For the protection of the men engaged in the construction of the Union Pacific Railroad, military camps were established along the line in advance of the working forces. A year before the road was completed to the present site of Cheyenne, Gen. Grenville M. Dodge with his corps of engineers and a company of soldiers, encamped on Crow Creek where Fort Russell is now located. They lived in tents but soon began to erect log cabins. Early in 1867, the Government decided to make Fort Russell a permanent post and erect substantial buildings. The first trip made by John Hunton into Wyoming was when he took a freight train with finishing lumber from Julesburg to be used in the construction of the fort. This was in the spring of 1867, before Cheyenne was on the map. Therefore the origin of Fort Russell antedates Cheyenne.
Fort Russell thus established over fifty years ago, has been from time to time enlarged and improved until it has become one of the most important, permanent military establishments of this country. Including its new, modern construction, military reserves and water supply system, it has cost the Government about $7,000,000.
It is centrally located at the base of the Rocky Mountains on two great continental railway systems, the Union Pacific and Burlington, running north, south, east and west, thus giving direct connection with every section of the country. Its elevation is 6,000 feet above sea level with climatic conditions unsurpassed for healthfulness, being cool in summer and moderate in winter. It’s pure air and bright sunshine are a perpetual tonic and the surrounding region is admirably adapted to the rough and hardy physical exercises and open air life pertaining to the school of the soldier.
The reserve proper on which the post is located consists of 5.560 acres or nine and one-seventh square miles, giving ample room for any enlargement in the future. Crow Creek, a fine mountain stream flows centrally through the reserve. The buildings are nearly all new, substantial, brick structures expressly built for and adapted to, the various branches of military service, including infantry, cavalry, artillery, signal service, pack trains, hospital service, target practice, etc., together with all the necessary auxiliary equipment of stables, warehouses, workshops, gymnasium, guard houses, club houses, riding school building, etc. It has a fine hospital training school building for the education of nurses and medical assistants. Its main hospital building is the largest structure at the fort and is probably the largest military hospital in the country.
Auxiliary to Fort Russell the Government has established the largest military maneuver reserve in this country covering an area of nearly one hundred square miles. This reserve is ideal in topography and situation for handling large bodies of troops in brigades and divisions, for military exercises, mimic battles and marches, being remote from settlements and comprising hills, valleys, ravines, open and rolling ground, mountain streams and timbered areas.
Two secretaries of war (Stimson and Garrison), have personally visited this reserve and have expressed their admiration not only of its scenic beauty but of its rare, practical adaptability for military maneuvers on an extended scale, and as a beautiful summer and winter camp for large bodies of troops. These maneuver grounds are situated about twenty-five miles west of Fort Russell.
Fine Water System
Fort Russell has the largest, finest and most complete water system of any army post in this country. It has an unlimited supply of pure mountain water piped some twenty-five miles from reservoirs filled from running streams. This is brought to the fort through a new sand filter and purifying plant built by the city of Cheyenne at a cost of $80,000. The entire water system cost about $2,000,000 of which the United States Government paid $400,000 and thus became a partner and co-owner with the city of Cheyenne under a contract which assures to the fort a perpetual supply of pure water for all purposes for domestic, irrigation and garrison uses.
The total supply of water from the mountain streams of the water shed is estimated by the engineers at 20,000,000 gallons daily. In ordinary seasons with a garrison of 5,000 men the city and fort together use about 5,000,000 gallons daily, leaving 15,000,000 gallons daily surplus unused. The reservoirs of the system contain 4,178,093,000 gallons, enough to supply the city and fort for nearly three years without any rain or inflow at all. An army of 50,000 can be assembled here and be amply supplied with water for all purposes. The City of Cheyenne pays the entire expense of the upkeep of the system for itself and the garrison at the fort. The Government contract with the city reads as follows:
“It is understood that the City of Cheyenne grants a perpetual water right in the system to the extent required for the use of the military post and its appurtenant reservation, and it hereby agrees to furnish to the United States perpetually a sufficient supply of potable, wholesome water for the uses of said military post and reservation through its connecting mains and service pipes.”
In addition to this the fort has five artesian wells, one being connected with a pumping plant with facilities for supplying water at any time. This well alone flows sufficient water to supply the entire domestic wants of the fort at any time should an emergency arise when it would be needed.
This fort being practically in the center of the continent remote from any probable war zone and exempt from foreign invasion by armies advancing from either the Atlantic or Pacific coasts, is the most admirably situated of any army post in this country for the mobilization and assemblage of troops and supplies and with its great reserve camp for drill and practice in the school of the soldier where long marches and maneuvers of large army divisions are required. Its other important advantages have already been cited.
Source: History of Wyoming, Volume 1, by I. S. Bartlett, Chicago, The S. J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1918