Visit the California Trail Interpretive Center in Elko, Nevada, and feel the excitement of the thousands of travelers passing through Fort Laramie. These early settlers left with dreams of riches, new lands, and a new life. Explore with us the history that led to this important 19th-century trading center and U.S. Army outpost.

A New Name For Fort Laramie

Fort Laramie, Wyoming was originally settled by trappers, one of whom was Jacques La Ramee. In his honor, the river was named “Laramie”. This name also later given to the Laramie Mountains and the town and fort of Laramie. As a result of the booming overland fur trade, the original fort was built sometime in the 1830s and was named Fort William and later re-named Fort John.

A U.S. Army Outpost

By the time the fort saw the great flood of emigrants to the gold fields of California, the U.S. Army had purchased it to protect these travelers from increasingly hostile Native Americans. Since the fort was located on the Laramie River, the name Fort Laramie gradually came into use. The Army abandoned the fort in 1890, auctioning off the buildings to local residents.

The Treacherous Trek to Wyoming

While the pioneers’ journey along the trail from Missouri to Wyoming was relatively easy compared to that which was to come, there were still unfamiliar hardships on the way west. Although the scenery was spectacular once they reached the Platte River’s north fork and passed by Chimney Rock and Scotts Bluff, the trail up into Wyoming was considerably rougher. To reach Fort Laramie required fording the swift and treacherous Laramie River, sometimes resulting in the drowning of both people and livestock and the loss of wagons and their contents.

An Oasis On The California Trail

It must have been a great relief to weary travelers to reach this “island of civilization”. The fort was bustling with soldiers and their families, servants, and employees. Some of the services Fort Laramie offered to early pioneers included:

  • Restock And Repair Wagons
  • Shoe And Graze Livestock
  • Wash Clothing
  • Post Mail
  • Native American Trading

Gateway to the Rockies

Travelers on the California Trail had brought with them many familiar items from their homes in the East. Once they realized that the remainder of their journey west would be much more difficult, they would simply dump items they were unable to sell at Fort Laramie. Books, furniture, clothes, tools and even food, were left along the trail as they left the fort.

Travel Back in Time

Visit us today at the California Trail Interpretive Center in Elko and explore the history of this fascinating fort. Our interactive exhibits, cultural activities, and an on-site library will introduce you to the travelers who passed through Fort Laramie. Share the journey these brave men and women made on their way to a better life.

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