Cementing a Relationship: How Concrete brought New Mexicans to Wyoming

The Mexican-American War (1846-1848) was one event that led to Hispanics first settling in Wyoming, as it brought the U.S. Army into Wyoming. Only shortly after the war ended, the United States sent the Regiment of Mounted Rifles to occupy what had been a private fort in Wyoming to secure part of the early Oregon Trail. That fort was Fort Laramie, which would go on to have one of the most significant roles of any frontier fort in the West. When the army occupied Fort Laramie, its structures were worn and the post was inadequate for its task. Therefore, the army immediately took to rebuilding the post.

In its early days, Fort Laramie was not much more than a simple stockade, but as soon as the army began to occupy it, that changed. Part of that change was brought about by the importation of labor from New Mexico. And that had to do with concrete.

Concrete as a construction material dates back to the Romans, but it was little used in the Western world until the late 19th century, which was due in part to the manufacturing process becoming obscure and in part because the types of concrete commonly known following Rome’s decline were slow setting and somewhat hard to make. However, concrete remained a construction material elsewhere in the world, including the Spanish world.

Ft Laramie 1849

Fort Laramie in 1849 as sketched by Oregon Trail traveler James Wilkins. Courtesy of the Wisconsin Historical Society.

While it’s popular to imagine everything in New Mexico of this era as being constructed of adobe bricks, in fact, concrete was a common construction material. With the occupation of New Mexico by the U.S. Army during the Mexican War, this fact became known to the army, which was impressed with concrete.

When the army went to reconstruct Fort Laramie, concrete was the choice for the new buildings. That choice in turn required the importation of laborers who knew how to make it and build on it. Those laborers were New Mexican Hispanics.

Those laborers were brought by the army in the late 1840s. The men, who also brought their families, were also farmers. So, once they completed their task, they turned to another part of their skill set: farming.

The farms created by the New Mexican artisans were located some distance away from Fort Laramie in an area visible from the Oregon Trail. The area became known as Mexican Hill, located near present day Guernsey, Wyoming. The farmers who located there used the presence of the trail for market purposes, selling fresh vegetables to travelers.

The story falls off from there. There no longer appeared to be a presence of New Mexican immigrants into the 20th century. But the structures they created at Fort Laramie remained, albeit now in ruins. But that’s more than can be said about the stick-frame buildings that the army generally constructed at its more permanent facilities in the same era.

Excerpted from On This Day in Wyoming History by Patrick T. Holscher, pp. 187-192.

This entry was posted in Agricultural history, Construction, Fort Laramie, Immigration, Local history, military history, Oregon trail, Uncategorized, Under-documented communities, Western history, Westward migration, Wyoming history. Bookmark the permalink.

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