Wyoming - History and Heritage | Travel | Smithsonian

Wyoming - History and Heritage

Wyoming - History and Heritage

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Wyoming's history is one of the native peoples who inhabited the region—the Cheyenne, Sioux, Crow and Shoshone tribes, to name a few—and an emigrant frontier. In the 1840s and 50s, nearly half a million pioneers, gold rush Forty-Niners and Pony Express Riders embarked along the Oregon Trail during the greatest overland migration the country has even seen. Risking their lives, they traveled across the continental divide to settle the western wilderness in the name of Manifest Destiny. Historical sites such as forts, trading posts, and old western towns still line the original trails and remain as reminders of the rugged frontier life.

The Wind River Indian Reservation and its people are an important part of the culture and economy of Wyoming. Home for the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho Indians, the reservation boundaries encompass over 2.25 million acres of land, of which nearly 2 million acres are Indian owned. At the Eastern-Shoshone Tribal Cultural Center visitors can view Shoshone historic and contemporary art, historic photographs and treaty documents. The recently renovated St. Stephen's Indian Mission & Heritage Center offers a unique melding of cultures with ornate stained glass and murals depicting Native American and Catholic religious themes. But the main attractions here, for area residents and tourists alike, are the annual Pow Wows held at Ft. Washakie, Crowheart, Ethete and Arapahoe.

The Oregon Trail was the main overland migration route west and covered nearly 3,000 miles of uncharted territory, including Wyoming. Old forts and trail ruts can still be found along the route, as well as along the other overland trails—the California, Mormon and Bozeman. The Wyoming stretch of trail from Fort Laramie to South Pass is significant because it is where all the major emigrant trails came together to follow the same route. A number of trails lead into Fort Laramie and a number branch off from South Pass, but on this 250 mile stretch everyone "went westering" together.

Fort Laramie, the first garrisoned post in Wyoming, was the most important outpost on the emigrant trails. Built in 1834, the post became a haven for gold seekers and weary emigrants, a station for the Pony Express and the Overland Stage, and later served as an important military post during the Plains Indian Wars. Visitors can wander its 22 original structures, many of which have been restored, and reflect on the life and actions of its former inhabitants—military and civilian, resident and transient alike.

The lesser-known Bozeman Trail was discovered in 1863 as a shortcut to the gold rush in Montana. Passing through the Powder River Basin and into the hunting grounds of the Northern Plains Indians, the trail saw numerous struggles between tribes and the U.S. military, culminating in the Great Sioux War of 1876. Today, the trail is a major north-south interstate highway, with many historic sites open to visitors including Fort Laramie, Bridger's Ferry and Fort Phil Kearny, the site of some of the most dramatic events of the Indian Wars.

The National Historic Trails Center in Casper provides interpretive information on the history of Wyoming's western trails, the people who traveled them, as well as the Native American history of that era. The stories are presented in state-of-the-art interactive exhibits in a uniquely designed structure, where building materials become part of the story told.

Located on the west side of Cody at the city's original site, Old Trail Town is a collection of 26 authentic frontier buildings from 1879-1902 furnished with artifacts from the Indians, trappers, frontier people and cowboys who formerly inhabited the area. Nearby is the Museum of the Old West, which offers a large collection Indian beadwork, firearms and other memorabilia representative of the Big Horn Basin.

The beautifully restored Wyoming Territorial Prison was built in 1872 and housed some of the most notorious gunslingers of the west, including Butch Cassidy. The site also features rotating displays of artifacts uncovered during restoration and other historic memorabilia at the Warden's House and Horse Barn Exhibit Hall.

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