Western Plains Historic Preservation Association (WPHPA)

WPHPA was conceived when while in the process of leveling a field a farmer reported to the state archeologist that he had unearthed numerous graves.  The state had no funds with which to investigate and salvage the find.  A group of local folks with an interest in history organized what became the WPHPA for the purpose of recording  and salvaging what remained of the site.  Several hundred artifacts were recovered from what was determined to be a cemetery associated with the Bordeaux trading post on the Oregon Trail.  The artifacts were determined by the Smithsonian Institute to be the largest collection of Protohistoric artifacts found in the western high plains area.  A team of Physical Anthropologists from the Smithsonian traveled to the site and recorded the human remains.

Just as the newly organized WPHPA group completed work at the cemetery they were notifies that, again during a land leveling project, another concentration of artifacts and bones had been revealed on a farm some five miles downstream from the Bordeaux site.  Investigations by the WPAPH crew determined that this find was the location of the Ash Point trading post, the exact location of which had been lost from the ravages of time.  In later years the site had served as one of the main facilities of the Swan Land and Cattle Company.  Again, a large collection of artifacts was recovered and the foundations of several historic structures were recorded.  Findings at the two trading posts were at least partially documented in preliminary reports (see Zeimens et al, The Wyoming Archeologist, 1986, vol. 30, and Zeimens et al, Field Archeology in the North Platte Valley).

Over the years WPHPA has presented numerous programs to many community organizations and public schools about the history of trading posts along the Emigrant Trail.  During one presentation at a meeting of the Oregon Trail Association in Nebraska, it was mentioned that in a the book The Indian Wars of 1864, the author Eugene Ware described a cellar located below the floor in the main building of the Bordeaux Trading Post.  The foundations of the buildings of the post had been scattered by land leveling so the precise location of the post had never been determined, but leveling had been deep enough to destroy a cellar.  A man at the meeting offered to fund a search of the area using ground penetrating radar equipment in an effort to locate the cellar and thus Bordeaux’s main building.  a professional team of geologists was hired and the search was conducted bu due to limited funding and time, the cellar was not located.  However, the geologists donated a day of their time to search for the location of Fort William at Fort Laramie.  That search was successful in that the remains of a building fitting the exact measurements of the fort including the block houses on the corners was found and documented.  The National Park Services keeps the location confidential because it is not in view of current facilities at Fort Laramie and cannot be monitored in case artifact collectors learn of and invade the site.

WPHPA was called upon to investigate a location thought to be another trading post known as Fort Bernard also located alon the Emigrant Trail.  For Bernard is an especially significant site whre the American Fur Company had a building known as the Gratiot house where gratuities to be distributed to the Indians according to the treaty of 1851 were stored.  The site was also involved in the Grattan massacre, the incident that set off the Indian wars in this part of the west. The site was being seriously damaged by artifact collectors.  Again, WPHPA was able to delineate several building including the foundation of the Gratiot house and several hundred artifacts were recovered.  Research at Fort Bernard is ongoing.  In 2011 WPHPA received the Maurine Carley Award from the Wyoming State Historical Society for their historic preservation efforts at Fort Bernard.

WPHPA has also been called upon to investigate several other sites along the Oregon Trail.  For example they were able to determine that subsurface evidence for the Red Cloud Agency located near the Wyoming/Nebraska state line remains relatively undisturbed.  Also, the precise locations of the second Fort John, south of Scottsbluff, Nebraska and Fricklin’s trading post and Pony Express state just east of Scottsbluff were confirmed and documented.

The trappers trail and the Cheyenne/Deadwood train both etended north from Fort Laramie through Cottonwood draw.  WPHPA was able to locate the Ten Mile state station in the draw.  In the same area cattle purchased from a herd from the nearby Texas trail became the first cattle wintered north of the Platte river.  WPHPA located the cabin built to accommodate the herders (see Edgar Beecher Bronson, Reminiscences of a Ranchman).  WPHPA was also making arrangements to document the location and buildings at the Government Farm and Cheyenne/Deadwood station located ten miles above the Ten Mile station but the University of Wyoming sold that site to a private party and access to that location was no longer available.

WPHPA is a non-profit outfit with over two hundred members.  Members including the organization directors are all volunteers and along with the general public are provided the opportunity to participate in historic preservation activities while learning about the numerous historic trails that extend through this area.  WPHPA also maintains a program called Expanding Environments that provides summer jobs for high school students to participate in preservation activities during the summer.  Last year was the thirtieth year the youth program was offered.  WPHPA built and maintains a museum called the Western History Center where artifacts from various sites are displayed and interpreted.

This area was a real hub of activity during early historic times.  Trails that extended through the area include the Oregon/Mormon Trail, the Trappers Trail, a military trail from Fort Laramie to Fort Robinson, the Cheyenne/Deadwood Trail, the Pony Express and the Texas Cattle Trails.  WPHPA remains dedicated to the study and preservation of the trail related sites and disseminating information about trails and other aspects of the history and prehistory of the area.



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