Further History of Fort Bridger

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A description of the extent of Green River County, as recorded in the “Acts of the Legislative Assembly of the Territory of Utah,” reads as follows : “All that portion of the territory bounded north by Oregon, east by the territorial line, south by the parallel forming the southern line of Davis County, and west by Weber and Davis Counties, is hereby called Green River County, and is attached to Great Salt Lake County for election, revenue and judicial purposes.” The Act further states that the “sheriff of Salt Lake County is hereby authorized to organize Green River County whenever the inhabitants of the said county shall call for organization or circumstances shall render it expedient.”1 As there seems to have been no demand for such an organization, the government was administered by the officers of Salt Lake County until the creation of the Territory of Wyoming in 1868.

‘Chapters 50 and 54 of the same book of compiled statutes also deal with Green River County, the first having reference to the ferries on Ham’s Fork to which Joseph Bunsby was given exclusive rights. The toll rates were fixed by law at $2 to $6 for vehicles ; draft animals, 50 cents, and sheep and hogs, 10 cents. Daniel D. Wells was granted the same rights on Green River. Five per cent of the tolls received were to be paid to the treasurer of the Perpetual Emigrating Fund Company.

Chapter 88 records an act passed in 1855 by which was created the Provo Canyon Road Company, consisting of Aaron Johnson, Thomas S. Williams, Evan M. Green and William Wall. To them and their successors was given for the term of twenty years the exclusive right of making a good wagon road “from the mouth of Provo Canyon, in Utah County, to Camas Prairie, then to continue northeasterly on the most feasible route till it intersects the main traveled road from the United States to Great Salt Lake City, near Ham’s Fork, in Green River County, Utah Territory, and to keep the same in good repair, with the privilege of taking toll thereon at such specified rates as shall be established by the aforesaid county court”

William A. Carter was made Probate judge, with powers beyond those of the same office of today, as will be seen from the following record of a divorce found on page go of book A of the county of Green River, on file in the courthouse in Evanston.

Territory of Utah,
County of Green River.

To the Probate Court

We, the undersigned petitioners, were, on the 10th day of July, A. D. 1865, united together by marriage, since which time it has become apparent to both and each of us that we cannot live in peace and union together and that our welfare requires a separation. Now, therefore, having made an equal and satisfactory distribution of property, we petition that a decree be made dissolving our matrimonial connection and that we be restored to such independence and separate relations as was ours before the date of marriage hereinbefore made. To the foregoing petition and these statements herein we hereunto affix our names, declaring on oath that it is a true recital of both as , to facts and desires.

Nicholas Walke,
A. W. Walke.

Subscribed and sworn before me, judge of the Probate Court of the, county and territory aforesaid. Witness my hand and the seal of the said court this 14th day of November, A. D. 1866.

(Seal) W. A. Carter, Probate Judge,
In the Probate Court

Territory of Utah
County of Green River.

To all to whom it may concern : Know ye, that Nicholas Walke and A. W. Walke, his wife, having on the 14th day of November, i866, filed their mutual petition before the Probate Court of Green River County, in said Territory, praying for a joint divorce from the bonds of matrimony, and assigning as a reason therefor that they cannot live in peace and union together, and that their welfare and happiness require a separation.

Now, therefore, the court being satisfied that said petition is just, and that the facts set forth therein are true, and of a mutual and satisfactory distribution of their property having been made, doth this day dissolve the matrimonial bonds heretofore existing between the parties above named, and doth hereby order and decree that the said A. W. Walke resume her former name as A. W. Whittall.

Witness my hand and seal of said Probate Court of the County of sd this 14th day of November, 1866. (Seal) W. A. Carter, Probate Judge.

In the autumn of 1853 the Mormon conference meeting in Salt Lake commissioned its apostle, Orson Hyde, to organize a company for the colonization of the Green River tributaries in the neighborhood of Fort Bridger. John Nebeker left Salt Lake City with the first train on the 2nd of November and proceeded to Fort Bridger. From there they traveled up Smith Fork and located about nine miles above the fort. This was the first agricultural settlement in what is now the state of Wyoming and was called Fort Supply.

Nine days later a -second company, headed by Isaac Bullock, arrived at the new settlement. This made forty-five people in all, and they brought with them forty-six wagons drawn by oxen, eight horses and mules, and one hundred ninety-three milk and beef cattle.2 They had seed grain and farm implements and other tools, and they immediately set about erecting a shelter against the rapidly approaching winter. They put up a two-story log building, with wings on either end, large enough to house the entire number. The first child born was Mary Melissa Meeks, who lived to become the wife of Willard Swan of Utah.

Wolves were troublesome in the valley, -and killed some of their cattle that winter and scattered their horses. Caring for livestock and hunting was the chief occupation of the men, and the women busied themselves with housewifely tasks. The labors of all were interspersed with the study of the Shoshone dialect. Elijah B. Ward, an old trapper at Fort Bridger, and his squaw were the instructors. The Mormons believe the Indians, whom they call Lamanites, to be of the lost tribes of the Children of Israel, and were interested in their conversion to the doctrines of their church. The Indians were friendly and responded in a measure to their instructions.

Plowing began on the third of April that year. The season was favorable and they were encouraged with a fair crop of wheat and potatoes. The following year was not so satisfactory, because of an early frost that injured the wheat. The Indians caused them trouble, too, and shot some of their cattle, but with the help of the ever kind and diplomatic John Robertson the uprising was soon quelled. In the summer of 1855 a few more families moved in.3 Each year saw more progress made. Considerable land was cleared of sagebrush and planted in crops, and although there were many hardships, life went on much the same as in other Mormon colonies.

Families lived close together instead of scattering out on farms, and a sane mingling of social enjoyment with religious work brightened their days.

The year 1857 brought a crisis in the struggle between the local government and the United States officials in Utah. The news that President Buchanan was sending out an army to enforce the laws and seat Alfred Cumming in the governor’s chair hitherto occupied by Brigham Young, caused the Mormons to organize against what they considered an unwarrantable invasion. They divided the territory into ten military districts, and Isaac Bullock was given command of Green River County.4

Colonel Albert Sidney Johnson was at the head of the army. Great preparations had been made for the campaign, and the supply trains conducted by the freighting firm of Russell, Majors and Waddell started across the plains in the early summer. Captain Van Fleet, with a small force of men, preceded the main army and arrived at Ham’s Fork early in September. Near the junction of that stream with Black’s Fork he established a post and called it Camp Winfield. Leaving here his six wagons and army mules he proceeded west and reached Salt Lake September eight. After spending a week in the Utah capitol he returned to the camp, and was joined on the second of October by Colonel E. B. Alexander with eight companies of the Tenth Regiment.5

It was not until the twenty-third of November that the main body of Johnson’s army arrived at Fort Bridger. What must have been their dismay to find nothing but ruins in the valley! The colonists had been recalled to their former homes in Utah, and all the buildings, both at Fort Bridger and Fort Supply, together with such goods as could not be moved, had been burned. The torch had been set by Louis Robinson, Brigham Young’s agent at Fort Bridger, on the third of October. On the same day fortythree men, headed by Lot Smith, had set out to intercept the government supply trains. They had met them at Simpson’s Hollow, about two miles west of the mouth of the Big Sandy. Resistance on the part of the freighters was useless, and after taking from the stores as much as they could carry, the Mormons set fire to fifty-two wagons, and all of the valuable freight was consumed. There was no bloodshed, but the grass was burned for miles on either side of the trail.6

General Johnson’s army established their winter camp about two miles below Fort Bridger. They called it Camp Scott, in honor of the nation’s commander-in-chief. The command consisted of the Fifth, Seventh and Tenth Infantry, Second Dragoons and Phelps’ and Reno’s Batteries of the Fourth Artillery? Captain Macey, with forty men, was immediately sent to Fort Massachusetts, in New Mexico, for provisions, and did not succeed in getting back to Bridger Valley until spring. The army was entirely dependent on the supplies brought with them, supplemented by what game they brought in, and when that failed they killed many of the horses for food. The men met all the privations with cheerfulness, harnessed themselves to the wagons to bring fuel from the hills, and worked in every way for the general good.7

The mountaineers lent valuable aid to the new-comers, and Jack Robertson once more proved to be everybody’s friend by acting as interpreter with the Indians, enlisting their help for hunters, and frequently advising from his store of knowledge. Winter and spring passed without serious mishaps. On the tenth of June Captain William Hoffman arrived with supplies. He was in command of Troop K, First Cavalry, and Companies E and H, Sixth Infantry, and with them he remained at Camp Scott, while Johnson, with his army, proceeded to Salt Lake.8

Captain Hoffman took possession of the old fort soon after the departure of Johnson, and Fort Bridger became a military post.9 Improvements were soon under way, permanent barracks and quarters put up, and the old boulder stone buildings were used for storehouses. As time went on trees were set out along the stream, and their verdure still delights the eye of the traveler as he approaches over the Lincoln Highway.

In August, 1858, Captain Hoffman was relieved by Colonel Canby, of the Thirty-ninth Infantry, and he remained in command at the fort until March, 1860. He was succeeded by Major R. C. Gattin of the Seventh Infantry, who commanded the post for three months, at the end of which time he was ordered to New Mexico, and Captain Albert Cumming of the Tenth Infantry was placed in command.

The clouds of the Civil War were darkening and General Johnson left Utah in 1860, joined the Confederate Army and fell at Shilo. Captain Albert Gardner, who followed Major Gattin in command of the troops at Fort Bridger, went east on ten days’ leave of absence, and he, too, cast his lot with the South. The fort was left without a commander until May, 1861, when Captain Jesse A. Gore arrived. The troops from Camp Floyd, Utah, were ordered to Fort Bridger, and almost immediately Colonel Cooke, their commanding officer, gave orders to sell at auction the bulk of the provisions on hand, and, with all but a few of the troops, he moved to Fort Leavenworth. This was early in August. Captain J. C. Clark, with a few men, was left in command until December, then he, too, was called east, leaving Sergeant Boyer in charge of the government property.10

Following the removal of the United States troops from the frontier forts the Indians decided to make one more struggle for their hunting grounds. A strong hand was needed at Fort Bridger, and that need was met by William A. Carter, one of the outstanding figures in the history of Wyoming. He organized a volunteer company of sixty, most of them old mountaineers whom he could trust. The very existence of this company made for safety, and peace was preserved throughout the region within its influence. The title of Colonel was conferred upon Mr. Carter by his associates.

In December, 1862, a company of volunteers under Captain M. F. Lewis was sent to Fort Bridger. They were organized in California and consisted, in part, of the deserters from the Confederate Army and captured soldiers who had been moved to the western states.11 Several such companies succeeded each other at the fort. During this time Major Baldwin, who afterward founded Lander, was in command for. about a year.

In 1866 volunteers were retired from the frontier, and the fort was again manned by regular troops. Brevet Major S. Burt, with Companies F and H, First Batteries, were sent to Fort Bridger. From that time until 1878 government troops occupied the fort. In the early days they were engaged in guarding and guiding travelers across the country, and later in protecting stage lines and those who built and maintained the transcontinental telegraph lines. They also afforded valuable aid to the Union Pacific Company in its work of construction.

One of the government inspectors at Fort Bridger in the ’70s was James Richardson, father of Mrs. F. Kohlenburg of Evanston. She was born there. The family moved to Logan, Utah, where Mrs. Kohlenburg’s grandfather was one of the early non-Mormon settlers.

In 1878 troops were withdrawn from all the western forts. In doing so the government took the stand that with the settling of the west by white men the Indians were unlikely to cause further troubles. Their hopes received a crushing blow when, in August of the next year, there was an uprising of the Utes in Northern Colorado. Major Thornburg, commander at Fort Steele, was sent to the White River Agency to protect the government employes. On the 29th of September they fell into an ambush that resulted in the massacre of Major Thornburg and thirteen of his men, and the wounding of fifty-seven.

When the news of this atrocity reached Fort Bridger Judge Carter lost no time in starting for Washington. He impressed upon the government the necessity of troops at Fort Bridger, and in June of the following year Captain Bisbee was sent out, with the Companies F and H, Fourth Infantry. He was succeeded by Major de Russey, and, in turn, by Lieutenant Eltonhood. A road across the mountains to Fort Thornburg, Colorado, was constructed by the troops and until 1890 Fort Bridger was a military post. From a historic view point it is one of the most interesting places in the entire mountain country.

William A. Carter was a descendant in the sixth generation of John Carter, the founder of one of the most prominent families of Virginia. When a youth Mr. Carter served in the United States Army in the Seminole war, and there formed friendships that influenced his entire life. One of these was with General Harney, who was at the head of Johnson’s army during its organization, and who offered Mr. Carter the position of post trader, which he accepted. Mrs. Carter, also a Virginian, whose maiden name was Mary M. Hamilton, followed him to Fort Bridger two years later. They built a beautiful home that was famous f or its hospitality and its influence. There were six children. Ada, who became the wife of J. K. Corson, an army surgeon ; Anna, who married James Van Allen Carter ; Lulie, now Mrs. Maurice Groshon ; Roberta, Mrs. W. H. Camp, and William A. and Edgar. Mr. and Mrs. Groshon resided for many years in the old Carter home. They are now living at Cheyenne, where Mr. Groshon has held many important positions ; Mrs. Groshon is state regent of the Daughters of the American Revolution.

Richard Hamilton, a brother of Mrs. W. A. Carter, came out with her from the state of Missouri and made his home in the valley, where he was a man of prominence. He died in 1888. Two of his sons, Charles B. and Robert, are engaged in ranching an the Bridger valley.

James van Allen Carter was a native of Missouri. Inspired by the desire to see the West, he came to Fort Bridger in 1866 with a freighting train. He was not related to judge Carter, but soon became a favorite in the home. He was a man of fine mind and winning personality, and was one of the foremost citizens of Uinta County. He soon learned to converse with the Indians, and was interpreter in all important government affairs. Mr. Carter had a drug store in Evanston in the ’70s, and made his home here for several years. It was here that he died, survived by his wife and one son, Edgar, who live in California.

To many besides the author it is a matter of regret that the name Carter County was lost with the creation of Sweetwater and Uinta Counties, for since the year when Jim Bridger gave up his post no name is so linked with the region as that of the Carter family. It was like judge Carter not to push the matter. His disposition is illustrated in his refusal to accept the first governorship of the Territory of Wyoming, when offered that honor by President Grant. However, to the seeing mind the shades of the past still people the spot in a more intimate way than if he and his family had sought to push their claims for recognition. The old home, with something of the southern charm, still stands in the fenced enclosure where a sun dial marks the passage of the sunny hours. Within is the square piano that was brought across the plains in 1860. The family carriage that was used for more formal occasions than the ordinary ranch vehicles is still preserved. A fence within a field protects the grave of the faithful dog companion of an early freighter who showed his love by erecting a marble headstone with the inscription : “Man never had a truer friend. We’ll meet beyond the range.” All these scenes bring to mind pictures of heroic days nobly, endured. The shades of great men still wander among the trees or sit by the hospitable board. Among them are army men, General Sherman and General Harney : builders of the Union Pacific, Gould and Dillon ; great statesmen, including President Arthur ; scientists, Marsh, Leidy, Cope and Hayden. There were writers, too, who took the old stage route across the plains. Among them stands out the well-loved author of “Roughing It,” who did much toward bringing nearer to the East the life beyond the Rockies. Surely Jim Bridger “builded better than he knew!”

  1. “Acts, Resolutions and Memorials passed at the Several Annual Sessions of The Legislative Assembly of the Territory of Utah, published January 1, 1855, at Great Salt Lake City, Joseph Cain, Public Printer.”
  2. Whitney, “History of Utah.”
  3. Ibid
  4. Ibid
  5. History of Fort Bridger,” Chambers.
  6. History of Utah,” Whitney.
  7. History of Fort Bridger,” Chambers.
  8. ” Whitney, “History of Utah.”
  9. Chambers, “History of Fort Bridger.”
  10. Ibid.
  11. Lumez, “Great Salt Lake Trail.”
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