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Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park
North Dakota State Park
Reproduction of Custer's House at Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park
Country United States
State North Dakota
County Morton
Elevation 1,722 ft (525 m) [1]
Coordinates 46°45′51″N 100°50′59″W / 46.76417°N 100.84972°W / 46.76417; -100.84972
Area 1,006 acres (407 ha)
Founded 1907
Management North Dakota Parks and Recreation Department
Location within the state of North Dakota
Website: Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park

Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park is located 7 miles (11 km) south of Mandan, North Dakota, United States. The park is home to On-A-Slant Indian Village, the blockhouses and the Custer house. President Theodore Roosevelt signed the deed to the land to the state in 1907 as Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park.

History[edit | edit source]

The Mandan Indian tribe established a village at the confluence of the Missouri and Heart Rivers in about 1575. They built earthlodges and thrived in their community by hunting bison and growing a number of crops. Two hundred years later, an outbreak of smallpox caused the Mandan population to significantly decrease. The Mandan resettled, and in the 1870s the area along the west banks of the Missouri, the same location where the Mandan tribe had established their village, a military post was built in June 1872 by two companies of the 6th U.S. Infantry under Lt. Col. Daniel Huston, Jr. as Fort McKeen, opposite Bismarck, Dakota Territory.[2]

Hunting and camping party near Fort A Lincoln. (Custer, center)

The three-company infantry post's name was changed to Fort Abraham Lincoln on November 19, 1872, and expanded to the south to include a cavalry post accommodating six companies. Among the 78 permanent wooden structures at Fort Lincoln were a post office, telegraph office, barracks for nine companies, seven officer's quarters, six cavalry stables, a guardhouse, granary, quartermaster storehouse, bakery, hospital, laundress quarters, and log scouts' quarters. Water was supplied to the fort by hauling it from Missouri River in wagons, while wood was supplied by contract.

By 1873, the 7th Cavalry moved into the fort to ensure the expansion of the Northern Pacific Railway. The first post commander of the expanded fort was Lieutenant Colonel George A. Custer, who held the position until his death in 1876.

In 1876, the Army departed from here as part of the Great Sioux War of 1876-77, resulting in Lieutenant Colonel George A. Custer's defeat at the Battle of the Little Bighorn, where they were to push the non-treaty Indians back to their particular reservations. Custer along with about half of his troops did not return to Fort Lincoln. The Fort was abandoned in 1891 after the completion of the railroad to Montana in 1883. A year after the fort was abandoned; local residents disassembled the fort for its nails and wood. In 1895, a new Fort Lincoln was built across the river near Bismarck.

In 1934, the Civilian Conservation Corps built a visitor center, shelters, and roads. They also reconstructed military blockhouses and placed cornerstones to mark where fort buildings once stood, as well as replicating Mandan earthen lodges. Additional reproductions have since been built on the site creating a replica Mandan village, called "On-a-Slant Village." A reproduction of Custer's house was built in the park in 1989, in time for the state of North Dakota's centennial. The park also includes a campground and picnic area.

On-A-Slant Indian Village[edit | edit source]

Partial reconstruction of On-a-Slant Village

On-A-Slant Mandan Village (Mandan: Miti-ba-wa-esh) was established in the late 16th century and was inhabited until 1781. During those years the Mandan tribe had between seven and nine villages, all located along the Missouri River, with an estimated total population of approximately 10,000 to 15,000. On-a-Slant was the furthest south of all the villages and consisted of approximately 86 earthlodges. Its population was about 1,000-1,500. It was located near the point where the Heart River and the Missouri River come together and was named so by the Mandan because the village was built on ground that slopes towards the river valley. It was fortified with a ditch and palisade, to protect its wealth of food and trade goods.[3] The women of the Mandan tribe were responsible for building the earthlodges, which were held up by a frame of cottonwood logs and covered with layers of willow branches, grass, and earth. These thick walls insulated the lodge effectively in both summer and winter. The top center of the earthlodge contained a hole to let out smoke from the firepit and to let in sunlight. The earthlodges were placed close together with all entrances facing towards the village plaza in the center. Each lodge housed about ten to fifteen members of the immediate and extended family. The Mandan tribe lived on farming and hunting. The village became a center of trading because the Mandan were known for their ability to make pottery and prepare animal skins. In 1781, a smallpox epidemic infected the Mandan tribe, killing off a majority of the villagers. The remaining tribe members moved north to join the Hidatsa tribe along the Knife River.

Historic Fort Lincoln and the Custer House[edit | edit source]

Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer and his wife Libbie lived on Fort Abraham Lincoln from 1873 until Custer died at the Battle of the Little Big Horn in the spring of 1876. Approximately 500 troops were also stationed there. Custer's first home at the fort was built in the summer of 1873, but it burned down in February 1874. Today the house and seven other major fort buildings, including a barracks, the fort's makeshift theater, a stable building, and several blockhouses, have been rebuilt.

Five Nations Arts[edit | edit source]

Five Nations Arts is part of the Fort Abraham Lincoln Foundation, which is a non-profit organization that is dedicated to maintaining and promoting the heritage and historic perspectives of Fort Lincoln and other historic sites in North Dakota. Five Nations Arts is a local art store specializing in regional Native American art, showcasing the five Indian nations of the Northern Plains. They offer paintings, jewelry, sculptures, dream catchers and beadwork created by 200 local artists. Painted buffalo skins and local sewn quilts are offered. Music from national and local musicians is also available along with locally produced soaps made from buffalo tallow and natural local herbs, such as cedar, rose, sage, and sweet grass. Five Nations Arts is established in the former Northern Pacific Railway station, on Main Street in Mandan. "Five Nations" refers to the five federally-recognized tribes in North Dakota: the Anishinaabe (aka Chippewa and Métis of Turtle Mountain) Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nation (aka the Three Affiliated Tribes), and the Lakota (Spirit Lake, Standing Rock and Lake Traverse Indian Reservations), or the five reservations in North Dakota: Fort Berthold Indian Reservation (Three Affiliated Tribes), Spirit Lake Indian Reservation (Lakota), Standing Rock Indian Reservation (Lakota), Lake Traverse Indian Reservation (Lakota), and Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation (Anishinaabe and Métis).

Recreation[edit | edit source]

Fort Lincoln Park offers living history tours of the Custer House every half hour. The tour is roughly thirty minutes long and takes you back to the year 1875 when Custer and his wife were living at Fort Abraham Lincoln. The guides are dressed either as laundresses or soldiers from 1875. Interpretive tours of On-A-Slant Village and the earthlodges, in which the guides give a basic introduction to Mandan culture, are also offered every half hour and are also about thirty minutes long. Along with the tours, there is an historical museum about On-A-Slant Village, Fort Abraham Lincoln, and Fort Lincoln State Park. Visitors are welcome to walk through the cavalry barracks, the stables, and the blockhouses. A giftshop and coffeeshop has been built in the re-constructed commissary storehouse. During the summers, melodramas, including ones originally performed at Fort Lincoln in the 1870s, are performed by the guides in the re-built granary. The park also has 95 campsites, two sleeping cabins, and picnic shelters. Horseback tours, hiking, fishing, and playgrounds are also located on the 1,006 acres (4 km2) of Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park.

Notable residents[edit | edit source]

  • Frank L. Anders - Medal of Honor recipient and notable businessman who was born here November 10, 1875.* White Coyote (also known as Sheheke-Shote or Big White), a Mandan chief who accompanied Lewis and Clark with his family back to Washington D.C. in 1806 after the Lewis and Clark Expedition, was born here around 1766.[4]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. "Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park". Geographic Names Information System. United States Geological Survey. September 23, 1986. http://geonames.usgs.gov/apex/f?p=gnispq:3:::NO::P3_FID:1029014. Retrieved October 3, 2012. 
  2. "Brief Descriptions of Dakota Territory Forts". Frohne's Historic Military. http://modoc1873.com/briefdesofda.html. 
  3. Kapelovitz, Colin (February 2007). "Archaeologists sift for clues to Mandan culture and history". The University of North Dakota. http://webapp.und.edu/dept/our/dimensionsArchive/February2007/HTML/Mandan.html. 
  4. Potter, Tracy (2003). Sheheke: Mandan Indian Diplomat: The Story of White Coyote, Thomas Jefferson, and Lewis and Clark. Helena, MT: Farcountry Press. 

Further reading[edit | edit source]

  • Barnes, Jeff. Forts of the Northern Plains: Guide to Historic Military Posts of the Plains Indian Wars. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 2008.

External links[edit | edit source]

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