The Official Establishment of Fort D. A. Russell

Fort D. A. Russell General plan from 1885.

August 16, 1867

Historian

Although Colonel John D. Stevenson and the 30th Infantry established camp at Crow Creek on July 21, 1867, the United States Army had yet to establish a permanent location for the new post near Cheyenne. While Mr. Grenville M. Dodge, Chief Engineer of the Union Pacific, sought to establish the fort within two miles of Cheyenne, Brigadier General Christopher C. Augur, Commander of the Department of the Platte, insisted the fort be placed fourteen miles west of the townsite, closer to water and an abundance of timber. It appears that Mr. Dodge succeeded in convincing Lieutenant General William T. Sherman, Commander of the Military Division of the Missouri, that his location met the government’s needs, as the final site selection was only three miles west of the city center. 

Col. Stevenson selected Lieutenant R. W. Petriken to establish the installation’s boundaries. Lt. Petriken determined Fort Russell would encompass 3,840 acres in the shape of a parallelogram spanning two miles wide and three miles long. The installation was strategically placed between Cheyenne and the Cheyenne Depot. By placing the post closer to the depot, Lt. Petriken simplified the installation’s supply logistics, reducing both transportation time and manpower requirements. Col. Stevenson approved of Lt. Petriken’s concept, and, on August 16, 1867, the acreage was designated the permanent location for Fort D. A. Russell. 

The original design of Fort Russell centered around a diamond-shaped parade field, which was 1,040 feet long and 800 feet wide. Edging the parade grounds were fourteen double officers’ quarters, twelve company barracks for six infantry and six cavalry companies, laundresses’ quarters, a hospital quarters with forty-eight beds, carpenter shops, blacksmith shops, an amusement hall, a bake house with an oven capacity of six-hundred rations, a guardhouse, a post-trader’s store, and multiple service buildings and storehouses. The upper portion of the parade field consisted solely of officers’ quarters, with the commanding officer’s quarters in the middle. The company barracks were arranged on the lower half of the parade grounds, six barracks per side. The guard house was positioned in between the twelve company barracks, while the hospital, storehouses, bake house, and various shops surrounded the quarters on the peripheries. While the post’s design was quickly established, the fort’s soldiers would have to wait a couple of months to sleep in their new quarters. 

Quarter’s construction began in September, immediately after the site’s selection. While some of Cheyenne’s citizens assisted with erecting the Cheyenne Depot, the development of Fort Russell fell to the post’s soldiers. Naturally, the infantry and cavalry units found their new construction detail difficult, as they never received formal training in civil engineering. Nevertheless, the 30th Infantry and 2nd Cavalry succeeded in building the much-needed wooden quarters, which were completed by November. Company barracks were eighty feet long, thirty feet wide, eleven feet high, and housed eighty soldiers, which afforded 180 cubic feet of living space per man. The officers’ quarters were completed the following year in February. Officer quarters were a story and a half duplex with five rooms. The company captain typically resided in one half, while his two lieutenants occupied the other. Unfortunately, the first structures completed at Fort Russell no longer exist, as the all-wooden buildings were unable to stand the harsh Wyoming elements.

In 1885, the War Department funded the construction of new permanent brick quarters to replace the worn-down wooden ones, which failed to provide long-term protection from the continuously fluctuating Wyoming weather. In addition to rebuilding the officers’ quarters and company barracks, non-commissioned officers’ quarters were erected south of the barracks. The army completed twenty-seven buildings that year. Two years later, they raised an updated hospital, which is now the Warren ICBM and Heritage Museum. The installation of brick buildings provided an early indication to the future of Fort D. A. Russell, as the establishment of a permanent military installation near Cheyenne highlighted the post’s strategic importance to the U. S. Army—Fort Russell was here to stay. Remarkably, while the buildings have received internal renovations to ensure they meet the demands of our modern military, all of the structures built in 1885 and 1887 are still in use today. 

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. 

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