The Jim Bridger Trail

In 1862, gold was discovered in Virginia City, Montana Territory. Gold seekers, businessmen, thieves and get rich schemers quickly followed. The fastest and most efficient way to reach the fields from the east was to travel along the Bozeman Trail. To do so, travelers would follow the Oregon Trail to present-day Douglas, Wyoming where the trail turned north and went into present day Montana then turned west. Today a driver could take I-25 north to I-90 then turn west. From my little village of Guernsey, it is a drive of 603 miles and can be made in about 9 hours, in today’s world.
The road may have been fast, but there was trouble, Indians along the way did not want people traveling it. The entire Powder River Basin had been long held by local tribes, and they were not about to give it up for a white man’s road to gold. Bozeman was a great promoter of his road, and many lives were lost because of it, but there was another way.
The Jim Bridger Road, or Bridger Trail, was much less known, but it was safe and as fast to Virginia City as the Bozeman Trail.
Old Gabe - Jim Bridger
This trail, instead of turning north at Douglas, continued another 100, or so, miles along what is today Highway 20/26, then turned north at the Waltman crossing and worked its way north and west through Thermopolis and up into Montana. Not a difficult area to traverse and safe all the way to the gold.
Sign at the Waltman Wyoming Reststop

So why was it never use? Difficult to say other than the fact the government did not attempt to sell this better way. If settlers and miners would have used Bridger’s road Western history would have been forever changed. Battles like the Hayfield fight, Wagon Box fight, and the Fetterman Massacre may well never have happened. It is also possible that Lt. Col George Armstrong Custer and the Seventh may have never been sent to Montana if not for the Bozeman Trail and the trouble it caused.
Still a desolate area - this shot from a few miles east of the crossing
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