Fort Lincoln State Park: Custer's Last Home
(Mandan, North Dakota)
I've spent the past four weeks camping at Fort Lincoln State Park while I've been working
on my website, writing e-mails, and doing research on my mother's ancestors. This wonderful park is located across the
Missouri River and a few miles downstream from Bismarck. Since the nights have getting pretty cold, I'm
one of the few campers in the campground now, and I'm now on a first-name basis
with the rangers here. Fort Lincoln is a fascinating place, so I decided to
devote this update to it.
Abraham Lincoln was established in 1872 to protect the railroad construction
crews that were building a rail line across North Dakota. A year later,
the 7th U.S. Cavalry, led by Colonel George Custer, moved here and Fort Lincoln
became the most important fort in the Dakota Territory (encompassing what is
today North and South Dakota). In 1876, Custer and several hundred men
rode out to Montana where they planned to round up "renegade" Indians
who had refused to report to their reservations. Of course, the Cheyenne
and Sioux turned the tables on Custer at the Little Bighorn River and his group
of about 280 men were wiped out at Custer's Last Stand.
Here's a MIDI version
of Garryowen. This was an Irish jig that became the 7th Cavalry's official marching song.
As depicted in the movie, "Little Big Man," Custer's band would
often play this tune as the 7th Cavalry marched into battle.
are a lot of interesting things to see and do at Fort Lincoln. The fort,
which was dismantled after the 7th Cavalry left in 1882, has been partially
reconstructed and the State Park rangers give tours of the Custer House twice an
hour. There's also a reconstructed Mandan Indian village here on the site
of the original, much larger village. The Visitor Center has a lot of
interesting displays and a 20-minute slide show, and there's a great campground
with sites right on the Missouri River where I've spent many evenings, watching
the twinkling lights of Bismarck upriver and listening to the honking geese as they fly
south for the winter.
Parks Department has done a great job of reconstructing what life was like here
during the 1870s. In addition to the guided tours described above, the
rangers hold live demonstrations periodically and about once every hour a bugle
(albeit pre-recorded) plays the appropriate tune, audible a half-mile away in
the campground, finishing with Taps at 9 p.m. Trail rides are also offered
and a trolley links the park with the city of Mandan, a few miles north.
you're interested in the U.S. Cavalry and the Indian conflicts of the 1800s,
you should spend a few days here... or a month, as I've done!
Above left: The campground at Fort Lincoln State Park, across the Missouri
River from Bismarck. Fort Lincoln was George Custer's home between 1873 and 1876
before his little problem at the Little Big Horn. It has also been my home
for the past four weeks. You know you've been there a long time when the
rangers start calling you by your first name.
Above center: The Missouri River From Ft. Lincoln State Park. The
Lewis and Clark Expedition camped here on October 4, 1804 on their way to the
Above right: A view of Bismarck (note the skyscraper capitol) and the
peaceful Missouri River from the campground.
Above left: Colonel George Custer, who graduated 34th out of 34 in his
West Point. A few years later during the Civil War, though, he became the youngest
general in the history of the American Army at age 23. Custer fought with
the 5th Michigan Cavalry during the Civil War while my great-great-grandfather,
Myers, fought with the 10th Michigan Cavalry.
Above center: An 1873 photo of the officers of the 7th Cavalry at Fort
Abraham Lincoln near Bismarck, three years before the Battle of the Little Big
Horn. That's the hatless Colonel George Custer on the left standing next
to his wife, Libbie.
Above right: Sergeant Mark taking us around the grounds of Fort
Lincoln. We got a great tour of the
Custer House, which is in the background.
Above left: The most impressive building at Fort Lincoln State Park is the
replica of the Custer House (the original one was torn down in the
1890s). They've filled it with a lot of original furniture, though, and
it's pretty interesting inside.
Above center: The barracks of Company I, 7th Cavalry at Fort
Lincoln. The 66 men in this company were led by Captain Myles Keogh who was, as
opposed to Custer, quite a competent leader.
Above right: Each footlocker in the barracks has a brief biography posted of one
of the soldiers. I thought the most interesting bio was that of
blacksmith Gustave Korn who, after the battle, nursed Keogh's horse,
Comanche, back to health. Comanche was the only survivor of
"Custer's Last Stand." Comanche's whereabouts was the
topic of an earlier entry (see
Above left: An old Army blockhouse and, in the distance, another
blockhouse which is the North Dakota Capitol Building.
Above center: A close-up of
the eastern blockhouse.
Above right: The western
Above left: These are either cavalry soldiers or the folks at Visa
chasing me down.
Above center: Firing a cannon that they stuffed with 2 heads of cabbage
(no kidding). It made a very loud bang... and then cole slaw.
Above right: And speaking of loud, here they're firing a Gatling Gun,
the first type of machine gun and used throughout the American West during the
Above left: The park also has five reconstructed Mandan Indian
lodges. Lewis & Clark wintered with the Mandan, a peaceful tribe,
about 50 miles north of here in 1804. By 1837, the Mandans had been
virtually wiped out by smallpox
Above center: Smoke from a campfire in a Mandan lodge.
Above right: Geese heading south. I better start doing the same
thing pretty soon.
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Fort Lincoln State Park: Custer's Last