Masons at Fort Buford
North Dakota’s masonic history reaches back almost as far as Dakota Territory itself. Far from any population center, soldiers stationed at Fort Buford near present-day Williston “occupied the first Masonic Hall in the area which is now North Dakota.” Most of the members were veterans of the Civil War. They had petitioned for the charter from the Grand Lodge of Minnesota, and in January of 1871, Yellowstone Lodge #88 was founded.
Membership began with twenty-nine freemasons, from ages 22 to 45. The chapter only allowed white men as members. Captain Asa Peabody Blunt was the first worshipful master. At its height, the membership totaled 48. They built a two-story, 90x100 foot hall for balls and dancing. But after soldiers at Fort Buford were transferred to Fort Shaw in Montana in 1874, Yellowstone Lodge #88 lost most of its membership. On this date in 1874, the lodge surrendered its charter.
But the Yellowstone Lodge wasn’t the first masonic effort in North Dakota’s history. The Minnesota Grand Lodge issued a charter in 1864 to a garrison at Fort Pembina on the Red River, but this company was quickly transferred to Winnipeg, and with it went the Northern Light Lodge.
Another Masonic Lodge came to Fort Buford in 1891. Black soldiers of the Ninth Cavalry brought their charter with them for Eureka Lodge #135 when they transferred from Fort Apache in Arizona.
In 1895, Fort Buford was abandoned. But Masons near and far have come together in recent years to celebrate the Fort Buford charters. Monuments that commemorate both lodges are on display at Fort Buford State Historic Site. The fort is near the confluence of the Missouri and Yellowstone rivers, where three of the original buildings still stand.
Dakota Datebook by Jack Dura
Yellowstone and Tioga Lodges scanned documents. MSS 10979. 2012, June 8, accession. North Dakota State Archives (CD).