Bismarck, ND lies on the eastern bank of the Missouri River in the center of the state. Just across the river is the city of Mandan and just to the south of Mandan is Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park. Part of the park is a re-creation of a Mandan Indian village called On-A-Slant, reflecting it’s location on the banks of the Missouri River. The Mandan lived in the village from the late 16th century until 1781, with a population of up to 1,500. The Mandan lived in earth lodges like the one below.
In 1781 a smallpox epidemic wiped out two thirds of the tribe and they moved fifty miles to the north, where they would later help Lewis and Clark through the winter of 1804-05.
In June of 1872 two companies of U.S. army infantry established Fort McKeen next to the land that had been the Indian village. That November the fort was expanded to include companies of cavalry and it’s name was changed to Fort Abraham Lincoln. The next spring troops from the Seventh Cavalry moved in under the command of Lt. Col. George A. Custer. Custer was in command of the fort until May of 1876 when he led the Seventh into Montana to find Indians who had refused to move onto reservations. Below is a reconstructed house built on the plans developed by Custer. The house he and wife, Libby, moved into upon their arrival burned to the ground in the winter of 1874. Custer was instrumental in the design of it’s replacement.
The picture below hangs in the main living room of the house and features Custer and his wife seated and Custer’s younger brother, Thomas standing. Thomas had a distinguished record during the Civil War as did his older brother. He entered the war a private and reached the rank of Lt. Colonel by the age of 20. He is also the first person to win the Congressional Medal of Honor on two occasions. Unfortunately, Thomas accompanied his famous brother to the battlefield in Montana and met the same fate.
In the post commissary, John met a gentleman who was part of the fort’s living history program and turned out to be a history teacher at Bismarck High School. Later he turned out to be acting as Sgt. Robert Johnson and was our guide during our tour of the Custer House.
Sgt. Johnson conducted the tour as if it was June of 1875 and the Custers were in Bismarck at the opera. Johnson was very knowledgeable about the fort and the times and also showed himself to be a capable musician.
Across a large parade ground is a reconstruction of one of three barracks used by the cavalry.
On a hill just north of the cavalry area is the remains of the infantry area of the fort. Three blockhouses have been reconstructed in their original positions on the post.
A short hike from the infantry fort area is the post cemetery. All the bodies have been relocated to their home towns or to a cemetery in Bismarck but the gravestones remain. Each had the person’s name and how they died, with some very interesting reasons. John sat down to rest and discovered one of Pam’s relatives had apparently met his end bravely at the post.
Fellow full-timer and blogger Marsha of the famous blot “Where’s Weaver” emailed to alert us not to miss a very exciting sculpture in Bismarck, the Thunderbird Sculpture. The Thunderbird is a legendary creature in certain Native American tribe’s history and culture. It is considered a “supernatural” bird of power and strength. This rather unusual sculpture, comprising four Thunderbird heads facing in four directions, is in Steamboat Park on the banks of the Missouri River. It represents four archetypal Thunderbird myths from four geographic regions of the US. Accompanying plaques tell those stories, and a fifth tells the story of the creation of the sculpture by student artists from the United Tribes Technical College.
Also in this park is a re-creation of the keel boat used by Lewis and Clark. A boat of this type was used by the Corpse of Discovery to transport supplies up the Missouri. Once they made camp at Fort Mandan it was sent back down to St. Louis with specimens of plants and animals and a lengthy account of the trip to that point sent to Thomas Jefferson.
Thus ends our stay in Bismarck. Tomorrow we continue west about 150 miles to Medora, ND to explore the Theodore Roosevelt National Park. More on that later . . .