Military Forts

Fort Mandan

Location: Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center and Fort Mandan

Fort Mandan is the oldest known fort in North Dakota. It was established in 1804 to house the Lewis and Clark Expedition as they wintered in North Dakota. In fact, this is where they met and built friendships with such important figures as Sacagawea, Toussaint Charbonneau, and Sheheke-Shote. The expedition left in the spring of 1805 to continue West. When the expedition passed back through on their way home, they noted the Fort had been burned down in a fire. 

Take a Tour

Today visitors can step back in time at the reconstructed Fort Mandan, a fully furnished, full-size replica of the fort in which the Lewis and Clark Expedition overwintered in 1804-1805. 

Fort McKeen/Fort Abraham Lincoln

Location: Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park

Nearly a century after the Mandan occupied On-a-Slant village, the U.S. military established an infantry post on a bluff above the On-A-Slant ruins. In preparation for the Northern Pacific Railroad to lay its track to the west of the Missouri River basin, the military dispatched to companies of Infantry to the area. In June 1872, an infantry post, called Fort McKeen The name Fort McKeen was short-lived; the designation was changed to Fort Abraham Lincoln on November 19, 1872. In 1873 Congress authorized the addition of a cavalry post and its construction was mostly completed the same year.

By 1874, Fort Abraham Lincoln housed three companies of the 6th and 17th Infantries and six companies of the 7th Cavalry, making the fort a nine-company command. With a total complement of about 650 men, the fort was among the largest and most important forts on the Northern Plains.

Lt. Colonel (Brevet Major General) George Armstrong Custer was the first commander of the enlarged fort and served here from 1873 until the Battle of the Little Big Horn in 1876. Upon completion of the railroad to Montana, Fort Abraham Lincoln had fulfilled its primary purpose. Consequently, the fort gradually declined in importance in 1891 it was decommissioned. In its heyday, the fort encompassed 78 separate buildings. All of the original buildings were dismantled by area settlers and the materials used in the construction of area homes and farms.

 Today, dues to efforts by former Fort Abraham Lincoln Foundation reconstructed Commanding Officer’s Quarters, Central Barracks, Granary, Commissary, and Stables now stand on the site.  

Take a Tour

The Victorian-style home of George and Libbie Custer has also been reconstructed and is open for living history tours. Step back in time and learn about life at Fort Abraham Lincoln while Custer and Libbie lived in North Dakota. 

Fort Stevenson

Location: Fort Stevenson State Park

Fort Stevenson State Park takes its name from a 19th-century frontier military fort. The fort was named in honor of Brigadier General Thomas Greeley Stevenson, a Union officer who was killed on May 10, 1864, during the Battle of Spotsylvania (VA), one of the costliest of all Civil War battles.

The original site of the fort, now underwater, was located on the north bank of the Missouri River between Douglas and Garrison creeks, about two miles southwest of the present park site.

By 1867, the year Fort Stevenson was established, traffic on the Missouri River was at its peak. Trading posts sent packets of furs--beaver and buffalo hides--downstream to St. Louis. In 1863, gold was discovered at Alder Gulch in Montana. Steamboats plied the river, bringing supplies to miners prospecting in the Virginia City gold fields.

Fort Stevenson was envisioned as one of a chain of forts that were to be built to guard the emigrant route from Minnesota to the gold mines of Montana and Idaho. It was to provide military protection from the Sioux for the peaceful Mandan, Arikara and Hidatsa tribes at Fort Berthold. It was also to serve as an intermediate point for the mail routes that extended from Fort Rice to Fort Buford, and from Fort Benton to Fort Totten. Finally, and what became the primary function of Fort Stevenson, was that of a supply base for Fort Totten, 126 miles to the east.

Construction of Fort Stevenson began in July, 1867. When completed late the following year, the post consisted of ten rough buildings, built mainly from materials scavenged from the land. Cottonwood logs, cut in the river bottom forest, were stacked and chinked with a mixture of mud and wood shavings. The soldiers also shaped local clay into adobe bricks. Deterioration of the buildings set in even before the post was completed. The bricks crumbled in hard rains, and the cottonwood shrank and warped as it dried.

The fort itself was never directly attacked, although war parties were sighted, and work crews occasionally engaged in skirmishes. Of far greater danger were the fierce winters on the northern plains. Temperatures of 40 below or less were recorded; snow piled above the crude windows; and all communication with the outside world shut down as the weather halted supply trains, mail delivery and river traffic. An exceptional account of life on the Missouri can be found in the journals of Philippe Regis de Trobriand, who commanded the fort from 1867 until 1870.

The post was officially abandoned on August 31, 1883, following the surrender of the Sioux. The buildings were turned over the to Bureau of Indian Affairs and used as the Fort Berthold Indian School until 1894, then later sold at public auction.

A replica of the fort's original guardhouse has been constructed in the park and houses interpretive exhibits on the history of the fort and the Missouri River.