Caspar Collins was called a hero when he died in 1865.
He has a Wyoming town named after him, and a heroic bronze statue greets visitors to the Casper Events Center.
Unfortunately for Collins, the town’s name is misspelled and that statue is based off a misidentified photograph.
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Caspar Collins was a young Cavalry Lieutenant when he died in a battle at Platte Bridge Station, in what is now Casper, Wyoming.
Tensions between native Americans and settlers had been increasing, particularly after a peaceful Cheyenne village was slaughtered by Colonel John M. Chivington and his 3rd Colorado Cavalry at Sand Creek on November 29, 1864.
Lieutenant Collins and his men were attempting to protect a strategically important bridge near the station when he was killed.
The station was renamed Fort Caspar in his honor until it was decommissioned a couple of years later and eventually burned to the ground by native Americans.
The town that eventually sprung up around the station was also named in his honor, except with an “e” accidentally in place of the “a” in Caspar. The reason was a simple typo in the original order papers.
Scant visual records of Collins survive. A childhood photo has been proven without a doubt to be of Collins and his siblings.
Another picture of a group of men has long been identified to include Caspar Collins in the group.
That became the adult face of Collins for decades until Fort Caspar Museum manager Rick Young took a critical look.
“This photo was taken nearly three-years after he was killed, and this is clearly an infantry officer,” said Young, “Collins was in the calvary, and no cavalry officer would ever pose in an infantry uniform.”
“I traced it back to a copy at the Missouri Historical Society that had it misidentified,” said Young.
According to Young, the wife of Lieutenant Henry Clay Bretney, who was with Collins at the Platte Bridge Station, claimed the photo contained both Bretney and Collins. “She did this in the 1920s. She was very old,” said Young.
The photo was actually taken in 1868 during the Peace Treaty, said Young.
Paintings and statues that have represented Collins have all been based on the unidentified young man in the 1868 image as Caspar Collins.
The buildings at Fort Caspar Museum were recreated in the 1930s on the spot where the original fort once stood. Every year the museum hosts Caspar Collins Days, which brings in historical reenactors and other activities to honor the history of the area.
“It is important to know where we came from, understanding that history of how we developed as a community is important,” said Young. “Recognizing him and commemorating his presence in this area every year is a fun project for us.”