Just as we pulled into the parking lot of this obscure historic site, snow gently began to fall in rural Wyoming. The dogs didn't seem to mind; they insisted they didn't need their coats and eagerly hopped out to see what this place was.
Located just outside of Story, on the edge of the Big Horn Mountains, this is the site of a little known battle that was part of Red Cloud's War. During the summer of 1867, Chief Red Cloud led a war party along the famed Bozeman Trail. Their mission was to destroy any military posts along the way. Meanwhile, due to increasing tensions, a small group of soldiers were tasked with protecting an important company of woodcutters. These civilians were crucial to the nearby military post of Fort Phil Kearny, providing the fort with the wood they required for operations and fuel.
On August 2nd, 1867, Red Cloud's warriors ambushed the group of men. Vastly outnumbered, the civilians and soldiers took cover in a makeshift corral of wagon boxes. They were able to defend their tiny enclosure for approximately 8 hours against hundreds of Native American warriors, due mainly to the superior firepower of their weapons and the protection of the wagon boxes themselves. Eventually reinforcements arrived and Red Cloud's army was forced to retreat. The site of this grueling battle now has a fascinating interpretive trail that makes it very easy to picture what happened long ago.
The Interpretive Trail was actually just a short paved loop. Informative signs went into great detail about the local history, painting a vivid picture. The dogs didn't care about the signs or the ancient battle that took place here. Instead, they wondered what we were doing in this tiny park at the base of the eastern Big Horns with snow beginning to fall. More time was spent reading than actually walking, much to the girls' disappointment.
A large stone monument stood at the back of the loop. It was handmade from local rocks and contained a plaque in honor of those who fought in the battle.
Snow continued to fall as we explored the sights. The Big Horn foothills were hidden behind a dense fog that settled in as we walked. The snow descended on us quickly, obstructing the view of anything in the distance. Ursa stared into the fog with great wonder as it crept closer, swallowing everything in its path.
We later found out that this type of weather wasn't uncommon for this part of Wyoming in May.
Posts stationed carefully around the area marked various strategic positions used throughout the battle. The signs and posts were put together thoughtfully in a way that made the fight simple to understand. After learning all about the battle it wasn't hard to picture approximately 20 men holding off hundreds for the better part of a day.
A small stone marker (similar to a tombstone) stood in the far back corner of the site, signifying the location of the Wagon Box Fight. To complete the picture, a wagon box (similar to the simple pine boxes used in the 1860s) sat in place. Markers around it showed where the circle of boxes sat, and how they were arranged. The large wagon boxes made an impromptu fortress. It demonstrated why it would have been nearly impossible to shoot someone with an arrow when they're hiding in or behind a giant wooden box, much less a circle of them. In fact, most of the damage inflicted on the soldiers came from snipers taking a calculated shot at their enemy.
On a more pleasant day the girls probably would have enjoyed this place more. The sudden onset of wet, blowing, foggy snow dampened their enjoyment on this occasion. After thoroughly sniffing the area, they were happy to get back into a warm car.
The walk was short, and not long enough to be satisfying exercise, but it was interesting. The path was paved and would be easy for dogs of all ages and abilities to enjoy. This site was free to visit and open year-round.
The Wagon Box Fight Historic Site is located close to highway 87. It's easy to find and there were signs directing the way. We had the place all to ourselves during our visit. This hidden spot is out of the way but very accessible, via the quirky little town of Story, Wyoming.