A Look Back in Time: Fort Caspar Prepares to Celebrate 150 Years

By: Lisa Thalken
Photo of Wind River Dancers from Riverton

The Wind River Dancers from Riverton, will be performing the first day of the 150th Anniversary events at Fort Caspar.

Today when you drive through west Casper, you will see stoplights, pavement, houses, and business. But 150 years ago this was all untamed land, broken only by the dozen or so log buildings that made up the small military outpost called Platte Bridge Station. On July 26, 1865, history was made when a small group of cavalry soldiers, led by the young Lieutenant Caspar Collins, rode across the bridge to investigate a small group of Indian braves. Little did they know that this small band of warriors was actually more than 3,000 men, gathered from three different tribes and determined to right the wrongs that had been done to them. The soldiers were overcome and their comrades watched in horror from across the river as one by one they were cut down, out of range of the canon.

Now, we live in one of the largest cities in the state, bearing the name of the brave young man who gave his life that day: Caspar Collins.

The 11th Ohio Volunteer Cavalry, along with the Fort Caspar Museum Association, is working hard to preserve and memorialize the memory of all who fought and died on that day. This upcoming summer, on the 150th anniversary of that battle, plans are in the works for one of the largest historical reenactments this side of the Mississippi. This three-day event has been in the planning stages for over a year already, and with good reason. The logistics of handling not only the hundreds of living historians that are coming from all over the country but also the public, is monumental to say the least. The dates are set for July 24-26, 2015.

The event will start with the opening of the three living history camps with re-enactors in period dress portraying daily life in the area during that time. The fort will be alive with a military camp including infantry and Cavalry divisions, a civilian camp and an Indian camp. Living history demonstrations will be happening around every corner for the duration of the weekend. Friday will also be the beginning of the lecture series, which will continue throughout the weekend and feature the 11th Ohio Volunteer Cavalry and “The Story of George Bent and What Happened to the Indians after Platte Bridge.” The headline events for that day will be the Dutch oven competition and a special performance by the Wind River Dancers from Riverton, Wyoming.

Saturday will be more lectures, more living history, and the pinnacle of the day, the battle itself, which will take place at Morad Park, just south of the fort. We are also pleased to invite world renowned wet plate photographer, Walter Zsabo, who will be demonstrating different period photography techniques and even offering wet plate photography to participants. The night will culminate in a period Victorian dance, complete with a live band and a caller who will ensure that everyone has a good time.

Things will wrap up Sunday with cavalry and infantry drills and the final lecture. And to add a bit of modern commercialism to the mix, there will also be vendors on site, with both modern food and drink and period items.

An event of this magnitude doesn’t simply plan itself. The planning committee began meeting in 2013 and is made up of volunteers from the museum, living historians, community members, and good old-fashioned history lovers. Several Casper College alumni are integral parts of the committee. Con Trumbull (AS, ’10), is co-chair and also sits on the Fort Caspar Museum Association Board. A member of the 11th Ohio Volunteer Cavalry, Trumbull has been kept busy coordinating the camp layout and the vendor and sutler registration. Daniel Mattern (AAS, ’06) leans more toward the infantry side of the military, but he has been involved with living history at the fort since he was a child.  Mattern is one of those volunteers who will help wherever he is needed. He is passionate about history, especially at Fort Caspar where his reenacting “roots” are planted. Johanna Wickman (AA, ’03, and AA, ’09) is the president of Wickman Historical Consultants and museum assistant at the Wyoming Veteran’s Museum. She has been especially helpful with marketing and fundraising, plus her experience planning a similar event at the La Quinta Museum in Palm Springs, California has been helpful as well. Wickman will be lecturing on “The 11th Kansas and 11th Ohio Cavalry: Their Story and Life on the Plains” during the celebration. I am heading up the marketing and fundraising sub-committees. A Wyoming native, I have long been a sucker for history, especially when it involves living it. I especially love that I can have my 3-year-old-daughter, Liberty, join me at these living history events.

As the event draws near, the group is beginning to need more and more volunteers as well as donations and sponsorships to ensure that the event will be fully funded. The event itself will be free and open to the public, but additional funding is needed to bring in the re-enactors and lectures, supply food and water for the horses, provide public amenities and many other things. If you are interested in volunteering your time as a living historian or as an event volunteer, or if you would like to donate to the event, please visit fortcaspar.org for more information. In the meantime, be looking for us in July of 2015!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Thalken is a Wheatland, Wyoming native, who moved to Casper in 2002 and promptly enrolled at CC. She finished her associate in management in 2005. She is currently living in Douglas, Wyoming with her 3-year-old daughter Liberty and black lab Sadie. Thalken works as a document imager for an oil and gas leasing company as well as running her own portrait photography business, but wishes she could organize and participate in living history events full time.

ABOUT THE PHOTOGRAPHER: Cody, Wyoming native Jason Whitman moved to Casper in 2012. He is a local eye doctor, ski enthusiast, western and wildlife photographer, and father to two beautiful girls. Whitman strives to bring the western spirit of Wyoming to life through his artwork and is thrilled to be the photographer for this historic event. To see more of his work, go to jasonwhitmanphoto.com.

This story originally appeared in the Winter 2015 issue of Footprints.

Media contact: Lisa S. Icenogle

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