The story of Winslow Fuller Sanderson begins in a way similar to those of many other young men in the years after the American Revolution.
Born in Watertown, New York, in 1811, Sanderson came of age in New York and Massachusetts. By the time he was 18, he had decided his future awaited in what seemed to be limitless opportunities along the edge of a moving frontier.
So Sanderson headed west, arriving in the state capital of Columbus in 1829. Founded in 1812, Columbus still was a rough village of about 2,000 people, with dirt paths through the forest. But Sanderson decided to stay.
It was a wise decision. In less than two years, the Ohio and Erie Canal and the National Road both arrived in Columbus, and by 1834, Columbus was a city of 5,000.
Over the next few years, young Sanderson came to call himself "W.F." Perhaps "Winslow Fuller" sounded a bit pretentious in early Columbus.
In time, Sanderson found himself 2 miles east of downtown Columbus at Nelson's Mill. In 1798, David Nelson came to Ohio and established a home along Alum Creek. In the mid-1830s, Sanderson married Martha Nelson, a granddaughter of the founding father. The Sandersons would become the parents of eight children over the next several years, only two of whom would live past 18.
Active in the local Methodist church, Sanderson found himself spending most of his spare time participating in the activities of local militia companies. Local militias had a long tradition in the American story.
In 1837, William Sullivant, the son of local pioneer Lucas Sullivant, helped form a militia company called the Columbus Guards. By 1839, Sullivant had resigned and Sanderson took command of the company as its captain. In 1842, Sanderson was selected to be "Brigadier General of the Second Brigade, Seventh Division of the Ohio Militia" and held that post while continuing to participate in the activities of the Columbus Guards.
Sanderson reached a crossroads in his life with the outbreak of the Mexican War. He set his militia rank aside and assumed a captaincy in a mounted-rifle unit of the regular army, marching with Gen. Winfield Scott to take Mexico City.
At the conclusion of war with Mexico, Sanderson decided to become a career soldier. As the name suggested, the mounted-rifles unit was not cavalry; it consisted of infantry soldiers who happened to be fortunate enough to have horses to ride. Given the long distances of the Great West, this was an advantage of considerable value.
By 1849, large numbers of people began to cross the Mississippi River and travel along the trails leading to the Pacific Coast. Some were seeking their fortune in the gold fields of California; others simply were seeking a new life in a new place. Many of these people followed a road that came to be called the Oregon Trail.
Soon, it became clear these travelers needed protection from the travails of wind and weather as well the depredations of predators -- human as well as animal. Company E of the mounted-rifles unit under the command of Capt. Sanderson was ordered west to find a new home for the army along the western trail to complement forts farther east.
In June 1849, Sanderson and his men found that place. He wrote to his commanding officer that he had searched for 75 miles along the North Platte River and that "this was found to be the most eligible for a military post and was purchased at my request."
There was a small stockade already at the site. In 1835, a French trapper named Peter La Ramee had established a fur-trading post at the place where a large creek emptied into the North Platte River in what is now eastern Wyoming. He disappeared, was presumed killed and the local stream was named for him. The site later served as a station for William Sublette's fur-trading company and was called Fort William.
The army under the command of Sanderson named the post for the creek and called it Fort Laramie. Sanderson served as its commander until 1850 when his company was transferred to Texas. After taking a leave of absence in 1853, Maj. Sanderson left Columbus to return to his command in Texas.
He never made it. Contracting yellow fever on a ship crossing the Gulf of Mexico, he arrived in Galveston, Texas, and died there in September 1853. He was 42 years old. His wife pursued and ultimately received a pension from the federal government in 1862.
Fort Laramie served as a major landmark for thousands of travelers moving west. The Fort Laramie treaties of 1851 and 1870 were major events in the American story. The fort closed in 1890. A restored Fort Laramie is a National Historic Site.
Local historian and author Ed Lentz writes the As It Were column for ThisWeek Community News.