Part of our in-depth series exploring Sioux Nation Forts
Francis E. Warren AFB is one of four strategic missile bases in the United States. The base has the distinction of evolving from a noteworthy frontier infantry and cavalry post into the largest, most modern strategic missile facility in the United States.
The history of the base dates back to the Railroad Act of 1862, when President Lincoln and Congress set plans for the transcontinental railroad, including a military installation on the eastern slope of the Rocky Mountains in the Wyoming Territory, to protect Union Pacific workers from hostile Indians
On July 4, 1876, the railroad established its mountain region headquarters at Crow Creek Crossing, later known as Cheyenne. A few weeks later, the U.S. Cavalry moved from temporary headquarters in Cheyenne to a point three miles west and established Fort D.A. Russell. The Fort was named after a Civil War hero killed in action at Chantilly, VA. Thus, 1867 was the beginning of a city and a fort, and both have grown together over the years.
The new fort was built next to Crow Creek and was strategically located halfway between Mexico and Canada - only a few hundred miles closer to Los Angeles than to New York.
Detachments of the 30th Infantry and 2nd Cavalry formed the first garrison, under the command of Col. John D. Stevenson. For a brief time, the troops lived in tents, but during the winter of 1867-68 they moved into wood frame quarters. The dwellings were set in the shape of a diamond, instead of a rectangle, to protect against harsh winter winds that howled across the then-treeless plains. The diamond opened to the east and measured 800X1040 feet. The entrance to the original fort was at a point next to present day Chapel 1.
The first troops stationed here lived rough frontier life, which meant coping with the rigors of weather in winter and with Indians in spring and summer. In 1876, troops from Fort Russell participated in the Great Sioux Indian Wars, the same in which Lt. Col. Custer’s forces were defeated.
Fort Russell was made a permanent post in 1884 because of it’s strategic location. In 1885, the War Department ordered the post be rebuilt to serve eight infantry companies. The Army built 27 red brick buildings for $100,000, to replace the older wood frame structures and planted thousands of trees. Construction of new brick buildings continued into the 1920’s and helped establish a military construction pattern at posts throughout the nation.
In 1886, Congress formed four black regiments: the 9th and 10th Cavalry and 24th and 25th Infantry. The 25th Infantry was the only unit that did not serve at Fort Russell. Black Soldiers were called "Buffalo Soldiers", a title originating from their Indian opponents, who credited the black soldier with the courage and strength of the wary bison.
The fort ultimately became the largest cavalry post in the United States. Many former stables still exist on base and are testimony to the thousands of horses and mules stationed here.
None of the original Fort D.A. Russell structures are extant, but most of the 1885 and later red brick barracks, officer's quarters, offices, and cavalry stables survive.
Communities and Related Links
Fort Russell Web Site