Friday, September 16, 2011

A View of Fort Yates

I stood on top of my car and took pictures of Fort Yates.  The very left of the image above is my perspective looking east, the center is my perspective looking south, and the right is my perspective looking west.  In this composite diaramic image of Fort Yates, one can see the Standing Rock Administrative Office, the last remaining building of the old Fort Yates, Sitting Bull's gravesite (in the frame left of center), the plateaus to the south of Fort Yates, Sitting Bull College, and the Standing Rock Community High School (in the right-most frame). 
A View Of Fort Yates, N.D.
Long Soldier District, Standing Rock
By Dakota Wind
FORT YATES, N.D. - So this past summer I went down to Fort Yates, on the Standing Rock Sioux Indian Reservation, where I was born and raised.  As a boy I knew Fort Yates as an island in the middle of the Missouri River, and it is, with only a mile long cosway going to the mainland.  Then North Dakota was struck with a prolonged drought and gradually the Missouri River, the very lake in which Fort Yates rests, Lake Oahe, began to dwindle until it was as a stream one could step over.  In the past few years, increased rainfall and snowfall swelled the tributaries of the Missouri River and made Fort Yates an island once again. 

The city of Fort Yates has a lot of history to it.  Over three hundred years ago, the Cheyenne Indians lived there in an earth lodge village, and referred to Golf Hill (the hill on which I took this picture; which is also surrounded by water) as the Hill That Stands Alone.  The Cheyenne lived there until the arrival of Lewis and Clark in 1804.  They abandoned the earth lodge culture and took up the tipi and horse culture. 

This is Fort Yates at the turn of 1900, taken by Frank Fiske.

As a military fort, it was established in 1863 as the Standing Rock Cantonment.  It was also called Standing Rock Agency.  The fort’s business was to oversee the Hunkpapa Lakota, the Sihasapa (Blackfeet) Lakota, and the Pabaska Ihanktowana (Cuthead Band of the Upper Yanktonai).  The fort served as the seat of authority for the US Indian Agent, of which Major James McLaughlin is the most well-known agent. 

This is the last remaining building of old Fort Yates. The building served many purposes over the course of the years, including a stockade. My great-grandfather, Francis Winters, told me he once stole a pig from a local farmer. He was thrown in the stockade overnight.

The Standing Rock Cantonment was renamed in 1878 to Fort Yates in honor of Captain George Yates who was killed at the Battle of the Little Bighorn.  The fort was decommissioned in 1903.  There is only one building remaining from the military fort. 


The lake which surrounds Fort Yates is Lake Oahe (pronounced Oh-AH-hay).  In the 1950s, the US Army Corps of Engineers built a dam above the city of Pierre, South Dakota.  The dam system was built primarily to control the annual flooding of the Missouri River.  The dam created a man-made lake that reached from Pierre, South Dakota to Fort Rice, North Dakota.  The lake is named for the Oahe Indian Mission, which is located about eight miles upstream of the Oahe Dam.  Oahe means “Something to Stand On,” as in the foundation of a building.


In December, 1890, Major McLaughlin ordered the Bureau of Indian Affairs police to arrest Sitting Bull.  It was a scary time for everyone, settlers and native alike, with the new statehood of North Dakota and South Dakota and the arrival of the Ghost Dance to Standing Rock.  The Ghost Dance was based heavily on the Christian religion, and testified that the eminent second coming of Jesus Christ was soon, but would save only His red children and make the world new again, and bring back the bison. 

I remember as a boy seeing tour buses stop here to pay their respects to Sitting Bull. 

Sitting Bull wasn’t a Ghost Dancer, but he was arrested to pacify the fears of new Sioux Outbreak.  After Sitting Bull was killed, his body was placed in a coffin made by the fort’s carpenter and he was buried right outside of Fort Yates. 

The Arikara Indians and Cheyene Indians also have a legend of Standing Rock.  It is my opinion that it was a Yanktonai Dakota brave who had an Arikara wife and a Cheyenne wife.  The each spoke a different language and came from different cultures.  The three different legends all end in the woman turning to stone. 

In front of the Standing Rock Tribal Administration office is the namesake of Standing Rock.  Resting on a brick pedestal is the original Standing Rock, a memorial of a woman whom as legend says turned to stone.  The story goes, that a long time ago, a Yanktonai man took a second wife.  The first wife, feeling ill about the arrangement, refused to move when camp was struck.  She stayed behind with her baby on her back.  Later that day, the husband noticed that his first wife was missing and sent his brothers to backtrack and find her.  When they saw her, they called out to her, and she didn’t respond or move.  As they walked closer to her they continued to call out to her.  As they finally stepped up to her, they beheld a stone standing upright where they left her.  According to the John K. Bear, this happened in 1740 along what is called today, Stone Idol Creek, located off the Cannonball River on the Standing Rock Sioux Indian Reservation.