The Bozeman Trail was created to provide an overland route connecting the Oregon Trail to the gold rush territory of Montana.
In 1863, John Bozeman and John Jacobs left Virginia City, Montana, scouting for a more direct overland passage through Wyoming to the Oregon trail. Prior to this trail, most access to Montana was through the Missouri River to Fort Benton, known as the Benton Road.
The Bozeman Trail followed many established Native American Trails, many used since prehistoric times. While this trail had many advantages over other overland trails in that it was better watered and more direct, it had a major disadvantage for settlers seeking the west -- it was located in the territory occupied by the Arapahoe, Lakota and Shoshone nations.
Bozeman led the first group of about 2000 settlers along the trail in 1864. Between 1864 and 1866, raids on white settlers increased. In 1866, Patrick Edward Connor led several expeditions designed to minimize future raids. He defeated the Shoshone at the Battle of Bear River and during the Powder River Expedition in 1865. He defeated the Arapahoe at the Battle of Tongue River.
The government tried to negotiate for use of the trail with the Lakota under Red Cloud. However, when Red Cloud learned that a regiment was already using the trail without Lakota permission, he was enraged and Red Cloud's War began.
To protect travelers, Fort Reno, Fort Philip Kearny and Fort C F Smith were established along the route. When a detachment under William Fetterman was annihilated by Lakota warriors at the Fetterman Massacre near Fort Philip Kearny, travel on the trail ceased. On 1 and 2 Aug 1867, the Lakota coordinated an attack to overrun Fort C F Smith and Fort Philip Kearny, but forces manning the forts held off the attack. In the Hayfield Fight and Wagon Box Fight, raiders were repelled.
By the 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie, the United States recognized Powder River Territory as unceded lands for the Lakota and allied tribes, although most of the land was located within the Crow Reservation. The US government used the treaty to shut down settler travel along the trail and President Ulysses S Grant ordered the abandonment of forts along the trail.
For a time, Red Cloud's War appeared to have been a success to the Lakota Tribe. However, by 1876, following the Black Hills War, the trail was reopened. The military used the trail in later campaigns and even built a telegraph line along the trail.
Today, the route of the trail is part of a Historic Route. The route today is occupied by major highways. It is Interstate 25 from Douglas, Wyoming to Sheridan, Wyoming, then Interstate 90 from Sheridan, Wyoming to Three Forks, Montana. The final portion of the trail is Hwy 287 from Three Forks, Montana to Virginia City, Montana.
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