It was on the branch of the South Platte River, three miles west of what is today Cheyenne that Fort D. A. Russell was established in 1867. Originally named in honor of Civil War Brigadier General David A. Russell, F. E. Warren Air Force Base is the oldest continuously active military installation within the Air Force. It's home to the 90th Missile Wing and Headquarters, 20th Air Force, of Air Force Global Strike Command.
When President Lincoln and Congress set plans for the transcontinental railroad, they recognized the need for a military installation to protect Union Pacific workers from hostile Indians. On July 4, 1867, the railroad established its mountain region headquarters at Crow Creek Crossing, later known as Cheyenne. A few weeks later, the U.S. Cavalry moved from temporary headquarters in Cheyenne to a point three miles west and established Fort D. A. Russell. Thus, 1867 was the beginning of a city and a fort, and both have grown together over the years.
Detachments of the 30th Cavalry formed the first garrison, under the command of Col. John D. Stevenson. For a brief time the troops lived in tents, but during the winter of 1867-68 they moved into wood-frame quarters. The dwellings were set in the shape of a diamond, instead of a rectangle, to protect against harsh winter winds that howled across the then treeless high plains. The diamond opened to the east and measured 800 by 1,040 feet. The entrance to the original fort was at a point next to the present day Chapel 1.
The first troops stationed here lived the rough frontier life, which meant coping with the rigors of the weather in winter and with Indians in spring and summer.
In 1876, troops from Fort Russell participated in the Great Sioux Indian Wars, the same in which Lt. Col. Custer's forces were defeated.
Fort Russell was made a permanent post in 1884 because of its strategic location. In 1885, the War Department ordered the post be rebuilt to serve eight infantry companies. The Army built 27 red brick buildings for $100,000 to replace the older wood frame structures, and planted thousands of trees. The last expansion of the base took place in the early 20th century when large barracks along Randall Avenue were constructed. Many of the early brick buildings were stables that housed nearly 20,000 horses and mules. From 1885 to 1930, more than 220 brick buildings were erected; all remain in use today.
The base maintains the historic exterior of each building with appropriate interior modifications for today's living and working environment. Because of the lasting integrity of the base's historic architecture and setting, the central core of the base was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975 and the base was designated a National Historic Landmark.
In 1866, Congress formed four black regiments: the 9th and 10th Cavalry and 24th and 25th Infantry. The 25th Infantry was the only unit that didn't serve at Fort D. A. Russell. Black soldiers were called "Buffalo Soldiers," a title originating from Native Americans who likened the soldiers to the spiritual buffalo.
In 1898, the Spanish-American War brought renewed importance to the post. Soon after President McKinley sent a message to Congress, the 8th Infantry left Fort D. A. Russell for Cuba. Later, the Wyoming National Guard mustered into service at the post and departed for duty in the Philippines. In the battle for Manila, the Wyoming Guard was the first battalion to reach the walls of the city and to raise the flag.
In 1901, troops from Fort Russell again went to the Philippines to help put down an insurrection and bring peace to the Pacific. They returned with a Queen Mary Tudor cannon forged in 1557 and the Bells of Balangiga. The seven-foot cannon, the only one of its kind in America, and the bells, which had been used by insurrectionists as a signal to launch an ambush on American troops, are on display near the base flagpole.
In 1906, Secretary of War William H. Taft recommended Fort Russell expand to a brigade-size post. By 1910, the construction of red brick quarters, two-story barracks, offices and stables had tripled the area of the post. During this era, artillery units were assigned there, and the facility increased in size to accommodate troop training with the latest 20th century weapons.
From 1913 to 1916, during the Mexican Revolution, post artillery units were stationed along the border to prevent the struggle from coming onto American soil. During World War I, the post served as a mobilization point and training facility for field artillery and cavalry groups. As World War I began, Fort Russell had become one of the largest military posts in the United States.
What stands as quarters #2 today was, in 1885, the post commander's home. By tradition, the post commander always occupied the largest house on post. Hence, the commander moved into quarters #8 when it was built in 1903. Quarters #2 was then assigned to the family of Capt. John "Black Jack" Pershing, who later led American forces in Europe during World War I. Capt. Pershing married U.S. Senator Francis E. Warren's daughter, but she preferred staying with her father when her husband was on campaign. Due to the influence of Senator Warren, Capt. Pershing was promoted to general within six months of his marriage. Pershing was promoted to General of the Armies, a position shared by only one other man, Gen. George Washington.
In 1927, the last cavalry units left the installation, ending 60 years of cavalry history at Fort Warren. In 1930, President Hoover issued a proclamation changing the name of the post to Fort Francis E. Warren, honoring Wyoming's territorial governor and first state governor. Warren was a U.S. Senator for 37 years. He received the Medal of Honor when he was 19 for heroism during the Civil War.
Other well-known figures stationed here include Gen. Billy Mitchell (the "Father of the Air Force"), Gen. Mark Clark (World War II general in Europe), Gen. Benjamin O. Davis, Sr. (first black general), Dr. Walter Reed and singer Sammy Davis, Jr., Entertainers Neil Diamond and Chris LeDoux grew up at this installation.
During World War II, Fort Warren was the training center for up to 20,000 of the Quartermaster Corps. More than 280 wooden buildings were constructed without insulation and interior walls to temporarily house the increased number of troops. In the harsh Wyoming winter, waking up in these barracks often meant shaking snow from one's blanket before heading for the just-as-cold communal showers. A prisoner of war camp was also constructed at that time.
Even though this installation became an Air Force base in 1947, the only airfield ever at F. E. Warren was a single dirt strip. This field, never used by modern day pilots, was made famous by World War I ace Cap. Eddie Rickenbacker who crashed his plane on the field - and survived! The airfield was used in 1919 by the "Western Flying Circus," then led by Maj. Carl "Tooey" Spaatz (later promoted to general and the first Air Force Chief of Staff).
Warren was initially used as a training facility. In 1958, the 4320th Strategic Missile Wing was established with responsibility for 24 Atlas missile sites under Strategic Air Command. Although not the first designated missile wing, Warren became the first fully operational missile wing in the command. On Sept. 2, 1960, the 564th Strategic Missile Squadron was declared the first fully operational Intercontinental Ballistic Missile squadron.
Only two years later, the new Minuteman replaced the Atlas, and on July 1, 1963, the 90th Strategic Missile Wing was activated. During the early 1970s, the SAC ICBM Force Modernization Program began replacing Minuteman I with Minuteman III missiles. In November 1973, the 400th Strategic Missile Squadron marked the transition by becoming the first all Minuteman III squadron at Warren. The 90th Strategic Missile Wing was selected to base the Peacekeeper missile in 1975. Warren was home to the Peacekeeper missile from 1986 to 2005, when deactivation was completed. Warren missile fields currently maintain 150 Minuteman III missiles.
During a period of Air Force reorganization in the early 1990s, Warren transitioned from SAC to Air Combat Command, to Air Force Space Command and finally to Air Force Global Strike Command. This realignment was designed to encompass similar ICBM and bomber operations under a single command. The 90th Strategic Missile Wing was also renamed the 90th Missile Wing. The wing became the 90th Space Wing on October 1, 1997. The wing returned to the 90th Missile Wing designation July 1, 2008.
For more than 136 years, the men and women of Warren have excelled as "Guardians of the High Frontier." Whether protecting a railroad or the American way of life through its strategic deterrent, Warren has been at the forefront of our nation's defense, and will continue to do so long into the future.