By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily
At the edge of America’s frontier, reports have come in over the years of apparitions. Among those are a blood-covered 19th century U.S. Army surgeon and a mysterious “Lady in Green” who disappeared on horseback more than 150 years ago.
Those who have experienced more than Fort Laramie’s lessons of its place in U.S. Western history know there may be more to the historic site.
They’ve encountered the ghosts of Fort Laramie.
But from what was an important outpost defining the early days of America’s Manifest Destiny in the southeast corner of Wyoming, only remnants of a once-bustling community remain.
America’s Most Famous Frontier Outpost
Fort Laramie in Goshen County (also known as Fort John or Fort William) was perhaps the mostimportant stopping place on the Oregon Trail. From its beginnings in 1834, Fort Laramie was a much-needed respite for pioneers on wagon trains that had traveled roughly 300 miles. There, weary travelers could replenish supplies, make repairs and relish the relative safety from the dangers of the trail.
For Casey Osback, chief of interpretation and resource education at Fort Laramie National Historic Site, it’s not surprising that spirits may still linger.
“With all of the years, from 1834 up to 1890 and beyond, this place has had a lot of folks through it,” he said. “There’s no doubt that there’s a certain sense of energy that this park has.”
Osback’s journey with the National Park Service began in 1989 as a 14-year-old living history interpreter volunteer at Fort Laramie. His career has taken him to Washington, D.C., South Dakota and other national parks, but just last month he returned to the banks of the Laramie River for his 10th service assignment, coming full circle.
Because of his long experience with the historic site, Osback told Cowboy State Daily he’s been privy to many tales told by visitors and other rangers about ghostly sightings.
“I’ve definitely heard from folks who have seen ghostly figures up in windows or ghostly folks like Portugee Phillips riding horseback across the parade field,” Osback said, referring to the famous rider who brought news of the Fetterman Attack to Fort Laramie in 1866.
Although he’s never seen any specters himself, Osback said he has experienced some unexplained phenomena.
The Case of the Balancing Quarters
In 1992, when Osback was a young volunteer at the Fort Laramie Historic Site, he was restocking sarsaparilla in the storage room of the enlisted men’s bar, one of the staged areas open to the public.
“I still had really good peripheral vision behind the bar,” he said. “And we used to keep a little tin cash box with change. The door was open, it was a beautiful day. I finished sweeping the floor and walked back toward the counter, and I noticed two quarters were right on the ledge of the open change box. One heads up and one tails up.”
Osback’s puzzlement was twofold – first, how did he not hear someone come in; and second, how would anyone have had time to carefully balance the coins on the edge of the change box?
“If you’ve been to Fort Laramie, you know that it’s pretty hard to be covert or sneak in somewhere because the floors creak,” said Osback. “I never once during that stocking process heard anybody walk into the enlisted men’s bar. I was right there around the corner. So who knows? Was it a ghost or a spirit teasing me? I don’t know. Maybe they had a root beer.”
Other Unexplained Occurrences
Over the years, many people have reported paranormal experiences at Fort Laramie.
There’s the tale of the Lady In Green, who in life was daughter of the agent in charge of the fort (in the 1840s known as Fort John). One afternoon, the young lady set off on a black stallion, wearing a green riding dress and a veiled hat, and carrying a jeweled whip. She mysteriously disappeared – but legend has it that her ghost appears east of Fort Laramie every seven years.
Other ghostly sightings have been reported at Fort Laramie over the decades. They include:
• A ghostly young man in a raincoat.
• The apparition of a cavalry officer who admonishes visitors to “be quiet” in the the bachelor officers’ quarters.
• The spirit of a surgeon in a blood-covered uniform.
• The sound of boots marching across the second-story floor in the cavalry barracks.
• Visions of a headless man near Deer Creek.
• Doors opening and closing by themselves in the old captain’s quarters.
Osback said he’s experienced two other strange happenings. Once, when going through one of the duplex officer’s quarters, he and another ranger were aware of a strong floral scent, like a woman in the 1800s might wear.
“It was a 19th century fragrance that you just do not see folks use,” he said. “It was like a flower water fragrance.”
Another time, Osback said he lost his keys and found them in the strangest of places.
“One night, during a moonlight tour, we had visitors out here and I had misplaced my keys,” he said. “I mean, we looked all over. And lo and behold, in the basement of the 1884 commissaries warehouse where our park visitor center is at, they were on top of a garbage can that we kept hardtack in. And it was 100% a place I had not been.”
Osback said he’s heard from other rangers about hearing faint music across the Fort’s parade grounds.
“We’ve come to the conclusion at times that these buildings, these historic structures, breathe with the wind,” he said. “So for many years, folks kind of felt that that was sort of like ghostly spiritual music, maybe the band playing out on the parade field.”
‘There’s A Presence’
Osback, who often will dress in period clothing to wander the buildings with visitors, said he’s never felt uneasy at Fort Laramie; rather, he feels as if the spirits that may still inhabit the grounds are companions.
“When you’re down in the post bakery, or you’re in the enlisted men’s barracks, you sometimes you get that feeling like maybe you’re not alone,” said Osback. “There’s a presence there with you. And I’ve always felt – whether it’s 2 o’clock in the morning or 2 o’clock in the afternoon – very, very at peace with this place.”