When the Northern Pacific Railroad began
advancing westward, the U.S. Army was sent to
Dakota Territory in June of
1872, to protect the survey crews and railroad workers. The first post,
built by Companies B and C of the 6th Infantry was called Fort McKeen on
the west bank of the Missouri across from present day Bismarck,
North Dakota. However, just a few months later, in November, the name was
changed to Fort Abraham Lincoln. The following year, Congress authorized
the addition of a cavalry post and and the fort was moved about five miles
south on the river bluffs. Construction was mostly completed the same
In the fall of 1873, six companies of the 7th
Cavalry arrived at the fort under the command of
Lieutenant Colonel George
A. Custer. Their mission was to further the advancement of the Northern
Pacific Railroad and open the westward expansion of the American frontier.
In addition to protecting the railroad, the troops accompanied the Yellowstone
Survey Expedition of 1873.
The following year, in July, 1874, Custer would lead an expedition into the
Black Hills, an event that would change the history of
With orders to explore the previously unknown region and locate a
potential site for a new fort, Custer set out with a force of 1000 men, 110 wagons, and hundreds of
horses, mules and cattle. Unofficially, the Expedition was also to confirm
or deny the rumored presence of gold in the Black Hills.
For the next two months, the expedition explored the Black Hills, finding gold in French Creek, near the
present-day city of Custer,
Wasting no time, Custer soon sent a telegram to
Alfred Terry, telling him not only about the beautiful valleys and
flowing streams, but also advising him of their gold find:
"... gold has been found at several places, and it is the belief of
those who are giving their attention to this subject that it will be found
in paying quantities. I have on my table forty or fifty small particles of
pure gold...most of it obtained today from one panful of earth.”
News of gold found in French Creek sent tens
of thousands of miners rushing for the Black Hills over the next two
years, giving birth to
Deadwood and violating the 1868
Fort Laramie Treaty
Sioux. Despite some attempts by the Army to hold back the flood
of miners, the sheer numbers made it impossible. This, of course, inflamed
the Sioux and soon led to the Black Hills Wars.
1874, Fort Abraham Lincoln housed three companies of the 6th and 17th
Infantries and six companies of the 7th Cavalry, and included some 78
separate buildings, making it one of the largest and most important forts
on the Northern Plains.
In the campaign against the Sioux, Custer and
the 7th Cavalry set out from Fort Abraham Lincoln with Brigadier General
Alfred H. Terry's column in 1876 on their ill-fated expedition to the
Little Bighorn. After the battle, Terry returned to the fort along with
the wounded survivors of Custer's regiment.
In 1877 the fort's troops participated in the
Montana campaign against the
Nez Perces. When the Indians surrendered in October, the troops then
escorted them from Fort Keogh, Montana to Bismarck, North Dakota.