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Fort Union Becomes Historic Site

On this date in 1938, twenty Mandan Pioneer Daughters met with their Bismarck counterparts at the Grand Pacific Hotel in Bismarck. The Daughters consisted of women descended from pioneers who had settled in the area before North Dakota became a state. The women had a deep interest in history and wanted to preserve it for the future.

In reporting on the meeting, the Bismarck Capital newspaper noted that the group would be working with the North Dakota Historical Society. To quote the newspaper, "Both the Pioneer Daughters and historical society have joined together in their aim to purchase historical sites to perpetuate the history of the state." In fact, the women's clubs and the society had worked together to purchase the Fort Union site southwest of Williston — a welcome collaboration during the tough economic times of the Great Depression.

Fort Union had been an important and lucrative trading post on the upper Missouri River. Though it was called a fort, it was actually a privately-owned commercial establishment that brought diverse and peaceful trade to the area. In 1867, the US Army purchased Fort Union and it was largely dismantled. Over the next century, many residents there realized its importance and worked to preserve it.

The Pioneer daughters at the meeting in Bismarck were very interested in the site. After meeting, they toured the Historical Society, which was located in the Liberty Memorial Building. They viewed a model of the Fort Union site; enjoyed a lecture from Russell Reid, curator of the Historical Society; met with Florence Davis, historical society librarian, about the biographies the Pioneer Daughters intended to write about their members; and had a conversation with George Will, local archaeologist and Historical Society board member.

Many years later, in the 1960s, Fort Union became part of the National Park Service. Though separated from the North Dakota State Historical Society, the site continued to be preserved as part of the federal parks system. The foresight and interest of local historians such as the Pioneer Daughters had helped save that unique piece of state history.

Dakota Datebook by Sarah Walker



North Dakota Blue Book, 2015-2017, chapter 1

The Bismarck Capital, p4, Tuesday, Feb. 22, 1938




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