We left Custer for Casper, Wyoming, on the 12th and part of our route followed the Cheyenne-Deadwood Trail, which was used as a stagecoach route. Besides suffering from the natural elements—flood, dust, wind, etc.—and the occasional Indian attack, the coaches also fell prey to “ruthless road agents,” one historical marker told us.
Indeed, we stopped later at a rest area that was built near the grave of a stagecoach driver.
Another marker stood at the former site of Fort Jenney (sometimes simplified to Jenny). The fort was built in 1875 by a group sent by President Grant to confirm the discovery of gold in the Black Hills. Walter Jenney was a geologist who was one of the leaders of the group.
It stood a long while, served as a stagecoach station for a time, and later as a home on the LAK Ranch. It was later moved to the Anna Miller Museum in Newcastle, Wy.
So of course, I had to see it. The fort is actually a log cabin outside the museum, which itself is housed in a former Wyoming National Guard Cavalry stable.
Anna Miller, for whom the museum is named, is regarded as on of the resilient pioneer women. Her husband. Billy Miller, was sheriff. He was killed in a fight with Sioux in 1903. Get this: the Indians were suspected of poaching.
Needing to support herself, she became a teacher, then superintendent of schools for the county, and was an all-round pillar of the community. Not sure, but she may have taught in the one-room schoolhouse next to Fort Jenney on the museum grounds.
We also stopped at Ayres Natural Bridge, which is in a county park not far from I-25, a few miles east of Douglas, Wy. (It’s sometimes spelled Ayers, but r before e seems to prevail.) According to a diagram, the stream that races through the park originally went in a horseshoe bend, but over a long time, it eventually undercut the rock wall until part of it collapsed to create a shorter route for the stream to follow.
We reached Custer sometime late in the afternoon and were surprised at the size of the place. Compared with Wall, Kadoka, and Philip, it’s a pretty big place—about 50,000 people.
When we got to the Quality Inn in Custer, we asked about places for dinner. I wanted craft beer. We were warned that the premier spot, Wonder Bar, would be jammed all night because this was the day of the big rodeo parade.
The Fort, on the other hand, was a short walk away, so we went there. We got our first chance to sample Rocky Mountain Oysters. They are breaded and fried, a little on the chewy side, but much better than the gizzards we tried at the Badlands Bar in Wall.
We also had another regional specialty, buffalo rib-eye. It was remarkable tender for a low-fat meat.
I still don’t find a tremendous difference in flavor between bison and beef.
Bison’s not as different from beef as lamb or venison, the other red meats, are. Part of the appeal is that it is exotic by our standards back East, and maybe is a little better for our arteries.
Next morning, we went up the hill about a mile from the Quality Inn to the National Trails Center. It is a museum that recounts the history and culture of four trails that crossed the North Platte River at present-day Casper: the Oregon, California, Mormon, and Pony Express Trails.
The Oregon Trail took people to a purported land of milk and abundance in the far West. The California Trail led to the Gold Rush country. The Mormons were headed for Salt Lake City.
After the Gold Rush increased the population of California, the Pony Express carried mail—for about a year and a half before the telegraph put them out of business.
The trails pretty much followed the Oregon Trail until they started to divide a little west of Casper toward their separate destinations.
We met a man in the parking lot outside the motel who gave us directions to Old Town. It’s a pleasant enough place to stroll.
It is contained in about four city blocks—two on Center Street and two on Second—and looks like something built in the first half of the 20th century, not as old as some of the buildings in Custer, which date back to the 1880s.
It has the feel of a town center brought back from decay. There are business and government offices, but also places selling art or cowgirl clothes, and lots of restaurants. There are three old movie houses in those four blocks, so movies must be popular here.
For dinner we went to J’s Pub and Grill, on what I believe is the town’s west side. We shared an appetizer of pot stickers, which were close to Cantonese fried dumplings.
We also split a dinner of buffalo meat loaf. It had an unusual flavor because the meat included green olive, in addition to an appropriate amount of chopped onion.
There was an amber ale that wasn’t very satisfying, but I was able to resort to an old standby on tap—Goose Island IPA. A couple of those set me right up.
On one of our trips in this direction, Joanna was able to get this shot of an old-fashioned oil derrick standing by the road as a monument.
On the 14th, to celebrate Bastille Day, we went to Fort Caspar Museum. The fort was built to protect a bridge over the North Platte River.
The bridge is why all those trails congregated here. In the earliest pioneer days, people had to ford the river here. Many of them didn’t make it.
When Brigham Young led the first excursion of Mormons toward the Great Salt Lake, he and his crew established a ferry here.
They cut two logs in the shapes of canoes and put a platform on them. It was guided by ropes secured on both banks. It worked well, and Young assigned a team of men to stay and operate it.
It would serve later Mormon parties, and would carry others for a fee.
The bridge started out as private enterprise, too. A man named Louis Guinard built it as a toll bridge, and also opened a trading post. The site later became a stagecoach stop, a Pony Express station, and a telegraph office.
In the early 1860s the cavalry came to protect the telegraph station and the bridge.
A large war party of Sioux, Cheyenne, and Arapaho attacked the bridge in 1865. A small cavalry force under Lt. Caspar Collins went out to reinforce a wagon train that was due to arrive. Collins’s command was overwhelmed by the Indians.
He and a few others were killed, and the rest of the column was driven back across the bridge to what was then known as North Platte Station. The wagon train caught hell too.
Later that year, the station was renamed Fort Casper. The orders misspelled the lieutenant’s name. (Another of the variant spellings we’ve met over the past few days.) They used his first name, because there already was a Fort Collins, the one in Colorado, named for the Caspar’s father.
We ran into a colorful character at the museum. He and I recognized each other because we’re both hard to miss and had been at the trails museum at the same time the day before.
He and his wife live pretty much the way I do. They sold their house and move around the country from town to town.
He’s originally from Minnesota but lived in San Antonio most recently. That’s where they keep the POD that holds their belongings.
He wears a large straw cowboy hat with a feather in the band and wildly printed cowboy shirts. He has been on the road for about six years.
Although he walks in and out, he tours the museums in a wheel chair.
When he learned Joanna is Chinese, he went on about his love of Chinese food, and how successful Chinese are, and how smart. You take the top quarter of the Chinese population and it’s about equal to the entire population of the United States.
His son has a Ph.D. in electrical engineering, and when he got his degree, most of the other successful candidates were Chinese or Indian.
He once traveled to New York and spent a few weeks in Peekskill. He is part Dutch and wanted to learn about the Dutch in America.
He tried driving around Manhattan for a few days, but gave it up in favor of the train.
You get the idea. Way more information than I could hold in my head, but he was fun to talk to.
His wife says she plans to live forever and when her husband dies, she may have the POD sent to her son’s driveway in Albuquerque and take an apartment in the area.
Looking at the word count, I see that this, too, is too much information. So I’ll end this, and go look for beer.
Happy trails, all.