Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Attacks On Fort Abraham Lincoln

An aerial view of Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park, 1963.
Attacks On Fort Abraham Lincoln
Fort Faces Gunfire And Skirmishes
By Dakota Wind
MANDAN, N.D. - The following is an excerpt from the article “Embracing a relation of the history of the state from the earliest times down to the present day, including the biographies of the Builders of the Commonwealth” which was published by the Bismarck Tribune in 1910 in the “History of North Dakota.” This article features the skirmishes surrounding Fort Abraham Lincoln. It should be noted that the Fort Abraham Lincoln military reservation itself was about twenty-three square miles, which is about 15,000 acres. The Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park today encompasses only 1,100 acres.

These were the ominous figures on the northern line of Sioux unceded land through which the Northern Pacific was to pass. The survey had been carried on to the Missouri river without serious interference from the Indians, and it as much menaced until the Hunkpapa leaders had gathered about them a very considerable force, composed of the fiercest and most bitter of the Sioux nation. There is not doubt that up to the summer of 1872 the work of the leaders was directed to getting the spirit of the Indians aroused. And they succeeded in drawing the Cheyennes into their quarrel. August 14, 1872, a column of the Second cavalry was attacked in Montana by Black Moon a the head of a considerable body of Sioux and Cheyennes. Two whites were killed and a number of Indians killed and wounded. The Indians might have pursued the advantage they had, and inflicted more injury on the soldiers, but for a strange policy they pursued of quitting when a battle was well night [sic] won.


Sitting Bull wears a hat with a monarch butterfly affixed to it.

This affair started the entire hostile element into activity. Twelve days later a war party attacked a detail of the Sixth Infantry from Fort Abraham Lincoln. The soldiers with some ‘Ree scouts were making a reconnoisance [sic] about twelve miles west of Bismarck when attacked. Two of the ‘Rees were killed. The affair indicated that Sitting Bull had influenced his people nearer at home to make trouble close to the settlements and Bismarck was threatened by many alarms. October 2, about four hundred Sioux attacked Fort Lincoln itself, but were repulsed by the troops after they had killed three ‘Rees -- who seem to have born the brunt of the battle in these skirmishes. There was fighting on the White River about the first of October and on the 14th a big party made a demonstration against Fort Lincoln. A company of the Sixth and body of scouts were sent out against the marauders and drove them off, with the loss of two men. The Indians suffered again, losing at least three men. These affairs took place right on the threshold of civilization for by this time the white man had advanced to the Missouri with the determination to stay.

A picture of General Custer, after the Civil War and during his Indian fighting days. He was actually a Lieutenant Colonel at the time of his death, but out of respect for the rank he once held during the Civil War, he was called "General."

An attempt was made to negotiate another treaty with the Indians to open the way for the surveyors, but it was ineffective and while it was going on, in the spring of 1873, three distincts attacks were made on Fort Lincoln. Lt. Col. Carlin was in command and he drove the Indians off on each occasion with some loss, but the eyes of the authority were opened to the reality of the menace of these attacks and Lt. Col. Geo. A. Custer, with the Seventh Cavalry, was sent to establish headquarters at Fort Lincoln and clear the hostiles out of the country, which marked the beginning of the end of Custer and the dashing organization he brought with him. The coming of Custer assembled in North Dakota and the adjacent territory the elements which entered into the playing out of the tragedy of the Indian and the breaking of the power of the Sioux nation.

It was the perspective of the Hunkpapa Lakota that Forts Rice and Lincoln represented the arrival of the US military and signaled that settlers were here to stay. The Ihanktowana (Yanktonai) were already pushed west across the Missouri after the punitive campaigns of Generals Sibley and Sully after the Dakota Conflict in Minnesota of 1862. The Cheyenne at one time dwelled on the west bank of the Missouri River, and viewed the river as a boundary line themselves. It was easy for the Hunkpapa Lakota to pique the Cheyenne by rousing their need for self-preservation.

The Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868 stated the boundaries of the Great Sioux Nation, and that no surveyors, minors, nor settlers could enter those lands. The Hunkpapa had every right to believe they were defending their lands, especially after Fort McKeen and Fort Abraham Lincoln were built at the convergence of the Heart and Missouri Rivers, one of the boundary markers of the Great Sioux Nation, and the site of the Battle of Heart River in 1803 that determined Lakota territory.