Old Bedlam, Fort Laramie

Cover photo credit: National Park Service

By Katherine Kasckow

August 21, 2017

Historic Fort Laramie features Old Bedlam, which was the post’s headquarters when Fort Laramie was a military base. Old Bedlam was built in 1849, making it the oldest standing military building in Wyoming. Fort Laramie was established when the military came to the state to protect emigrants traveling on the Mormon, Oregon, and the Overland trail. Old Bedlam is known for its role as the post’s headquarters, but its original designation was for officer quarters.

The vernacular Greek Revival structure has a two-story central block with symmetrical wings and has frame walls against brick and lime concrete. The building remains in good condition to this day, thanks to its designation as a National Historic Site. The building receives continuous maintenance, which helps it retain physical integrity.

Old Bedlam in the 1940s, courtesy National Park Service Historic Photograph CollectionOld Bedlam in the 1940s, courtesy National Park Service Historic Photograph Collection

The land that would become Fort Laramie started out as a stockade established by fur traders known as Fort Williams in 1834. The original structure was comprised of cottonwood logs, but was replaced with an adobe brick structure in 1841 and its name changed to Fort John. Fort Williams and Fort John both provided supplies to traveling emigrants using the Oregon/California Trail, allowing for emigrants to restock. The base continued to provide for and support traveling emigrants even after the U.S. army purchased it in 1849, and would continue until 1890 when the Army evacuated the site and sold the buildings at a public auction.

For many historic sites like Fort Laramie, the buildings do not survive the wearing of time and age, or they at least fall into severe disrepair. But thanks to the local community, the buildings on the base were protected and not erased, allowing for the excellent preservation of the history of the area. On July 16, 1938, by the order of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Fort Laramie became Fort Laramie National Historic Monument. It was later designated as a National Historic Site, making sure the property was preserved for future generations. So, after witnessing the eclipse, stop by the Fort and check out Old Bedlam and the rest of the base to learn more about the amazing site.

Cassity, Michael. Fort Laramie’s People: An Exploration in Historical Context. Published electonrically by Michael Cassity Historical Research and Photography, 2015.


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