The Oregon Trail

Thirty miles east from the Wyoming border, Fort Robinson State Park (308/665-2900) was established in 1874 to control the Red Cloud and Pine Ridge Sioux people. Now a state park and planted with groves of mature trees where 100 years ago all was grassland prairie, Fort Robinson has perhaps the most tragic and uncomfortable history of all the many old forts on the Wild West frontier: This is where, in 1877, the unarmed Sioux chief Crazy Horse was stabbed to death with bayonets while in the custody of the U.S. Army. In 1879, the last of the Cheyenne people under Morning Star (a.k.a. Chief Dull Knife) escaped from prison and were killed in battle here rather than be taken away to a reservation in Oklahoma.

Knowing this history, it can be hard to take Fort Robinson as the enjoyable respite it is today. The hundreds of hardwood trees make it an oasis on the generally treeless plains, and the whitewashed wooden barracks, many now converted to cultural centers and museums, give it the air of a college campus—especially on summer weekends, when the park turns into a living history museum, complete with cookouts, carriage rides, and evening melodramas.

The only part of the park open year-round is the Fort Robinson Museum (308/665-2919, $2) in the old headquarters building, with full displays on the fort’s history, plus walking-tour maps of the entire post. Accommodations are offered in the officers’ quarters, and there are many good camping spots.