Description - Fort Fred Steele was established June 20, 1868 and occupied until August 7, 1886 by soldiers who were sent by the U.S. Government to guard the railroad against attack from Indians. The construction of the transcontinental Union Pacific Railroad across southern Wyoming in 1867-1896, in turn, brought the cattlemen and sheepherders, loggers and tie hacks, miners and merchants who changed a wasteland into the Wyoming Territory.
Colonel Richard I Dodge, who selected this site on the west bank of the North Platte River, named the fort for Major General Frederick Steele, 20th U.S. Infantry, a Civil War hero. Although the fort at first resembled a tent city, Colonel Dodge's military quartermaster quickly built the fort according to Army specifications by using local materials and labor. In fact, many of the 300 troops at that time received extra pay for their help with this effort. Key civilians who were also employed at the post included a sawmill engineer, blacksmith, saddler and wheelwright. Like many other frontier outposts, the military relied, too, upon a licensed trader or sutler to supply fresh produce and mercantile goods for its personnel and dependents.
After the major Indian threat had passed, the War Department deactivated the post and transferred its troops to other military facilities throughout the United States. Only a guard was left to oversee this federal property. After the fort was abandoned, a sparse population of civilians remained at what would be known only as Fort Steele. Prospering briefly as a logging center, large amounts of logs were floated down the North Platte from the Medicine Bow and Sierra Madre Mountains to this small community where they were turned into railroad ties and fence posts. Later, a major sheep sheering plant was established at the town of Fort Steele to remove the animals' wool made thick and rich by the harsh Wyoming winters. The railway that passed through the community facilitated shipment of those bales to the east where the raw goods were processed and woven into fashionable garments for men and women.
- Fort Steele State Historic Site, located east of Rawlins, offers an excellent opportunity to preserve and interpret a portion of Wyoming's diverse cultural heritage. Although the number of structures has declined over the years what remains standing is mute testimony to the flourishing and subsequent passing of several frontiers. The existing habitat supports a wide variety of wildlife. Over 1250 species of birds and waterfowl on or near the site include the golden eagle, bald eagle, prairie falcon and a variety of hawks. Mule deer and antelope are also spotted along with a variety of mammals and reptiles.
Recreation - Recreational activities in the state historic site include viewing historic, archeological, interpretive sites and wildlife.
Climate - The site is characteristic of the Northern Rocky Mountain Basin. The variety of flora is limited, but prairie grasses, shrubs, gramma and needle grass, sagebrush and salt-weed bushes dominate the site. Bitter cottonwood trees and willows grow profusely with a smattering of pine and fir along the river.
Possibly the most significant climatic feature at the fort is its proximity to the region known as the "Wind Corridor." It is located along or near Interstate 80 from Rock Springs to north of Laramie. The Red Desert area between Rock Springs and Rawlins is the lowest region between Montana and New Mexico and offers a passageway for cold air to travel from Utah and Nevada heading east. As the air moves eastward it is squeezed into a narrow channel by mountain ranges which form the northern and southern boundaries of the Wind Corridor. Fort Steele lies directly in the path of this corridor.
Fort Steele State Historic Site, located on I-80 approximately 12 miles east of Rawlins.