Monday, August 20, 2018

Showdown at Fort Sanders

Fort Sanders was a wooden U.S. Army fort constructed in 1866 on the Laramie Plains in southern Wyoming. First named Fort John Buford, it was renamed Fort Sanders after General William P . Sanders who died at the Siege of Knoxville, Tennessee, during the American Civil War. This was the second fort named after Sanders, the first being in Knoxville.
Fort Sanders officers quarters;
Originally intended to protect travelers on the nearby Overland Trail from Indian attacks, the  troops later protected Union Pacific crews along the rail line from the Laramie Range to across the plains. The railroad arrived near the fort in the spring of 1868.
In 1869 the town of Laramie (originally called Laramie City) was created about 3 miles north of the fort. After the construction of Fort D. A. Russell in Cheyenne in 1868, Fort Sanders became less important, but the War Department maintained it until 1882 when the buildings were sold. Today, the only building still partially standing on the grounds of the fort is the stone guardhouse, built in 1869.
Remains of 1869 stone guardhouse; photo by Jeffrey Beall ; Creative Commons 3.0 

Although Fort Sanders is less famous than some other frontier forts, it served as the backdrop for an important meeting that settled a dispute over the route of the Union Pacific Railroad across Wyoming. The disagreement was between Thomas C. Durant, vice president and general manager of the railroad, and General Grenville Dodge, the UP’s chief engineer. (Details below)
Thomas C. Durant

If you watched the TV series Hell on Wheels, you know Thomas Durant was depicted as a crafty, self-serving character. Although fictionalized, this portrayal contained grains of truth.
Trained as a medical doctor, Durant gave up medicine to become a financier and railroad promoter. He worked for the Chicago and Rock Island Railroad, becoming acquainted with the company's president, Henry Farnam. The two men formed a new company and contracted to manage construction of the Mississippi and Missouri RR across Iowa, acquiring large land grants in the process. The project entailed building a wooden railroad bridge, the first bridge across the Mississippi River. The bridge connected the M&M with the Chicago and Rock Island RR.
Durant actually built the line less than halfway across Iowa, but he and his cohorts became rich through stock manipulation. The Rock Island eventually took over and completed the route to Council Bluffs, Iowa, on the Missouri River.  
In 1862 President Abraham Lincoln chose Durant’s new company, the Union Pacific, to build the eastern half of the first Transcontinental Railroad. The starting point was at Council Bluffs.
Durant had a ruthless reputation, known for “squeezing friend and foe for personal gain.” Since the government paid for each mile of track laid, he overrode his engineers, ordering track to be laid in large, unnecessary oxbows. And he was in no hurry. Over the first two-and-a-half years, the UP only completed 40 miles of track and some 10 miles more of roadbed. Peter A. Dey, the chief engineer, quit due to a routing dispute with Durant.
Meanwhile, during the Civil War, Durant made a fortune smuggling contraband cotton from the Confederate States with the help of Gen. Grenville M. Dodge, who served as General Ulysses S. Grant’s intelligence chief. Dodge held a degree in civil engineering and also oversaw the rapid repair and rebuilding of railroads, bridges, and telegraph lines destroyed by the Confederates. After the war, Durant employed Dodge as the UP’s chief engineer and the pace of construction picked up.
However, Durant sometimes interfered with Dodge’s choice of route, allowing his consulting engineer, Silas Seymour, to change it – not to the advantage of the railroad. He tried this again when the line reached Rock Creek west of Laramie, Wyoming. Durant’s change added twenty miles to the route, costing the company more.
Meeting at Fort Sanders; General Grant with hands on fence; also present are Gen. Sheridan and Gen. Sherman
Matters came to a head at Fort Sanders in July 1868. General Grant came west along with others as part of his presidential campaign. While at the fort, they they reviewed the dispute between Durant and Dodge. Grant declared Dodge was to make all route decisions, with no further interference from Durant.

Now I must confess I have a soft spot in my heart for fort Sanders. You see, it's where Captain David Taylor, the hero of Darlin' Irish, my very first novel, is stationed. He's on his way back to the fort after a trip east when he meets Jessie Devlin, the feisty heroine, at the Union Pacific depot in Omaha. (universal Amazon link)
Book excerpt: 

A woman’s shriek rent the air, interrupting his ruminations and jerking him to attention. The sound had come from inside the depot.

“What the devil?” he muttered. Cutting a path between startled travelers, he shoved open the door and stepped into the building. The stuffy interior reeked of tobacco and sweaty bodies. Finding a gap in the crowd, David caught sight of a red-faced young corporal. The trooper bobbed and weaved, arms raised to fend off blows being rained upon him by a woman in a brown poke bonnet. Her weapon was a heavy looking black reticule.

“Scoundrel! I’ll teach ye some manners, I will!” she vowed in a furious Irish brogue. Swinging wildly, she sent the corporal’s blue cap flying.

“Take it easy, lady!” he cried. “I didn’t mean no harm.”

Wondering what offense the man had committed, David shouldered his way through the crowd until he stood directly behind the woman. Slim and a head shorter than himself, she wore a calico gown, the same drab color as her bonnet. Some settler’s wife, he assumed. But where was her husband?

“No harm, indeed! Stand still, ye heathen, and take what’s comin’ to ye,” she ranted. As she spoke, the yellow-haired corporal spotted David’s uniform and threw him a desperate look.

Feeling duty-bound to step in, David cleared his throat loudly and said, “Excuse me, ma’am, but perhaps that’s enough. The corporal might be needed in one piece when he gets back to his post.” His remark drew laughter from several bystanders.

The woman snorted angrily. “Indeed? Well, I don’t give a fig whether the lout is in one piece or twenty!” So saying, she landed a solid whack on the corporal’s noggin that made him yelp.

“Get ’im, darlin’!” a man in the crowd shouted, egging her on.

Afraid the young soldier might retaliate, David reached out to grasp the woman’s arms, stopping her in mid-swing. “Ma’am, if you’ll just settle down . . . .”

“Let me go!” she shrilled, attempting to wrench free.

He should have complied with her demand, but some primitive instinct made him slip an arm around her and haul her back against him. A sweet scent of lilacs and woman washed over him, and he instantly grew aware of her feminine curves.

She gasped indignantly. “How dare ye? Bithiúnach! Muclach! Take your filthy hands off me.”

Glad he didn’t understand Irish, David cursed under his breath when she rammed her heel into his shin. It didn’t hurt much thanks to his leather boots; nor did the small fists pounding on his arms. But her frantic twisting sent the wrong signal to his male parts.

“Calm down, you little wildcat!” he growled. Releasing her, he stepped back before he humiliated himself.

Whirling around, the woman drew back her arm as if to slap him, only to freeze when their eyes met. A choked sound escaped her lips and the angry color drained from her cheeks. Seeing her sway, David grasped her shoulders to steady her. Her hands clutched his forearms as he returned her wide-eyed stare.

Her eyes were sapphire blue, so dazzling that he had trouble breaking their hold upon him. When he did, he noticed how young she looked – eighteen or twenty, he guessed – and what a beauty she was.
His gaze wandered over her smooth, creamy cheeks and dainty nose then lingered on her pink parted lips. Forcing himself to look elsewhere, he noted the dark auburn curls framing her brow. Her ugly bonnet hid the rest of her hair, but he bet it would look like silk when she let it down.

Then he noticed how rapidly her breasts rose and fell, and desire surged through him, swift and strong. He felt a loco urge to pull her into his arms and kiss her. Reluctantly dragging his gaze back to her sapphire eyes, he wondered what had come over her. A moment ago, she’d been mad as a hornet. Now she stared at him as if she were seeing a ghost.

Dazed by the sight of him, Jessie wondered vaguely if she was having one of her visions. Her gaze kept returning to his gray-green eyes. Crowned by dark brows with an eerily familiar slant, they matched those she’d so often seen in her dreams. Could this tall, uniformed stranger be the man she had left home to find? She hadn’t expected her quest to bear fruit so soon. And the longer she studied his sun-bronzed, square-jawed face, arrow-straight nose and unyielding mouth, the more she doubted he was the one.

Those rakish features were hard, not gentle, and his hauntingly familiar eyes did not caress her like the ones in her dreams. Instead, they devoured her, making her stomach flutter and her heart race. When he boldly stared at her breasts, they tingled as if he were actually touching them. Stunned by her reaction, she inhaled sharply, catching the scent of shaving soap and virile male. She wondered if he would kiss her.

Sweet heaven! What was she thinking? She didn’t want him to kiss her. This fierce looking stranger could not be the man she was seeking. Surely his eye color and slanted brows were merely a coincidence.

Lyn Horner is a multi-published, award-winning author of western historical romance and romantic suspense novels, all spiced with paranormal elements. She is a former fashion illustrator and art instructor who resides in Fort Worth, Texas – “Where the West Begins” - with her husband and a pair of very spoiled cats. As well as crafting passionate love stories, Lyn enjoys reading, gardening, genealogy, visiting with family and friends, and cuddling her furry, four-legged children.

Amazon Author Page: (universal link)
Newsletter:  Lyn’s Romance Gazette
Website:  Lyn Horner’s Corner 


  1. I love reading about historical western army forts, especially since I was born in Kearney, Nebraska, named after Ft. Kearny. That fort got its name from then Col., who later became a General Stephen Watts Kearny. The reason why the "e" was added was because the postmen consistently misspelled the name. I did a lot of research about forts, especially along the Oregon Trail for my first book, Trail To Destiny.
    BTW, as I know I've told you before, Lyn, I read your first book, Darlin' Irish, as well as several others, all great stories!

  2. Cheri, I've visited several old forts in Texas and Oklahoma, and hope to visit more. They always make feel like I could step back in history if I linger long enough, kind of spooky but fascinating. Thanks for sharing a little about Fort Kearny and for stopping by. I remember you saying you enjoyed Darlin' Irish. Still nice to know!

  3. Building the railroad across the West was an amazing undertaking. I remember the awe and thrill as a kid of about 10 years old when I watched the buffalo stampede in the railroad scene in "How the West was Won" at the bells-and-whistles theater, "The Cinerama" in Denver, Colorado. I was hooked on the history of railroading after that.

    I grew up in Fort Morgan, Colorado, which was an army post along the South Platte River. There is interesting history in that part of Colorado.

  4. Kaye, I don't remember that scene, wish I did. I became hooked on UP history while researching for Darlin' Irish. The topic still fascinates me. You should consider writing a post about Fort Morgan. I'd be very interested to read about it. Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

  5. Love this kind of history, and your story...*Deep Breath*. Doris


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