Fort D. A. Russell Home to only Thirty-Seven Soldiers

August 8, 1900

From 1874 until the Spanish-American War, the U. S. Army continuously retained approximately 25,000 soldiers. Analogous to the rest of the Army’s operational force, the population at Fort D. A. Russell remained consistent, as the post continued to accommodate multiple infantry and cavalry companies throughout the years. By 1884, the Department of War established Fort D. A. Russell as a permanent military installation. By the following year, the government funded the construction of twenty-seven permanent brick buildings, further solidifying Fort Russell’s place within the U. S. military. To the city of Cheyenne, the abundance of military personnel stationed at Fort Russell appeared to be a constant socioeconomic factor they could rely on. However, the onset of the Spanish-American War drastically altered the post’s presence stateside.

While President William McKinley initially sought to remain neutral during the Cuban struggle for independence from Spain, rising social pressure from the U. S. public and media forced him to reexamine the U. S.’ political stance. Popular demand shaped by “Yellow Journalism,” in combination with the sinking of the USS Maine in Havana Harbor on February 15, 1898, compelled Congress to renounce Spanish control over Cuba. The U. S. government demanded Spain to withdraw its forces from the island. In retaliation, Spain declared war against the United States on April 24, 1898; Congress responded the following day with its own declaration of war.

The soldiers at Fort D. A. Russell certainly played their part in the Spanish-American War. The 8th Infantry Regiment stationed at Fort Russell departed for Cuba on April 21, 1898, four days before Congress declared war. Only a small detachment from the 8th Infantry remained behind to manage the post. Colonel Jay L. Torrey’s Rough Riders were also activated in support of the war, becoming the Second United States Volunteer Cavalry. Torrey’s Rough Riders were sent to Camp Cuba Libre in Jacksonville, Florida on June 22. However, the unit suffered five fatalities and fourteen injuries due to a train wreck en route to Jacksonville. Upon arrival, their situation worsened, as fever struck the unit, which killed at least another four soldiers. The unit’s unfortunate luck ultimately led to is unofficial designation as the “hard luck” outfit. Torrey’s Rough Riders never saw combat due to their unfortunate experiences and the unit was ultimately inactivated on Oct 22, 1898.

In addition to the 8th Infantry and Torrey’s Rough Riders, the Wyoming National Guard was mustered to Fort Russell and activated as the First Wyoming Infantry on May 16. Wyoming Guardsmen arrived in Camp Dewey, Manila, Philippines on July 31. The First Wyoming Infantry would ultimately be the first unit to hoist the American Flag after the Battle of Manila on August 13, 1898, the day after the United States and Spain signed the Protocol of Peace. On December 10, 1898, the U. S. and Spain signed the Treaty of Paris, which not only renounced all Spanish governance over Cuba, but also established the island as a U. S. Protectorate. In addition to Cuba, the treaty also ceded Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines to the United States. However, war in the Philippines remerged the following year, as the natives refused to accept American control of their country. On February 4, 1899, the Filipinos began rebelling against their new American government; thus, forcing the United States into a second war on the islands.

While various units passed through and temporarily resided at Fort Russell after the Spanish-American War, many were reassigned to quell the insurrection in the Philippines. Four companies from the 24th Infantry arrived on September 29, 1898. However, their stay was temporary, as two of the companies were reassigned to the Philippines in March 1899, while the other two departed for Mullon Lake, Idaho in May. On June 19, 1899, Troop B of the First Cavalry Regiment arrived at Fort Russell; they departed for China a little over a year later in July 1900. Increased U.S. military foreign intervention, and later government-mandated force reduction, continuously diminished the post’s population. By August 8, 1900, the fort’s garrison strength aggregate was only thirty-seven.

The Spanish-American War initially decreased the number of troops stationed at Fort Russell. While many expected the post to resume normal operations after the war, the post-war force reduction, in combination with the unexpected insurrection in the Philippines, left the fort with dangerously low manning. When Vice-President Theodore Roosevelt visited Cheyenne and Fort Russell in September that year, only seventy-seven men were stationed there. Indeed, throughout August and September the fort was severely undermanned. 

Nevertheless, the post near Cheyenne endured. The impact of the Spanish-American war and the Philippine-American War convinced the U.S. government to implement a military reorganization act, which set the maximum number of Army personnel to 60,000. While the force reorganization led to the vacancy of multiple military installations, Fort Russell expanded. By 1906, William H. Taft, Secretary of War, recommended that Fort Russell remain a permanent installation and be developed into a brigade-size post. The post that once only housed thirty-seven soldiers would become home to an entire brigade.

Kyle Brislan is the Historian for the 90th Missile Wing at F. E. Warren Air Force Base. He is a prior history instructor, published author, and Air Force veteran. His historical expertise includes: military history, early-twentieth century Russian history, and labor history.