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North Dakota Forts of the Old West

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Fort Abercrombie, North DakotaNorth Dakota Forts


Fort Abercrombie

Fort Abraham Lincoln

Fort Berthold

Fort Buford

Fort Clark

Fort Ransom

Fort Rice

Fort Stevenson

Fort Totten

Fort Yates

Fort Union


Fort Abercrombie (1858-1877) - The fort was first established on August 28, 1858 by Lieutenant Colonel John J. Abercrombie on the Red River. However, because the area was prone to flooding, it was reestablished in 1860 on a high west bank of the Red River, north of the original location.

Known as "the Gateway to the Dakotas," the post was the first permanent U.S. military fort established in what would later become North Dakota. The purpose of the fort was to guard the oxcart trails utilized by fur traders, military supply wagon trains, stagecoach routes, and steamboat traffic on the Red River. The post also served as a supply base for two major gold-seeking expeditions across Dakota into Montana, becoming a hub for the transportation route through the northern plains.

During the Dakota War of 1862, the post was besieged by Sioux warriors for more than six weeks in August and September. At this time, the "regular" U.S. Army soldiers had been withdrawn to fight in the Civil War and the post was manned by the Minnesota Volunteer Infantry. During the siege, several soldiers were killed and wounded.

During these attacks, the fort was not protected by blockhouses or a palisade; however, they were soon built afterwards. The  during the siege, but these defensive structures were constructed soon afterward. 675' x 625' rectangle was then enclosed by a stockade of logs projecting above the ground from 8 to 12 feet and blockhouses of hewn logs were constructed at the northeast and southwest corners.

Later, Fort Abercrombie’s mission was changed to protecting the railroad as it was being built; establishing peace between the local Indian tribes; and serving as the hub of military mail routes in the area.

The fort was abandoned in 1877 and most of the fort buildings were sold and removed from the site. The town of Abercrombie, North Dakota was founded a half mile west in 1884.


In 1939; however, the Works Progress Administration (WPA) reconstructed three blockhouses and the stockade and returned the original military guardhouse to the site. Today, the site features a small museum, one original and two reconstructed blockhouses, original guardhouse, and the palisade wall.  Self-guided tours of the outdoor facilities are open year-round at no charge. The museum is open Thursday through Monday from May 16 through September 15 with a small admission charge.



Fort Abercrombie State Historic Site

816 Broadway Street
Abercrombie, North Dakota 58001






Fort Abraham Lincoln, North Dakota

Reenactment group in front of Custer's house at Fort Abraham Lincoln.

 This photo and photo below courtesy Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park.


Fort Abraham Lincoln (1872-1891) - As the Northern Pacific Railroad pushed westward across Dakota Territory, the US military kept pace, protecting the railroad and the workers, primarily from Indian attacks. When the railroad reached the Missouri River in 1872, a new city called Bismarck sprouted up and Fort McKeen was established on the west bank of the Missouri River as a small infantry post. Construction began in June, 1872 by Companies B and C of the 6th U.S. Infantry. In November, 1872, the post was renamed renamed in honor of the fallen President, Abraham Lincoln.  The following year, Congress authorized the addition of a Cavalry Post, of which Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer became the first commander.


Custer enlarged the fort and served here from 1873 until the Battle of the Little Big Horn in 1876. By 1874 the fort housed nine companies with about 650 men and had become one of the largest and most important posts on the Northern Plains. At its height, Fort Abraham Lincoln contained 78 separate buildings. Their mission was to further the advancement of the Northern Pacific Railroad and open the westward expansion of the American frontier.


On May 17, 1876 George Custer led the 7th U.S. Cavalry from Fort Lincoln to the valley of the Little Big Horn, where they planned to force non-treaty Indians back to their reservations.  However, they found themselves outnumbered and outgunned, resulting in the deaths of some 260 cavalry troops, including every member of the five companies with Custer.


Mandan Village, Abraham Lincoln State ParkFort Abraham Lincoln remained the headquarters of the 7th U.S. Cavalry until June, 1882 when the troops were transferred to Fort Meade in South Dakota. By the following year, the railroad had been completed to Montana and Fort Abraham Lincoln’s importance began to decline. In 1891, it was officially abandoned by order of Congress. Most of the buildings were then dismantled by settlers and used in the construction of other buildings.

The site sat silent for the next several decades until the Civilian Conservation Corps began to develop it into the Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park in 1934, building a Visitor’s center, shelters, and roads, as well as reconstructing the historic military blockhouses and fabricating several Mandan earthen lodges.

Over the years, additional reproductions have been built, creating a full Mandan village called the "On-a-Slant Village."  The reconstructed earth lodges depict the lifestyle of the Mandan Indians, who occupied this site from about 1575-1781. Also reconstructed is the Victorian-style home of  George and Libbie Custer, the commissary storehouse, barracks, granary, and stable.


Also located in the state park are modern campgrounds, picnic sites, and historic trails. Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park is located seven miles south of Mandan, North Dakota on Highway 1806.


Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park
4480 Fort Lincoln Road
Mandan, North Dakota



Fort Berthold, North DakotaFort Berthold (1845-1870) - This site 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 the business his rival across the river and two years later, merged the two, moving his equipment and supplies to the Fort Atkinson location and transferring the original name, as well.  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 that 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 was abandoned.

Archaeological excavations were made at the site in the early 1950s. Today; however, the original site is under the waters Lake Sakakawea.



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