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Wyoming History: 1860s Fort Caspar’s ‘Forgotten 9’ Finally Gets Headstones

FORT CASPAR – Outside Casper’s namesake historic fort Saturday, a military bugler in 1860s uniform played taps on a small hill above a cluster of two dozen memorial headstones, nine of which were new to represent the 11th Kansas Volunteer Cavalry soldiers who had risen from about 160 years of obscurity.

Reenactors sat on horses and members of the Wyoming Army National Guard stood at attention as the Natrona County Veterans Council fired a nine-gun salute.

Museum Association Vice President Johanna Wickman, a historian, author and expert on the 11th Kansas, told the more than 50 people gathered that the Lest We Forget Commemorative Cemetery Project that spurred the ceremony is about honoring of those who served in what was then called the Platte Bridge Station and gave their lives.

“The reason we put all this effort into these cenotaph headstones is because these soldiers don’t have a headstone and their bodies haven’t been recovered yet,” she said. “There is no place for their families to pay their respects. There’s no place to put flowers… yet. These 11th headstones in Kansas are just the first in our series.

The nine headstones for the 11th Kansas soldiers were added to the 11 already there representing the 11th Ohio Volunteer Cavalry placed at the site in the 1970s. Wickman said the ambitious project hopes to have 62 headstones by the time it is completed, one for each name discovered so far of those who died in the region.

Official cemetery

Museum director Rick Young told Cowboy State Daily before the ceremony that the headstones are adjacent to the burial site of six fort-era bodies that were uncovered during 1938 road construction at the fort.

‘They are unmarked graves and we don’t know who they were. More than likely, some of these guys we just don’t know,” Young said. “The city of Casper has petitioned to have them reburied on site since this is where their grave was located. So that little spot there is actually an official Casper cemetery.”

Wickman said the next phase of the project will pay tribute to the 6th West Virginia Volunteer Cavalry who survived the infamous Andersonville Prison Camp in the South during the Civil War and were subsequently sent West. After the war, most soldiers sent to the region still had time left on their three-year enlistment, and the government had to protect telegraph lines and emigration routes from raids by Native American warriors.

Other soldiers to be honored in the future include those from the 6th Michigan Volunteer Cavalry, 7th Iowa Cavalry and additional members of the 11th Ohio Volunteer Cavalry.

Nearly all of the nine soldiers who dedicated headstones Saturday died in encounters with Native American warriors, one at the Battle of Red Buttes, four at the Battle of Platte Bridge and others in skirmishes.

  • A bugler dressed in a uniform from the 1860s plays taps Saturday during a special ceremony at Fort Caspar honoring nine soldiers lost to history who now have headstones.
    A bugler dressed in a uniform from the 1860s plays taps Saturday during a special ceremony at Fort Caspar honoring nine soldiers lost to history who now have headstones. (Dale Killingbeck, Cowboy State Daily)
  • Historian and author Johanna Wickman talks to attendees at Fort Caspar about the 11th Kansas Volunteer Cavalry and the cemetery project.
    Historian and author Johanna Wickman talks to attendees at Fort Caspar about the 11th Kansas Volunteer Cavalry and the cemetery project. (Dale Killingbeck, Cowboy State Daily)
  • Members of the Wyoming Army National Guard perform a folded flag ceremony for the descendant of one of the 11th Kansas Volunteer Cavalry soldiers who died in 1865.
    Members of the Wyoming Army National Guard perform a folded flag ceremony for the descendant of one of the 11th Kansas Volunteer Cavalry soldiers who died in 1865. (Dale Killingbeck, Cowboy State Daily)
  • A member of the Wyoming Army National Guard presents a folded flag to Elizabeth Jennings of Casper in honor of her ancestor, Adam Culp.
    A member of the Wyoming Army National Guard presents a folded flag to Elizabeth Jennings of Casper in honor of her ancestor, Adam Culp. (Dale Killingbeck, Cowboy State Daily)

Descendant grateful

A great-grandniece of one of the famous soldiers, Elizabeth Jennings of Casper, told attendees how grateful her family was for the ceremony. She said her father, who died nine years ago, had tried to get some kind of recognition, or her great-uncle, Adam Culp, who died in the Battle of Red Buttes.

“He would be so honored and grateful to Fort Caspar and everyone involved for making this possible,” she said. “Adam was part of the 11th Kansas Volunteer Cavalry and was stationed at Platte Bridge Station. He was accompanied by his brother Francis, my great-great-grandfather, who survived, while Adam was brutally murdered by the Indians.

She said she got excited when she heard Wickman was working on a project.

“Johanna is just amazing, she worked so hard on it,” she said. “Wherever my father is, I hope he knows. It’s really neat that this happened.”

Wickman said Culp was a teammate on a wagon train heading back to the station. His brother, Francis, was at Platte Bridge Station and participated in the Battle of Platte Bridge Station. That battle claimed the life of Caspar Collins, after whom the fort and town are named.

Veteran: ‘Sacrifice meant something’

In addition to Wickman and Jennings’ comments on Saturday, a veteran of the war in Afghanistan spoke about the importance of honoring those who served – regardless of when that service took place.

“Their sacrifice meant something. It doesn’t matter what conflict you were in,” said Colton Sasser, who was injured in 2012. “You take the politics out of it. You ask any veteran who has ever served. It’s not the orders, it’s the person next to you that you really serve, that’s who you protect, and I know these soldiers fought that way and did the same thing.

Sasser said many people in Casper don’t understand how “sacred” the fort grounds are and the cost of making lives a thing of the past. He thanked museum staff and called on the community to show support.

“I think what they’re doing is important,” he said. “All I’m asking is that we get out into the community and get people behind this thing, and then we’ll get it done. I think it’s very important that we continue the mission. It has already taken more than 160 years and there is still work to be done.”

Wickman said the cemetery project is moving forward as quickly as money can be raised. Each headstone costs $1,000 and there are 37 headstones still to be ordered. But those numbers could grow as more deaths at the fort come to light through records and names under investigation. She estimates $45,000 is still needed to complete the project.

There could be many more

Both Young and Wickman said they were quite “shocked” when they began discovering so many names of those lost to history who served at the fort. Their bodies were never found or they were buried in an unknown location in the region.

“We knew there were people left behind that didn’t have any markers, we didn’t know exactly how many,” Young said. “So it was a bit of a surprise to continue to find guys. Once we find them, yes, it is extremely satisfying to be able to put that stone up and make sure they are remembered.”

Wickman said the project has proven useful because she has collected much more biographical information about the soldiers who served at the fort.

“For us at the museum here, they are certainly more than just a name on a gravestone,” she said. “We know what their families were like and where they came from.”

The mounted reenactors at Saturday’s ceremony were from the 11th Ohio Volunteer Cavalry reenactors group. There was also a Platte Bridge Company reenactor in period clothing who played the role of a minister.

Members of the Wyoming Army National Guard Sgt. 1st Class Travis Scharosch, sergeant. Josh McDonald and Spec. Preston Fulchert performed a folded flag ceremony and presented the flag to Jennings to conclude the event.

  • Francis Culp, brother of Adam Culp who was honored Saturday at Fort Caspar, also served at Platte Bridge Station and survived the Battle of Platte Bridge Station on July 26, 1865.
    Francis Culp, brother of Adam Culp who was honored Saturday at Fort Caspar, also served at Platte Bridge Station and survived the Battle of Platte Bridge Station on July 26, 1865. (Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Jennings and Jim Baker)
  • Reenactors portraying the 11th Ohio Volunteer Cavalry prepare for a ceremony on the grounds of Fort Caspar honoring nine soldiers who died in 1865.
    Reenactors portraying the 11th Ohio Volunteer Cavalry prepare for a ceremony on the grounds of Fort Caspar honoring nine soldiers who died in 1865. (Dale Killingbeck, Cowboy State Daily)
  • Members of the Wyoming Army National Guard will march to Fort Caspar on Saturday for a folded flag ceremony.
    Members of the Wyoming Army National Guard will march to Fort Caspar on Saturday for a folded flag ceremony. (Dale Killingbeck, Cowboy State Daily)

11th Kansas Soldiers Recognized

  • The 11th Kansas Volunteer Cavalry recognized with headstones Saturday are:

  • Private William T. Bonwell of Co. F, who was killed in a skirmish with Indians on June 3, 1865. He was from Lyon County, Kansas.

  • Private Silas Hinshaw of Co. A, who was killed by warriors while fishing on the North Platte River at Deer Creek Station near Glenrock on June 16, 1865. He was from Leavenworth, Kansas.

  • Private Adam Culp of Co. I, who was killed in the Battle of Red Buttes, July 26, 1865. He was a native of Mount Florence, Kansas.

  • Private James A. Porter of Co. I, who was murdered June 26, 1865. He was from Lyon County, Kansas.

  • Private George W. McDonald of Co. I, who was killed in the Battle of Platte Bridge Station on July 26, 1865. He was from Burlingame, Kansas.

  • Private George Camp of Co. K, who was killed in the Battle of Platte Bridge Station on July 26, 1865. He was from Pleasant Grove, Kansas.

  • Private Sebastian Nehring of Co. K, who was killed in the Battle of Platte Bridge Station on July 26, 1865. He was from Alma, Kansas.

  • Private Alexander York of Co. D, who was murdered May 14, 1865. He was from Ozawkie, Kansas.

  • Private George W. Glidden of Co. A, who was murdered on May 2, 1865. He was from Easton, Kansas.

Valley Killingbeck can be reached at [email protected].

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