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The Bozeman Trail (in yellow)


The Bozeman Trail was an overland route connecting the gold rush territory of Montanamarker to the Oregon Trail. Its most important period was from 1863-1868. The flow of white pioneers and settlers through territory of American Indian provoked their resentment and attacks. The U.S. Army undertook several military campaigns against the Indians to try to control the trail. Because of its association with US frontier history and conflict with American Indians, the trail is listed on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP).

Establishment

In 1863 John Bozeman and John Jacobs scouted out a direct route from Virginia City, Montanamarker to central Wyomingmarker to connect with the Oregon Trail, the major passage to the West Coast. Before this time, most of the access to southwestern Montana Territory was from St. Louismarker via the Missouri Rivermarker to Fort Benton. From there travelers went by the 'Benton Road,' around the Great Fallsmarker and through the Chestnut, Hilger and Prickly Pear (current site of Helena, Montanamarker and Broadwater valleys.

The overland Bozeman Trail followed many north-south trails which American Indians had used since prehistoric time to travel through Powder River country. This route was more direct and better watered than any previous trail into Montana. Bozeman's and Jacobs' most important contribution was to improve the trail so that it was wide enough for wagons. But there was a major drawback — the trail 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 increased in frequency dramatically from 1864 to 1866. This prompted the U.S. government to direct the Army to carry out military campaigns against the Shoshone. Patrick Edward Connor led several of the earliest campaigns. He defeated the Shoshone at the Battle of Bear Rivermarker and during the Powder River Expedition of 1865, he defeated the Arapaho at the Battle of the Tongue Rivermarker.

Post-Civil War travel

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

The Army established Fort Reno, Fort Phil Kearnymarker and Fort C.marker F.marker Smithmarker along the route, staffed with forces to protect travelers, but Indian raids on parties 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, US forces resisted coordinated attempts by large parties of Lakota to overrun Fort C.marker F.marker Smithmarker and Fort Phil Kearnymarker. In the Hayfield Fight and Wagon Box Fight, Indian attacks on outlying parties failed.

Later, by the 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie, the US recognized the Powder River Country as unceded hunting territory for the Lakota and allied tribes. Most was located on the Crow Indian Reservation. For a time the government used the treaty to shut down travel by European-American settlers on the Bozeman Trail. President Ulysses S. Grant ordered the abandonment of forts along the trail.

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 US Army reopened the trail. The Army continued to use the trail during later military campaigns and built a telegraph line along it.

Modern route

Bozeman Trail marker, Montana, 2003


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

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