Fort Laramie National Historic Site
Fort Laramie, Wyoming
Established as a private fur-trading fort near Wyoming’s eastern border in 1834, Fort Laramie National Historic Site evolved into the largest military post on the northern plains. It also served as one of the first major pit stops for pioneers heading west. Unlike the traditional forts of the east, Fort Laramie wasn’t built with stockades because the soldiers stationed there could see the Indians coming for miles in the barren countryside.
“Guided group tours or self-guided audio tours give an overview of the 12 restored structures and 46 different rooms furnished to the era,” said site superintendent Mitzi Frank. “During the season, our staff dresses in period costume and shares insights into frontier military life, from weaponry to breadmaking.”
Fully restored barracks house rows of narrow beds. Sutler’s Store, akin to a frontier Walmart and one of Wyoming’s oldest buildings, looks as it did when soldiers, immigrants, Native Americans, fur traders and trappers came through.
Fridays through Sundays around noon, park staff give black-powder demonstrations using a 12-pound mountain Howitzer or 19th-century small arms. Annual events include June’s Fur Trade Days, the July 4th celebration and August’s Moonlight Tour, which features first-person vignettes that re-enact historic happenings.
“On July 20th, we’re celebrating the 75th anniversary of joining the National Park Service,” said Frank. “Special tours and speakers will delve into the fort’s history, building preservation and the Native American perspective.”
The Old West is immortalized in Dodge City. Fort Dodge was established in 1865 on the Santa Fe Trail, and Dodge City was founded the following year near its current site. What happened there in the late 1800s has inspired numerous movies and television shows depicting its gun-slinging inhabitants.
Boot Hill Museum’s two city blocks remain the hub of that Western lore. The museum contains more than 60,000 objects, photographs and documents dating to Dodge City in the 1870s. The complex’s general store stocks merchandise reminiscent of early Dodge City establishments. Visitors can purchase items such as prairie bonnets, long-handled underwear, canned goods, hats, walking sticks, dutch ovens and old-fashioned candy.
Groups will enjoy the Boot Hill Museum Gunfighters’ shoot-out on old Front Street and the Long Branch Variety Show featuring Miss Kitty and her can-can dancers. And a country-style dinner is served in the Occident Saloon. The Depot Theater, located in the Santa Fe train depot, offers five dinner theater productions July through April.
“Boot Hill Museum is our No. 1 attraction,” said group convention coordinator Kari Casterline. “It thoroughly recounts the history of Dodge City.”
Elsewhere, life-size figures depict famous Western personalities such as Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson and Calamity Jane at the Gunfighters’ Wax Museum. There’s also a “Gunsmoke” television set.
Local historians offer step-on tours that visit the same sites as the trolley tour; step-on tours, however, allow for stops at the different museums. Either way, groups see the 1880s stone Mueller-Schmidt home and learn about Dodge City’s longhorn cattle industry before heading out to Fort Dodge.
“The Santa Fe Trail came through nine miles west of us, and the ruts are still accessible via a walking path with story boards,” said Casterline. “It’s gorgeous at sunset, and you can see for miles around.”