Thursday, September 22, 2011

Lodge of the Blacktailed Deer and Camp Greene

Looking west across the Missouri River valley I can see the block houses, on a higher resolution of this picture (for I can't upload a higher one on here) and in another picture, I can actually see the Council Lodge of the On-A-Slant Mandan Indian Village. 
Lodge Of The Blacktailed Deer And Camp Greene
North Dakota Landmarks You Must Visit
By Dakota Wind
GREAT PLAINS - Lately, as I’ve been making the drive to work in Bismarck, Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park, the greatest park in North Dakota, has been drawing my eye.  I can see it across the Missouri River from where I park my car.  I can also see the profile of Little Heart Butte on the far horizon, standing boldly as a long-forgotten sentry watching the river and the plains.  Sometimes when I’m driving out to the University of Mary another land feature that grabs my eye is the Mandan Site, a butte known to the Nu’Eta as the “Lodge of the Black Tailed Deer.”

This picture of Keith Bear was taken on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation, home of the Arikara, Hidatsa, and Mandan Indians (also known as the Three Affiliated Tribes).  Herb Ascherman, Photographer.

The Lodge of the Black Tailed Deer is where the Mandan, the Nu’Eta, say they came up into the world.  I heard the story from traditional storyteller and flute-player (and flute-maker) Keith Bear, and I’ll sum it up for you here:

A long time ago, the Nu’Eta lived under the earth.  They didn’t know about the sun, the moon, the stars, or the blue sky at that time.  Then came a day when some Nu’Eta hunters came to a large root (grapevine root or prairie turnip root depending on who you hear the story from) and decided to climb it after noticing a shaft of sunlight pierce the shadow.  The hunters climbed the root to the top and saw for themselves, ganges of bison, herds of deer, elk, and antelope, and saw how the sunlight played upon the Missouri River.  They saw grass swaying in the wind and felt the breeze for themselves.  The hunters descended the vine and returned to their village to share what they saw.  The Nu’Eta decided that they would go to the surface to live there.  The hunters returned to the root and the people began to carefully climb it.  They say that a pregnant woman, heavy with child, was in a hurry to bear her baby in the new world, and she began to climb the root regardless of the warnings the people shouted at her that few climb it at a time.  When she got halfway up the root, it came loose and snapped, dropping her back to the people below.  Some of the Mandan, the Nu’Eta, made it to the surface.  The Nu’Eta say that there are still people waiting to come out of the earth. 

The butte mentioned in the story above is pictured here, on the west bank of the Missouri River, south and west of the University of Mary.  It is the dark pyramidal shape in about the middle of this picture.  The cottonwood forest on the floodplain below is thick.  With autumn on the land, the leaves are turning brown and will eventually be a brilliant yellow. 

The butte Lodge of the Black Tailed Deer is called that only when talking about the origins of the Nu’Eta.  It is called Eagle Nose Point, or Bird’s Bill Point, when talking about the temporary village of discontented Nu’Eta who lived there to work out their angst.  Ensign Nathaniel Pryor mentioned encountering such a group of Nu’Eta discontents while bringing the Mandan Chief Shehek Shote back to the Mandan from his three-year odyssey to meet President Jefferson in 1809. 

The butte is known by still another name in relation to the name of the bottomlands that settlers bestowed upon it: Sugarloaf Butte. 

There is nothing left of Camp Greene, at least nothing remains of the camp that you'd see today.  There is a darker "patch" of trees in about the middle of this image, on the other side of the Missouri River.  This photo was taken at the Annunciation Monestary near the University of Mary looking west across the Missouri River. 

North of the butte, but south of Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park, the greatest park in North Dakota, is the site of Camp Greene. 

Brevet Brigadier General Oliver Davis Greene pictured here as a second lieutenant. 

Camp Greene was established in April 1872 at the mouth of the Little Heart River as a military supply station for the protection of the Northern Pacific Rail Road survey crew preparing to head west for Yellowstone country.  Co. K of the 17th Infantry commanded by Lieutenant OD Greene came up on detached service from Fort Rice.  Originally, Camp Greene was to become a permanent post.  Three months later, the garrison was withdrawn and stationed on a bluff overlooking the Heart River to establish Fort McKeen.   

Greene’s story is an interesting one too.  He was brevetted four times throughout the Civil War and eventually became Brevet Brigadier General Oliver Davis Greene.  Greene served in the Maryland Campaign of 1862.  At Antietam, Greene kept form of his command under fire and became a Medal of Honor recipient.  Like most officers after the war he was taken back down to regular army rank, for Greene that meant being a lieutenant.  Greene retired in 1897 with the regular army rank of colonel. 

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.

Friday, September 9, 2011

A Visit to Fort Abraham Lincoln

A Visit to Fort Abraham Lincoln

Military History Explored At Historic Site
By Dakota Wind
MANDAN, N.D. - Fort McKeen, infantry post, was established in June, 1872. Companies “B” and “C” of the 6th Infantry and a detachment of Arikara US Indian Scouts under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Daniel Huston were the first to occupy what one year later became Fort Abraham Lincoln.

Fort McKeen was named in the tradition of the day, that is, named in honor of someone really important in the military or politics.  This particular fort was named to commemorate Colonel H. Boyd McKeen who led the 81st Pennsylvania Volunteers.  Colonel McKeen lost his life at the Battle of Cold Harbor in the Civil War. 

Fort McKeen was established to protect the Northern Pacific Railway survey line as it went west into Yellowstone country.  The infantry discovered that the Indians had horses, and further, that the Indians didn’t have the patience to wait for soldiers on foot to catch up to them. 

Of course, long before Fort McKeen was established, and before the Mandan Indians constructed their first earthlodge below the bluff, but above the floodplain, this particular site was probably regarded with reverence.  Near the blockhouse furthest away in the first picture of this article is the remains of one earth mound from the Late Woodlands Culture. 

It is clear that this site has been continuously culturally occupied for the past two thousand years, first by the earth mound culture, then the earth lodge culture, and later by the US military. 

Near the Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park museum, is a Corps of Discovery II medallion embedded in a concrete pillar. The medallion commemorates the 200th anniversary of the Corps of Discovery, also known as the Lewis and Clark Expedition.

I’ve seen for myself, hard core “Lewis and Clarkers” stop here and at the Lewis and Clark Overlook north of the Mandan Indian village, to read passages from Lewis and Clark’s journals on the day Lewis and Clark stopped there.  It is almost like a religious pilgrimage. 

Of course, Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park, the greatest park in North Dakota, is named for the fort, and is known more for it’s association as being the home of General Custer’s last command and his trail to the Little Bighorn than for being named for President Abraham Lincoln (it was named in honor of the 16th US President about eight years after his death).

It was determined that the infantry wasn’t the right kind of soldier to protect the Northern Pacific survey line, so Congress established Fort Abraham Lincoln in March of 1873. The fort was home to six companies of the 7th Cavalry. General Custer was stationed here from 1873 to his death at the Battle of the Little Bighorn in 1876.

In 1873, General Custer led his command to the Yellowstone to provide protection to the survey crews from various Sioux attacks. 

In 1874, General Custer led his command to the Black Hills to confirm the discovery of gold. 

The meanings of building forts in the American west weren’t articulated very well to the Indians or the settlers.  For American Indians, forts were a sign of an encroaching domineering society.  Fort settlers, forts meant protection from Indians.  In hindsight, it is easy to say and agree that forts symbolized the Manifest Destiny policy of the day.  A little more difficult to see is the fact that forts didn’t provide protection to settlers at all. 

In Libby Custer’s “Boots and Saddles,” she describes the scene about an old man visiting with her husband.  The general repeatedly warned him not to “squat” on the west bank; the old man did anyway and was killed by “wild Indians.”  The Bismarck Tribune ran a story about the inaction of General Custer and the fort, settlers were angry and scared, but the fort and the soldiers there were not there to protect settlers. 

Getting back to what you’ll see at Fort Abraham Lincoln today is a reconstruction of the commanding officer’s quarters as General Custer and his wife would have known it in 1875.  My friend and former co-worker, First Sergeant Al Johnson, greets visitors here regularly each summer.

Al’s been living in 1875 since 1995. He’s the face of Fort Abraham Lincoln.

Throughout the house, you’ll see furnishings from the late 19th century to the turn of the century. Really important stuff, like things actually owned by General Custer and his beloved Libby the living history guide will point out to visitors by saying the magic words, “Take special notice of…” That is your cue to express your deepest admiration for the appointed item in the forms of “oohs” and “aahs.” An occasional feigned yawn or laborious stretch and a murmur about the general’s taste works here too.

Take special notice of the burgundy drapes. 

Take special notice of the silverware. 

You don’t have to take special notice of this commode, but one day someone in a largish group was immediately seized with a sour gut and left a rather unpleasant gift for the next visitors to tour the house. The stench was so pungent and strong and wafted out into the hallway in waves of such sour putrescence one could but barely choke back gags with polite coughs. I share the story here only to notify you dear reader to pay a visit to the latrine and leave your presents there. 

Take special notice of the turkey platter. 

The cellar.  At one point, General Custer kept a bobcat and a porcupine he acquired on the Yellowstone Expedition down there as pets, until he donated them to the University of New York, if I recall correctly.  The brickwork is from the very first house. 

This drawer and mirror piece was part of General Custer’s and his wife’s personal belongings. 

This little marble top table goes with the drawer. 

These two chairs were once owned by General Custer.  I’m sure that they weren’t artfully arranged for people to look at but used, probably in the study. 

This campaign desk was with General Custer throughout the Civil War, his campaign against the KKK in Louisiana after the Civil War, the Indian Wars, and on the Centennial Campaign or the Little Bighorn Campaign of 1876.  One time a person on tour actually broke down and cried after hearing about the background of this desk. 

The green cloth bound book titled “Life of Daniel Webster” was given to General Custer by his good friend Lawrence Barrett, a famous Shakespearean actor in New York in the 1870s.  General Custer saw Barrett in Hamlet over a dozen times. According to Libby Custer, he watched it with as much attention and zeal as seeing it the first time every time. 

If you are so lucky and have the time, First Sergeant Johnson or other guide, can handle the book and show visitors the dedication from Barrett to Custer.  The inscription reads, “To. my dear Friend G. A. Custer – from Lawrence Barrett feb 17th 1874.” 

Libby’s rocking chair in the main bedroom. 

The only other thing that was actually owned by the Custers is the map case on display in the Commissary.  The little brass placard on the glass reads, “GA CUSTER’S MAP CASE Libby’s only memento from The Little Bighorn on loan from the trust of Stephen Ronald Cloud Jr. and Ryan John Cloud.”  A notarized document testifying the line of ownership back to General Custer has been taped on to the map case. 

Thank you to Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park, the greatest park in North Dakota, and First Sergeant Al Johnson, the face of Fort Abraham Lincoln. 

Monday, September 5, 2011

Battles & Skirmishes Around Fort Abraham Lincoln

Fort Abraham Lincoln in the 1870s.
Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park
Battles And Skirmishes In And Around Site
By Dakota Wind
MANDAN, N.D. - I worked at Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park, the greatest park in North Dakota, for several years and it’s always a pleasure to share some little known events about the site with people. 

I’d like to share some photos and a short summary of some of those things:

In 1872, an infantry fort was built on the bluff overlooking the convergence of the Missouri and Heart Rivers.  That summer, Fort McKeen, the infantry post, came under fire.  The conflict became known as the “Woodcutter Fight.”  A Hunkpapa Lakota war party, possibly led by Rain-In-The-Face, came upon the fort from the north where a sluggish little coulee drains into the Heart River.  (Picture above shows the ravine, timber line of the sluggish coulee, and is taken from the perspective of the war party towards the top of the hill where Fort McKeen stood). 

The fight didn’t last very long, perhaps a part of an afternoon.  As oral tradition has it, Rain In The Face covertly crept up the ravine on the south side of the fort while the soldiers attention was drawn to the war party.  Rain In The Face then stole the horses which belonged to the Arikara Detachment of US Indian Scouts who were stationed there. 

The horse stealing raid was successful and the attack on Fort McKeen came to a close. 

Across the valley (above), south and east from Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park, the greatest park in North Dakota, on a bluff overlooking the convergence of Apple Creek and the Missouri River, rests the University of Mary. 

In 1863, General Sibley led Union forces in an attack on a Yanktonai Dakota and Saone Lakota (Hunkpapa, Mniconjou, Sihasapa, and Oohenunpa) as part of a punitive campaign against the Sioux for what happened in Minnesota with the Dakota Conflict the previous year.  Sibley’s only objective was to find and engage hostile Sioux, but how was he to know hostile from friendly, those who fought in Minnesota from those who had nothing to do with it?  Sibley didn’t know.  His forces fought the Sioux encampment for four days.  The Sioux kept the high ground while their families fled the fight.  Sibley estimated that a thousand Sioux warriors lined the bluff.  Sibley then turned his forces back east and claimed a victory because he met his objective.  The Sioux could claim a victory because no one was taken captive, they held their ground, and their families survived. 

General Sibley Park rests at the southern termination of South Washington Street, along the sandy banks of the Missouri River and Apple Creek.  One weathered wooden sign stands at the entrance of the park telling the side of General Sibley forces. 

The Lewis and Clark overlook is a short hike, about a hundred yards north of the north shelter. 

Below the Lewis and Clark Overlook in the northern half of Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park, the greatest park in North Dakota, is the scene of another battle.  This is called the Battle of Heart River and it happened in 1803, the summer before Lewis and Clark set foot here. 

The battle was one of the greatest fights between American Indian tribes, and also one largely forgotten about. 

In 1803, the Assiniboine Sioux came down from Cree country, probably to trade with the Mandan and Hidatsa Indians as they did for years.  The Yanktonai Dakota, mortal enemies of the Assiniboine at that time, provoked the Assiniboine to bring their war party to the mouth of the Heart River.  After the Mandan Indians vacated this area in 1781 when they were struck by an epidemic of smallpox, the Heart River became contested territory between the Assiniboine, the Sioux, and the Mandan who lived there for a thousand years. 

The Yanktonai won the battle, and beheaded the fallen warriors of their enemies, claiming the contested area for the Dakota and Lakota.  In the post reservation era, at the end of the Indian Wars, some Lakota are quoted as saying (I’m going to paraphrase this because I’ve read variations of this quote), “My land is where I set my lodge.  One pole rests at mouth of the Heart River.  One pole at the mouth of the Yellowstone River.  One pole at the Bighorn Mountains, and the last pole where the North Platte River meets the Missouri River.”  

The idea that the Heart River served as a territorial boundary marker for the Sioux was decided at this very spot in 1803. 

There was a four day long battle, or skirmish if you prefer, between the Indian Scouts in detached service at Fort Abraham Lincoln and the Hunkpapa Lakota at the Little Heart Butte in 1874.  The butte has long stood as a natural land mark for the native people for thousands of years and sits on private land today.  The butte itself is about fourteen miles south and west of Fort Abraham Lincoln. 

What happened?  The US Indian Scouts on detached service to Fort Abraham Lincoln were running mail between the forts.  About six Indian scouts were chased to the butte, they ascended and held their ground there.  The top of the butte is like a shallow bowl with sandstone and brush ringing the edge, the inside of the bowl is filled with sand and due to the acoustics is serene. 

The scouts held their ground, and managed to get to Fort Abraham Lincoln a few days later.  Either the war party ran out of bullets, or the bravery of the scouts impressed the war party and they gave them the honor of the victory.  I like to imagine that the war party became bored, stretched their limbs, and backed away.