Fort Berthold, North Dakota, was not built as a military fort but rather a fur trading post that was first called Fort James when it was established in 1845 by James Kipp. It was situated on the south side of the Missouri River, near its confluence with the Knife River in present-day McLean County. Just a year later, the fort was acquired by Pierre Chouteau, Jr. and Company and was renamed for Chouteau’s brother-in-law and partner, Bartholomew Berthold, of St. Louis, Missouri.
Some years later, another “fort” was built on the north side of the Missouri River called Fort Atkinson and operated by Chouteau’s competitors. In 1860, the Chouteau acquired his rival’s business across the river and merged the two years later, moving his equipment and supplies to the Fort Atkinson location and transferring the original name. The old “fort” was abandoned and later burned down by the Sioux.
When problems with the Indians erupted the following year, a request was made for military assistance. In 1864, a small garrison of soldiers was placed at the fort, the first time military troops were ever quartered at Fort Berthold. In 1865, log buildings for the troops were erected outside of the stockade.
A small village called “Like-A-Fishhook,” developed around the fort primarily made up of Mandan, Arikara, and Hidatsa Indians. Over the years, more white settlers moved into the region, and the village changed significantly, with a mixed community of settlers, Indians, and military troops, who often used the fort as a base for campaigns against Dakota Indians. In 1870, the Fort Berthold Reservation was established for the Mandan, Arikara, and Hidatsa tribes, which forced the Indians from the village. By the late 1880s, the village and the fort were abandoned.
Archaeological excavations were made at the site in the early 1950s. Today, however, the original site is under the waters of Lake Sakakawea.
© Kathy Alexander/Legends of America, updated November 2022.
North Dakota – Rough Rider Country