Fort Halleck

Michael has a BA in History & American Studies and an MSc in American History from the University of Edinburgh. He comes from a proud military family and has spent most of his career as an educator in the Middle East and Asia. His passion is travel, and he seizes any opportunity to share his experiences in the most immersive way possible, whether at sea or on the land.

Fort Halleck, Wyoming, was established in 186.2 to protect the Overland Trail Stage Line from continuing Indian problems. The site chosen in a gap on the north side of Elk Mountain at an elevation of about 7300 feet, was near a spring with plenty of wood for cooking and heating. The fort was located in the midst of some of the most beautiful tall grass meadows along the trail, abounding with large herds of elk, deer and antelope. The fort complex was quite substantial, consisting of stables large enough to hold 200 horses, storehouses, two sets of company quarters, officers' quarters, a store, bake house, jail and hospital.

Exact accounts vary, but it seems as though a wagon train moving through the area in mid-summer 1862 was well supplied with "frontier" whiskey. The stationmaster proceeded to sell canteens full of the whiskey to the soldiers for $5.00. It wasn't long until many of the soldiers, including the entire night guard, were totally drunk. The commanding officer, Major O'Farrell, gave orders to search every wagon in the train, find the whiskey, and destroy it. The barrel was found, and the remaining contents were spilled out onto the ground. Unfortunately, this spot was right above the spring, and the whiskey went directly into the water supply for the fort. The soldiers wasted no time in saving all the whiskey they could, using whatever cup, canteen or camp kettle they could find. Some just lay and the ground and lapped it up! The gap in the mountains was called after that incident Whiskey Gap--a name which remains to this day.

The post surgeon at the time, Dr. J.H. Finfrock, kept very detailed records of the emigrants passing through the Fort Halleck station. In 1864 he recorded that there were over 4200 emigrant wagons, with a staggering number of 17,584 emigrants and an even more astonishing total of over 50,000 animals traveling the Overland Trail.

A diarist, Franklin E. Adams, who kept quite a thorough diary of his trip on the Overland Trail in 1865, notes that soldiers from the Ohio Volunteers were stationed at Fort Halleck, and were paid $16.00 per month to fight the Indians. This stretch of the trail, from Fort Halleck to Sulpher Springs in the west, was considered to be one of the most dangerous, with regards to the Indian attacks.

On one occasion, Jack Slade, in charge of the Mountain Division of the Overland Trail and stationmaster at Virginia Dale, is reported to have gone into the fort store and used the canned goods on the shelf for target practice. After a second time of creating general mayhem at the fort, the commanding officer arrested him and refused to release him until Ben Holladay promised that he would be fired from the stage company. Jack Slade was fired soon after this incident.

Fort Halleck was abandoned in 1866, just four years after being established, and by the next year diarists described it as "the most dreary place on the entire route." One building remains in the area that some feel may possibly be the blacksmith shop. A stone marker erected by the DAR in 1914 marks the site of the Fort Halleck cemetery.


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