Gold Rush 49ers, into the Laramie Mountains

Fort Laramie

Across Laramie Creek sat Fort Laramie with 12 to 15 foot walls of adobe and a large wooden gate on the south. Past the fort the mountains soared into the sky. Steuben wrote that “they are so lofty, dark, rugged, dismal and hideous that they remind me of nature in chaos.” Here the road divided. One route followed the North Platte and the other, said to be shorter, climbed into the hills. Men bound for the gold in California often opted for the shorter route and abandoned their wagons in favor of pack mules. The travelers now were totally reliant on their animals. A lost shoe or a lame mule could prove fatal. The 10,272 foot high Laramie Peak lay always to the south. Storms broke all around them, the lightning brilliant, the thunder terrible.

Mountains near Laramie

Steuben wrote, “one hour we are mounting to the clouds and the next diving to the depths below. The roads are good. The hills . . . are composed of gravel with a slight mixture of clay that the powerful rains help to form into cement.” At La Bonte Creek the water was good but earlier parties had grazed the grass to the ground. They passed La Prele Creek and on to Deer Creek, a broad clear stream filled with trout and lined with timber and good grass. Buffalo were plentiful but so were the swarms of buffalo gnats that bit like a mosquito and tormented men and animals alike. Elk stood proud along the ridgelines and stared back at them. Grizzly bears were a constant threat. Beaver gnawed good-sized trees and dammed the streams with them.

Grizzly Bear

Days were hot but at night frost covered the ground. Near the western edge of today’s Casper, Wyoming, was a ferry built by Mormon’s as they passed this way two years before on their way to the Great Salt Lake. Each summer, until a toll bridge was built in 1852, men were sent by Brigham Young to operate it. In 1849 there were some 30 to 40 Mormons here. The ferry was popular and travelers often had to wait hours to cross. A wagon cost $2.50, a cart $2.00 and a pack animal $1.00. A blacksmith shop was set up and charged an outrageous $1.00 a shoe. Sugar sold for 50 cents a pound, whiskey 50 cents a pint and was in great demand even at that steep a price.

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