Francis E. Warren AFB is one of four strategic missile bases in the United States. The base has the distinction of evolving from a noteworthy frontier infantry and cavalry post into the largest, most modern strategic missile facility in the United States.
The history of the base dates back to the Railroad Act of 1862, when President Lincoln and Congress set plans for the transcontinental railroad, including a military installation on the eastern slope of the Rocky Mountains in the Wyoming Territory, to protect Union Pacific workers from hostile Indians
On July 4, 1876, 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. The Fort was named after a Civil War hero killed in action at Chantilly, VA. Thus, 1867 was the beginning of a city and a fort, and both have grown together over the years.
The new fort was built next to Crow Creek and was strategically located halfway between Mexico and Canada – only a few hundred miles closer to Los Angeles than to New York.
Detachments of the 30th Infantry and 2nd 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 plains. The diamond opened to the east and measured 800X1040 feet. The entrance to the original fort was at a point next to present day Chapel 1.
The first troops stationed here lived rough frontier life, which meant coping with the rigors of 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 it’s 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. Construction of new brick buildings continued into the 1920’s and helped establish a military construction pattern at posts throughout the nation.
In 1886, Congress formed four black regiments: the 9th and 10th Cavalry and 24th and 25th Infantry. The 25th Infantry was the only unit that did not serve at Fort Russell. Black Soldiers were called “Buffalo Soldiers”, a title originating from their Indian opponents, who credited the black soldier with the courage and strength of the wary bison.
The fort ultimately became the largest cavalry post in the United States. Many former stables still exist on base and are testimony to the thousands of horses and mules stationed here.
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 the an insurrection and bring peace to the Pacific. They returned with the Queen Mary Tudor cannon, forged in 1557 and the Bells of Balangiga. The seven-foot cannon, the only one of it’s kind in America, and the bells, which had been used by insurrectionists to launch an ambush on American troops, are on
display near the base flag pole.
In 1906, Secretary of War William H. Taft recommended For Russell be expanded 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 to the post, and the size of the facility increased in size to accommodate the area needed to train soldiers 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 on to American soil. During World War I, the post served as a mobilization point and training facility for artillery and cavalry groups. As World War I began, Fort Russell had become one of the largest military posts in the United States.
The post airfield was first used in 1919 by the “Western Flying Circus” led by-then Major Carl “Tooey” Spaatz (later promoted to general and the first Air Force Chief of Staff). Later that year, 125 aircraft used the field, located in today’s Wherry housing area, to determine the feasibility of transcontinental air service and air mail delivery. The success of these tests led to the development of the Cheyenne airfield in 1920 and the abandonment of the post’s airfield.
In 1927, the last cavalry units left, ending 60 years of cavalry history at Fort Russell. In 1930, President Hoover issued a proclamation changing the name to Fort Francis E. Warren, honoring Wyoming’s territorial governer and first state governor. Warren was a U.S. Senator for 37 years. Senator Warren received the Medal of Honor when he was 19 for heroism during the Civil War. Senator Warren’s daughter married Capt. John J. “Black Jack” Pershing, who later commanded the U.S. forces in World War I and was promoted to General of the Armies. Only one other man, George Washington, served in that capacity. General Pershing’s family lived at the fort, in a home still in use today. Other distinguished residents over the years were Gen. “Billy” Mitchell, Dr. Walter Reed and Gen. Mark Clark.
During World War II, Fort Warren again grew in size and 282 temporary buildings were added for training up to 20,000 U.S. Army Quartermaster Corps soldiers. A prisoner of war camp was also constructed.
In 1949, 80 years after its founding, the fort became Francis E. Warren Air Force Base. As an Air Force Installation, the base was first used as a training facility. The base joined Strategic Air Command in 1958 and organized the nations first wing dedicated solely to intercontinental ballistic missile operations. Atlas D and E missile sites in eastern Wyoming, western Nebraska, and northern Colorado were placed under the command and control of F.E. Warren.
Soon the unit became the 90th Missile Strategic Missile Wing. On July 1, 1963, the wing became the free world’s largest ICBM unit. It controlled 200 Minuteman I missiles in the tri-state, 12,600 square-mile area. The Minuteman I sites were converted to Minuteman IIIs in 1975, and in 1986 F.E. Warren AFB became the only base in the nation to deploy the Peacekeeper missile. By the end of 1988, deployment was complete with 50 Peacekeepers replacing 50 Minuteman IIIs.
After an Air Force restructure in June 1992, the 90th dropped its “strategic” designation and became the 90th Missile Wing. SAC was inactivated and Warren belonged to Air Combat Command, headquartered at Langley AFB, VA. On July 1993, the realignment of the Twentieth Air Force from ACC to Air Force Space Command moved the responsibility of ICBM operations to AFSPC, headquartered at Peterson AFB, CO. The realignment was designed to take advantage of the similarities between missile launch and space launch operations.
Twentieth Air Force, headquarters for the nation’s ICBM wings, relocated at Warren Oct. 1, 1993. These changes have kept F.E. Warren at the forefront of our nation’s defense and made the wing the most powerful combat unit in the world.