Fort Phil Kearny

The Sioux burned the original fort after the troops withdrew, but a partial replica has been erected on the site. It consists of the front wall and one "bastion," for lack of a better word. The site is easy to find -- it's just off I-90 -- but it's a short drive up a gravel road that, in March, is pretty sloppy.

The first photo shows the reconstructed front of the fort. The palisade is surprisingly low, much lower than one expects from a lifetime of watching westerns -- only just taller than me, a bit over six feet. Even so, it presents a considerable obstacle unless snow is piled up to within a few feet of the top, as it is here. I suspect the garrison worked regularly to keep snow cleared away from the palisade.

A not very expertly done composite panorama of the front of the fort, centering on the enclosed area shown below. The spot is absolutely beautiful, with the creek winding through the low area in the mid ground and the Bighorn Mountains rising in the distance (but not nearly so far away as they look in this wide-angle photo). At any time other than an unusually harsh winter, this would be an idyllic locale.

This enclosure is to the west of the gate. I'm not sure whether this is the original layout, as the site and the museum were closed for the season. The platform at the far corner is a firing step. Firing notches are cut into the palisade at regular intervals, allowing soldiers to fire through a narrow aperture but in a wide arc while remaining hidden behind the logs. Heavily shuttered windows pierce the palisade as well. The low platforms may have been for cots, with tents pitched above them; that's simply my best guess. I was able to get this lovely shooting angle thanks to the snow drifted up against the palisade.

This is a sample of the palisade and firing step where tourists can climb up and see what it was like. Again, it's all much lower than Hollywood would have us believe. I'm about six feet tall and while on the firing step, the palisade rose only to my armpits. From the opposite side, I could see over the palisade if I stood on my toes. Two firing notches can be seen cut into the logs in this view. They are narrow at the front but widen at the rear to allow a rifleman a wide sweep of fire.

View of the Sullivant Hills as seen from the front of the fort. Wagon trains traveling from the fort to the Pinery to cut wood headed straight for the top of these hills and then followed the ridge westward to their destination. That way, they had a commanding view of the surrounding country and an early warning of attack. The little black smudges atop the right end of the ridge are life-size cutouts of mounted Indians, a sight that was common from the fort. The Wagonbox Fight occurred several miles away beyond the left edge of the photo. The Fetterman massacre was beyond hills that are off the photo to the right.

To better visualize the landscape, you can see a topographic map of the area here. The map shows the Sullivant Hills very clearly, extending in and angled down from the upper right corner. (The map opens in a new window so you won't lose your place here.)

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