history and conflict with American Indians that it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.


In 1863 John Bozeman and John Jacobs scouted out a direct route from Virginia City, Montana to central Wyoming to connect with the Oregon Trail. It included trails which American Indians had long traveled through the Powder River country. This route was more direct and better watered than any previous trail into Montana. They also managed to improve the route so that was wide enough for wagons. The only serious drawback was that it passed directly through American Indian territory occupied by the Shoshone, Arapaho, and Lakota nations.

First travelers and Indian campaigns

Bozeman, among others, led the first group of about 2,000 settlers up the trail in 1864. American Indian raids on white settlers grew dramatically from 1864 to 1866. This prompted the U.S. government to direct the Army to carry out several military campaigns against the Shoshone. Patrick Edward Connor led several of the earliest campaigns. He defeated the Shoshone at the Battle of Bear River. During the Powder River Expedition of 1865, Connor defeated the Arapaho at the Battle of the Tongue River.

Post-Civil War travel

In 1866, with the close of the American Civil War, additional settlers traveled up the trail, mostly in search of gold. The U.S Army called a council at Fort Laramie with the Indians, which Lakota leader Red Cloud attended. The purpose of the meeting was to arrange a right-of-way with the Lakota for use of the trail. As negotiations continued, Red Cloud was outraged when he discovered that a regiment of U.S. infantry was using the route without permission from the Lakota nation. Red Cloud's War began.

The Army established Fort Reno, Fort Phil Kearny and Fort C. F. Smith along the route, but Indian raids along the trail and around the forts continued. When the Lakota annihilated a detachment under William J. Fetterman at the Fetterman Fight the same year near Fort Phil Kearny, civilian travel along the trail ceased. On August 1, 1867 and August 2, 1867, large parties of Lakota were stymied in an apparent co-ordinated attempt to overrun Fort C. F. Smith and Fort Phil Kearny. In the Hayfield Fight and Wagon Box Fight, their attacks on outlying parties failed .

Later, the 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie gave the Lakota control of the Powder River Country. For a time this treaty shut down travel by white settlers on the Bozeman Trail. President Ulysses S. Grant ordered the forts along the trail abandoned.

Red Cloud's War could thus be said to be the only Indian war in which Native Americans achieved their goals (if only for a brief time) with a treaty settlement essentially on their terms. By 1876, however, following the Black Hills War, the Army reopened the trail. The Srmy continued to use the trail during later military campaigns and built a telegraph line along it.

Modern route

Today, a modern highway route consisting of Interstate 25 runs from Douglas, Wyoming to Sheridan, Wyoming. Interstate 90 from Sheridan, Wyoming to Three Forks, Montana (30 miles west of Bozeman, Montana) and U.S. Route 287 from Three Forks to Virginia City, Montana cover roughly the same general route as the historic Bozeman Trail.

ee also

* Powder River Expeditions
* Red Cloud's War
* Oregon Trail


* [ "Bozeman Trail History"] , Fort Phil Kearny State Historic Site
* [ Grace Raymond Hebard, et al., "The Bozeman Trail: Historical Accounts of the Blazing of the Overland Routes, Volume II"]

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