Fort Buford Historic Site: A Living Testimony to the Military Heritage of the Midwest

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WILLISTON, ND– Fort Buford State Historic Site is a revered landmark that preserves the illustrious history of the Midwest. Named after Civil War hero General Jon Buford, it was established in June 1866 by the 13th U.S. Infantry as a strategic military outpost at the confluence of the Missouri and Yellowstone Rivers.

Captain Rankin, the post commander, sought the need to establish a defense early, and began construction of the post. Much of Fort Buford’s early construction was taken from the old Fort Union Trading Post and transferred 2 miles west to the site of the new fort.

During Fort Buford’s first two years, it was besieged by Sitting Bull and his band of Sioux Indians. Simple tasks, such as gathering wood, hay, or hunting, had to be done in force, as Indians would ambush soldiers. Unfortunately, those soldiers who didn’t heed the advice and orders of their officers found out the disastrous results of not leaving the post with a sizable force.

Fort Buford served the purpose of a government policy of having a network of military posts established across the American West to protect settlers as they moved across the American landscape. Soldiers performed a multitude of tasks: protecting settlers, railroad surveying parties, river routes, and supply sites for mounting military campaigns against Indians.

The fort went through three different construction phases. The fort expanded from a one-company, 360-foot square, post in 1867-1868 to accommodate 4 companies of infantry by expanding to a 540 x 1,080 post. Its defenses included walls on three sides (West, North, and East) while the South portion was walled off with the walls of the adobe infantry barracks. The post was expanded again in 1871, with the arrival of the 6th U.S. Infantry and Col. William B. Hazen, thus making it a 6-company post, covering approximately one square mile. By this time, much of the defensive walls had come down, as Indians had been pushed farther into Montana, and more buildings were added to the post to include laundress quarters and other civilian-type buildings. The powder magazine you see today, was built in 1875 as part of this third phase of construction.

By the mid-1870s, Fort Buford emerged as a prominent military post, assisting in such military campaigns as the Great Sioux War in the summer of 1876. It was a launching point for soldiers and supplies to be transferred to the Powder River Cantonment, located near present-day Terry, MT, to further launch their campaign against the Sioux.

Although Fort Buford as a steadfast sentinel on the northern plains for almost 30 years, it is best remembered as the site of where the Hunkpapa Sioux leader Sitting Bull made peace with government authorities in July 1881.

By 1895, the military role on the northern plains was greatly diminished, and Fort Buford was decommissioned. Many of the fort’s structures were auctioned off and sold to area farmers, ranchers, and some even being brought down the Yellowstone River in the wintertime to present-day Williston, ND.

Today, the Fort Buford Sixth Infantry Regimental Association, a living history organization, dedicated to the history of the Confluence Area, and the common soldier from 1866-1890, gives visitors the experience of Frontier military life, each July, with its Annual Encampment. Come out and experience the life of a soldier by experiencing military drill, military details, and exploring the refurbished barracks, the home of a soldier serving on the plains in the mid-1870s. Also, don’t forget the Annual Ghost Walk, in mid-October, where visitors experience the stories of those who passed away while living at Fort Buford while it was in operation.

Before visiting Fort Buford State Historic Site, visit the Missouri-Yellowstone Confluence Interpretive Center, located just 1 mile east of Fort Buford, tells the story of the importance of these two mighty rivers, telling the stories of such influential subjects as Lewis & Clark, Plains Indian Tribes, Fort Buford, and much more. It offers a majestic rotunda with murals featuring quotes from the Lewis & Clark Expedition and breathtaking views of the two mighty rives where they converge. Hours through Sept. 30 are daily 9 a.m.- 6 p.m. Cost is $5 per adult and $2.50/ child, school groups are $1/ student, and adults along with said groups get free admission. Tour buses are $2/ person for groups of 20 mor more.

Fort Buford State Historic Site located 22 miles southwest of Williston, ND, just off Highway 1804. Hours are seasonal, Memorial Day-Labor Day from 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. The site offers a lot for visitors, such as: stone powder magazine, post cemetery site, officer’s quarters building that houses a museum, and a completely refurbished barracks. Cost is $5 per adult and $2.50/ child, school groups are $1/ student, and adults along with said groups get free admission. Tour buses are $2/ person for groups of 20 mor more.

For more information, please contact the Missouri Yellowstone Confluence Interpretive Center, located at 15349 39th Lane Northwest, Williston, ND. Call 701.572.9034, or email at [email protected].

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