Opinion: AIM threats shuttered Fort Laramie in Wyoming

"I arrived at the entrance to the park just after opening time on a mild mid-January day and encountered a grim, tense park official with a high-powered rifle and holstered pistol—the fort was locked down! Guarding the closed entrance gate, he informed me that the American Indian Movement (AIM) had threatened to burn down Fort Laramie. Alarmed by their threat, the superintendent had closed the fort for the day as federal law-enforcement officers rushed to the park from duty stations in the general area. He alerted the Wyoming Highway Patrol and the Service’s regional office in Omaha, and ordered that park rangers fire no shots unless in a life-threatening situation. I recall that, aside from my presence in an official capacity, the only visitor allowed in the fort that day was a lone German tourist.

One of the Service’s primary westward expansion parks, Fort Laramie dates from the 1830s and 1840s, when many promoted America’s conquest of the West as the nation’s “Manifest Destiny,” ordained by Providence. The fort is located along the Laramie River, near where it joins a much larger river, the North Platte—waters that flow through parts of a vast area known as the Northern Plains: high, open grasslands stretching from about northeastern Colorado and northwestern Kansas all the way into Canada.

And here I was, just out of graduate school, intent on a quiet scholarly career—when suddenly I found myself out on the Northern Plains, threatened by an Indian attack. It seemed strange that a high-profile, activist organization like AIM had targeted this isolated historic military post. I spent the day with distracted park staff, taking a close look at the fort’s historic buildings, parade ground and other features, while warily surveying the surrounding area, where serious trouble could suddenly appear."

Get the Story:
Richard West Sellars: War And Consequences: The American Indian Movement Vs. The National Park Service At Fort Laramie (National Parks Traveler 4/26)

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