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David Fisk (Lens of
Fort Robinson and the Red
Distributing goods at the
Agency, illustration from Harper's Weekly, 1876.
These two installations along the White River
the scene of many exciting events during the final two decades of
resistance on the northern Plains. The fort was founded in 1874 to protect
Agency, which had been moved the year before from its first location
(1871-73), on the
Oregon-California Trail and the North Platte River about 25 miles
agency's mission was to control and issue food and annuities to the
Among them was the recalcitrant Oglala
Chief Red Cloud,
who had refused to move onto the Great
Reservation of western
created by the
(1868), and insisted on residing in the unceded territory north of the
Life at the agency was hectic. At times 13,000
many hostile, were camped nearby awaiting supplies. Aggravating the
situation were their non-reservation kin and
residents of the surrounding unceded hunting territory who wintered near
the agency to procure food. De facto rulers of the agency, the
kept the inexperienced, and often dishonest, agents and their staff in a
virtual state of siege. The braves went on a rampage in February 1874 and
killed the acting agent. The next month, to restore peace, the Army
founded Fort Robinson adjacent to the agency and Camp Sheridan near the
Agency, 40 miles to the northeast, which administered mainly the Upper
Brules. Realizing the troops' daily presence generated friction, in May
the commander relocated the fort about
miles west of the agency.
But the Army could not prevent corruption in agency management, which
In 1875 a special Government commission conducting hearings at various
locations throughout the Nation, including the
Agencies, confirmed reports that agents, other government employees
contractors, and freighters were profiting from traffic in
food and annuities, many of them inferior. The nation wide publicity
aroused the ire of eastern humanitarians.
A far stronger reason for
hostility was the violation of the Fort Laramie Treaty represented by the 1874-75 mining invasion of the
Black Hills, for which the
fort was a way station on the main route to the goldfields. In September,
1875, first at the fort and then at a site eight miles to the east,
government representatives tried to buy the hills from the reservation
Sioux, but they
refused. The fort supported campaigns in
next year against the non-reservation and reservation
united under Sitting Bull and other leaders and overwhelmed
George Custer in June at the Battle of the
Following this campaign and a victory over the
September in the Battle of Slim Buttes,
returned via the
Black Hills to
then marched to the
Agencies and put down a threatened uprising by disarming and dismounting
Oglalas and Red Leaf's Brules.
the other generals triumphed in their retaliatory winter campaigns.
and the Oglala
surrendered in the winter and spring at Fort Robinson and Camp Sheridan.
As a result of a misunderstanding, in September 1877 the Fort Robinson
commander attempted to arrest
Resisting, in the guardhouse
pulled a knife, a soldier bayoneted him, and he died a short time later in
the adjutant's office next door. An
rebellion was averted.
The next month, however, the
Agencies and their residents, in accordance with the
Black Hills Treaty of 1876,
moved to the Pine Ridge and Rosebud Reservations in
Fort Robinson officers' quarters in the late 1870's
September 1878 the
and his band, who had been assigned from Fort Robinson to Darlington
escaped and headed for their homeland. They were captured in the sandhills
near Fort Robinson, where they were confined. They again tried to gain
their freedom in January 1879, but troops killed some of them and captured
the rest. In 1890, during the Ghost Dance rebellion, elements of the black
9th Cavalry and the white 8th Infantry from Fort Robinson were among the
first troops on the scene at the Pine Ridge Agency, S. Dakota.
During the late 1870's, ranchers had begun to move into the area around
Fort Robinson and once the railroad arrived, in 1886, homesteaders
followed. The presence of the post mitigated conflicts between the two
groups. In 1890 the fort's importance increased as a result of the
Remaining active through World War II, in its final years Fort Robinson
served as a cavalry base, remount depot, war-dog training center, and
prisoner-of-war camp. Since 1949, or two years after the Army departed, it
has been occupied by the Fort Robinson Beef Cattle Research Station, a
joint enterprise of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the University
Fort Robinson State Park consists of the principal historic buildings: six
sets of frame-covered adobe officers' quarters, built in 1874-75; and six
sets of brick officers' quarters, constructed in 1887. Several
miscellaneous structures -- storehouses, shops, and offices -- date from
the period 1886-1910, but the rest of the buildings are later additions.
State Historical Society has placed interpretive markers around the fort
area and maintains a museum in the frame headquarters building. The
society has reconstructed the guardhouse where
was mortally wounded and the adjutant's office, both built in 1874.
Agency site, to the east of the fort, no remains are extant but a monument
commemorates it and the state has conducted some archeological
investigation. The historic scene is unimpaired by modern intrusions.
During the summer months the
State Historical Society conducts tours to the site from the Fort Robinson
museum. The fort and agency sites are on lands owned by the U.S.
Government and the State of
state park also provides recreational facilities including lodging,
camping, fishing and hiking trails.
Located in Dawes and Sioux Counties,
Fort Robinson is on U.S. 20, about four miles west of Crawford. The site
Agency is on an unimproved road, about
miles east of the fort.
Source: National Park Service
Fort Robinson State Park
PO Box 392
of America, updated June 2013.
The Fort Robinson Museum, located
by the parade grounds was the post headquarter ins 1905, photo courtesy
Norris School District.
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