December 25, 1866, the soldiers at Fort Laramie gathered in the "Bedlam Building" for their annual Christmas party. By night's end, it would be the saddest holiday celebration in Wyoming history.

Unbeknownst to the merrymakers, just three days earlier, 81 of their former colleagues had been ambushed and killed at Fort Phil Kearney, near present-day Buffalo, Wyoming.

At the time, the Fetterman Massacre was the worst defeat ever suffered by the United States Army as they battled Native American tribes in the west.

John "Portuguese" Phillips was one of the few soldiers to escape the Cheyenne, Lakota and Arapaho warriors. Following the battle, Phillips rode over 230 miles through snow and sub-zero temperatures to deliver the news.

Phillips arrived at Fort Laramie just before midnight on Christmas.

As word of the massacre spread through the Bedlam building, the mood quickly turned from celebratory to somber.

On December 26, the few remaining men at Fort Phil Kearney buried the bodies of their fallen comrades in a trench.

By January 16, two companies of reinforcements arrived from Fort Laramie, many of whom suffered frostbite along the way. Unfortunately for them, the Indians had already bunkered down for the winter.

The Powder River War, as it later became known, continued for another year until the Treaty of Fort Laramie was reached in 1868.

The treaty, which granted control of the disputed land to Lakota chief Red Cloud, only lasted for eight years until the Great Sioux War of 1876.

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