On this date in 1908 it was announced that an odd railroad shipment would head out of Fort Yates. The bodies and tombstones of officers, enlisted men, civilians, and Indians buried there were being transported for reburial in Keokuk, Iowa. This had to do with Fort Yates being decommissioned in 1903, which meant the cemetery there was no longer being cared for. It was overgrown with weeds, and the tombstones were tipping over. It made sense to move the bodies to an active fort with a cemetery caretaker.
The dead were moved to several cemeteries. The largest number, seventy-three, went to Keokuk. Others went to the National Military Cemetery in Missouri. Catholic and Congregational cemeteries also received the dead.
This moving of bodies was not that unusual. There was a cemetery at Fort Abercrombie that underwent the same process numerous times. The original cemetery was too close to the Red River. With the annual flooding, there was a concern that the caskets would float down river to Canada. So, the bodies were exhumed and relocated to a new cemetery north of what is now the town of Abercrombie. After that fort closed in 1877, the cemetery was abandoned. In 1885, undertakers from St. Paul supervised the exhumation of the Fort Abercrombie dead for removal to Fort Abraham Lincoln.
But that wasn’t the end of their story. When Fort Abraham Lincoln was decommissioned, that cemetery, too, would no longer be cared for. The Fort Abercrombie dead had to travel once again. In 1905 the remains were disinterred, this time relocating to the Custer National Cemetery in Montana. Located on part of the Little Big Horn Battlefield, it was designated as a national cemetery in 1879, three years after Custer’s Last Stand.
As a national cemetery it will always be cared for. The dead of Fort Abercrombie – as well as those of other forts that closed – could finally rest in peace.
Dakota Datebook written by Carole Butcher
Washburn Leader. “Dead Indians to be Removed.” Washburn ND. 10/2/1908. Page 1.
St Paul Daily Globe. “Mandan.” St. Paul MN. 10/21/1885. Page 5.
Fargo Forum and Daily Republican. “Twenty Years Ago.” 11/26/1904. Fargo ND. Page 16.
Find a Grave. “Fort Yates Post Cemetery (Defunct).” https://www.findagrave.com/cemetery/2609904/fort-yates-post-cemetery-(defunct) Accessed 8/26/2019.
Find a Grave. “Fort Abercrombie Post Cemetery.” https://www.findagrave.com/cemetery/2585318/fort-abercrombie-post-cemetery Accessed 8/26/2019.
National Park Service. “Custer National Cemetery.” https://www.nps.gov/libi/planyourvisit/custer-national-cemetery.htm Accessed 8/26/2019.