By Greg Rasanen
I always drive past Old Fort Steele, which isn’t much more than a rest stop now. However, on the south side of the highway, is an old gas station that I thought was photogenic in its decay, so this year I stopped to snap a quick photo. As I was snapping the picture, I wondered what the story behind the name was, and as I was pulling back out to the highway I saw the answer in a sign for a historic site.
Fort Steele also traces its origins back to the transcontinental railroad. The military fort was established on the North Platte River, to protect the strategic river crossing and as a supply depot, for receiving military supplies by rail to support other forts throughout the region. It was established in 1868 and abandoned in 1886. The local community took over the buildings primarily supporting the timber and sheep grazing in the area, but it had a second transportation boom in the 1920/30’s with the building of the Lincoln Highway.
Today, there is little more than a few buildings and a few more foundations remaining. However, the state has done a good job refurbishing the remaining structures to create a museum. I found it particularly interesting to read about the officers that were stationed here, to include Arthur MacArthur Jr. (Douglas MacArthur’s father) and several West Point graduates.
Troops from the fort protected settlers and the railroad from Indians in the area, and also were dispatched to quell labor riots as far afield as Chicago. They also quelled local labor clashes like the Chinese Massacre in Rock Spring, Wyoming in 1885.
Rock Springs was a coal mining/UP company town and Chinese labor had been brought in to replace white workers because they would work for less. The riots left 28 dead, 15 wounded and 78 homes Chinese homes burned. Local officials and citizens supported the white miners, and not a single person was convicted for the crimes committed. In addition to the Ft Steel troops, there were six companies sent to Wyoming from Utah, and a military camp remained outside Rock Springs until 1899.
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