Today we visited Fort Lincoln. Rich in both military and early Native American history, Fort Abraham Lincoln was once an important infantry and cavalry post. It was from this fort that Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer and the Seventh cavalry rode out on their ill-fated expedition against the Sioux at the Little Big Horn. If you don't have an annual ND State Park pass (we don't) there is a $5 daily fee for visiting the State Park & a $6 per person interpretive pass fee. Well worth the $17 to visit here :)
The park ranger advised that we stop at the Visitor Center to check out the museum & watch the 20 minute film first. Great advice. She then suggested we tour Custer's home & then visit On-A-Slant Indian Village. After hanging out with General Custer for the last 8 summers (thanks Mitch McClain) we found his home & belongings very interesting. We also found the Mandan Indian Village very interesting. We didn't know much about them so perhaps you don't either. So here's a bit of info for you...
The Mandan Indian tribe established a village at the confluence of the Missouri & Heart rivers in about 1575 & inhabited it until 1781. During those years the Mandan tribe had between seven & nine villages, all located along the Missouri River, with an estimated total population of approximately 10,000 to 15,000. On-a-Slant was the furthest south of all the villages and consisted of approximately 86 earthlodges. Its population was about 1,000-1,500. It was fortified with a ditch and palisade, to protect its wealth of food and trade goods. The women of the Mandan tribe were responsible for building the earthlodges, which were held up by a frame of cottonwood logs & covered with layers of willow branches, grass, and earth. These thick walls insulated the lodge effectively in both summer & winter. The top center of the earthlodge contained a hole to let out smoke from the firepit and to let in sunlight. The earthlodges were placed close together with all entrances facing towards the village plaza in the center. Each lodge housed about ten to fifteen members of the immediate and extended family. The Mandan tribe lived on farming & hunting. The village became a center of trading because the Mandan were known for their ability to make pottery and prepare animal skins. In 1781, a smallpox epidemic infected the Mandan tribe, killing off a majority of the villagers. The remaining tribe members moved north to join the Hidatsa tribe along the Knife River. We plan to visit Knife River & the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center on Tuesday to learn more of the area history.
In the 1870s, at the same location where the Mandan tribe had established their village, a military post was built in June 1872 by two companies of the 6th U.S. Infantry under Lt. Col. Daniel Huston, Jr., as Fort McKeen, opposite Bismarck, Dakota Territory. The three-company infantry post's name was changed to Fort Abraham Lincoln on November 19, 1872, and expanded to the south to include a cavalry post accommodating six companies. Among the 78 permanent wooden structures at Fort Lincoln were a post office, telegraph office, barracks for nine companies, seven officer’s quarters, six cavalry stables, a guardhouse, granary, quartermaster storehouse, bakery, hospital, laundress quarters, and log scouts' quarters. Water was supplied to the fort by hauling it from Missouri River in wagons, while wood was supplied by contract.
By 1873, the 7th Cavalry moved into the fort to ensure the expansion of the Northern Pacific Railway. The first post commander of the expanded fort was Lieutenant Colonel George A. Custer, who held the position until his death in 1876. Custer and his wife Libbie lived on Fort Abraham Lincoln from 1873 until Custer died at the Battle of the Little Big Horn in the summer of 1876. Approximately 500 troops were also stationed there. Custer's first home at the fort was built in the summer of 1873, but it burned down in February 1874.
In 1876, the Army departed from here as part of the Great Sioux War of 1876-77, resulting in Lieutenant Colonel George A. Custer's defeat at the Battle of the Little Bighorn, where they were to push the non-treaty Indians back to their particular reservations. Custer along with about half of his troops did not return to Fort Lincoln. The Fort was abandoned in 1891 after the completion of the railroad to Montana in 1883. A year after the fort was abandoned; local residents disassembled the fort for its nails and wood. In 1895, a new Fort Lincoln was built across the river near Bismarck.
In 1934, the Civilian Conservation Corps built a visitor center, shelters, and roads. They also reconstructed military blockhouses and placed cornerstones to mark where fort buildings once stood, as well as replicating Mandan earthen lodges. Additional reproductions built on site is the replica Mandan village, called On-a-Slant Village mentioned earlier. A reproduction of Custer's house was built in the park in 1989, in time for the state of North Dakota's centennial.
Interpreters in period dress give a guided tour at the Custer house & begin on the front porch, although you do get to tour every room in the house. The young lady doing our tour today was a laundress & she was quite informative & very personable. Tours are conducted in 'first person' by the interpreters-as if you are visiting the fort in 1875-so if you asked a question it had to be phrased properly. Otherwise the answer was "I'm sorry, that event has happened yet"...LOL
I think the highlight of the property for me was climbing to the top of the Blockhouse. They call them blockhouses, I call them guard towers :) It was a steep, narrow ladder up to the top but that wasn't the problem. It was getting back down that could & would be an issue for many! Nothing to hold on to while turning yourself around to begin your descent. A bit scary for me! And very narrow for a size 13 shoe for sure. I was very glad when we had all 4 feet back on the ground, lol. But would I do it again? You bet, the view was spectacular! It was an awesome afternoon, so glad we spent time here.
And by the way, if I had to choose between camping at General Sibley Park & Fort Abraham Lincoln SP, the General wins hands down. Much roomier, easier to navigate & prettier. Most of the sites at Fort Lincoln are pullthrus but very tight, treed & at a bad angle. We only saw two sites we would have been comfortable getting into. Just our opinion! Anyway, they close at the end of the month so it's not likely any of you are headed this way!
Well, that's it for now. Our next stop will probably be to learn about Lewis & Clark's time spent here in this area. Quite a bit of history in this area both with the explores & Indian tribes alike. We're having fun!