In August 1865, the terrible pain of the Civil War was still white hot. Thousands of Confederate soldiers remained in Union prison camps. Cities in the South still smoldered and the dead of both sides — 620,000 of them (2% of America’s population) — were still being buried. Eight hundred miles west, Chief Red Cloud of the Cheyenne Nation began “causing trouble” along the Bozeman Trail by objecting – with violence – to the incursion of troops.
So, in August 1865, two forts were built along the Powder River in Wyoming — Fort Connor and Fort Reno. To staff these forts, the United States offered some Confederate prisoners the option of swearing allegiance to the United States and then going off to fight Indians in Wyoming. Many signed on. This contingent of newly-minted American soldiers was called “galvanized Yankees.” They went out to Wyoming, took care of business and came home — to help rebuild the South. Fort Reno and Fort Connor were abandoned in 1868 and disintegrated. Fort Connor became a part of the meandering Powder River and Fort Reno was overgrown and disappeared from view.
In 1969, while I was hoofing around Wyoming, I was in Lysite (population perhaps 20) – along the Powder River – and met with Mr. Skiles — a rancher. He took me to the site of Old Fort Reno and pointed the way through perhaps a mile of high grass. I waded through the brush and finally arrived at a place where nothing but a few brick foundations remained. I pulled out my trusty metal detector and went to work . . . . . After a few hours, I had found some heavily-rusted artifacts: some nails, a few horse bridle parts and two really neat pieces — the top of a cooking pot and — a perfect axe head formed by one piece of folded steel. The axe head had been perhaps a foot beneath the surface — in a position where it leaned against the brick foundation. I’ve got these pieces at home. One on my desk. Pretty special to think about those pieces being used by some chaps — 150 years ago. No one remembers galvanized Yankees or Fort Reno. But I sure do.