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Fort Lincoln State Park: Custer's Last Home  (Mandan, North Dakota)

(Reprint from News: October 6, 2001)

October 6, 2001

 

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. 

 

Fort 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.

 

There 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.

 

The 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.

 

If 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 Pacific Ocean.

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 class at 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, Ransom 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 News: August 8, 2001)

 

       

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 blockhouse.

 

       

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 late 1800s.

 

       

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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