Mile 753: Crossing Fort Laramie

“Most travelers approached Fort Laramie from the main Oregon and California roads along the south bank of the North Platte River. This required fording a tributary, the Laramie River, just east of the fort. Today, dams have tamed the Laramie, but in the mid-1800s the river’s spring current sometimes toppled wagons and drowned emigrants and livestock. Looking for the safest places to ford, travelers used at least nine different crossings of the Laramie, and bridges and ferries eventually served some locations.

In the early years of the emigration, the terrain on the north side  of the river was thought to be impassable west of Fort Laramie. Mormon emigrants and others entering Wyoming on the north-bank road were forced to ford the deep, swift North Platte near the fort. Starting in 1850, north-side emigrants had the option of loading their wagons onto a ramshackle flatboat and pulling the contraption along a rope stretched across the river — unassisted, and at the outrageous fare of $1 per wagon. The price of passage drove some offended emigrants to blaze a new trail, Child’s Cutoff (also called Chiles’s Route), which continued west on the north side of the river. Travelers who stayed on the north bank via Child’s Cutoff could avoid crossing the North Platte altogether, while those following the original south-bank road had to cross upstream, near today’s city of Casper. By 1852, most wagons arriving on the north side continued up Child’s Cutoff, though many travelers still crossed the river to visit Fort Laramie. A graceful iron military bridge, built in 1875, still spans one of four emigrant crossings of the North Platte near the fort.”