Editor’s Note – This story was published earlier this week in the Casper (Wyoming) Star-Tribune. It is being reprinted here with permission from the newspaper.
Caspar Collins was a 20-year-old U.S. Army second lieutenant killed in 1865. The fort where he died, the city of Casper, Wyoming and Casper Mountain in Wyoming were named in his honor — though unfortunately no one got the spelling right.
On the morning of July 26, Collins led 25 soldiers out of Platte Bridge Station to protect an incoming supply wagon train from American Indians in the area. The soldiers were still in sight of the fort when ambushed by overwhelming numbers of Cheyenne, Lakota and Arapaho.
Collins was among the 20 soldiers killed in the attack, known as the Battle of Platte Bridge.
Collins traveled in the spring of 1862 to the Western frontier with his father, William Collins, a lawyer, Ohio senator and commander of the 11th Ohio Volunteer Cavalry. Young Collins enlisted in the 11th Ohio the following summer. He was stationed at Sweetwater Station, Wyoming and was just passing through Platte Bridge Station in Wyoming at the time of his death.
Some say he was still stung by the general’s words and determined to prove his bravery when he agreed to lead the detachment of the 11th Kansas Cavalry on the doomed mission.
“I’m no coward,” he’s said to have replied to a general at Fort Laramie who accused him of cowardice days before. Collins had objected to riding alone back to Sweetwater Station, the local legend goes.
The Battle of Platte Bridge was part of retaliations across the central plains for the Sand Creek Massacre in Colorado Territory. Hundreds of U.S. troops attacked a peaceful Southern Cheyenne village the previous November, brutally killing about 135 people. Most were women and children, according to the Wyoming State Historical Society.
Collins rode to his death leading men from a different regiment at a fort he was just passing through. The 11th Kansas officers were either sick on day of the battle or found a way to avoid the dangerous assignment.
Colorado’s Fort Collins was already named for his father, so Platte Bridge Station was renamed Fort Casper. The city around the old fort site, a creek and mountain now carry on his name — along with the misspelling he’d endured through his life.
The fort, which was abandoned two years after Collins’ death, was reconstructed beginning in 1936 and the name was corrected to Fort Caspar.
Whether Collins was a hero, a casualty of cowardice by fellow officers, or just plain unlucky has been a debate since the day he died. But he remains a local legend.
He left behind drawings and letters detailing fort life, Native Americans, animals and the landscapes that surrounded him.
Collins was buried at Platte Bridge and later moved to Fort Laramie. His fellow soldiers escorted his body home to Hillsboro, Ohio the next spring for his third and final funeral.
His gravestone reads: “Killed in battle leading a forlorn hope against the Indians at Platte Bridge…”
NOTE – The gravestone is located in the Hillsboro Cemetery.
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