© 2024
Prairie Public NewsRoom
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Camp Buell


It was on this day in 1962 that the State Historical Society of North Dakota acquired a small, unimposing parcel of land just south of Milnor, North Dakota, known as Camp Buell. Today, it's little more than a quiet piece of prairie, but for one day on July 3, 1863, the little speck of land was the bustling overnight stopping point for General Henry Sibley and his army as they worked their way across the upper plains following the US-Dakota Conflict of 1862.

In the spring of 1863, General Sibley's Army, consisting mostly of infantry, left Fort Pope for the plains of northern Dakota Territory. As the US forces struggled through the unending prairie, they camped every evening to regroup and rest after the day's grueling march. While each encampment was different, the forces attempted to strategically locate themselves near a good supply of water, not only for refreshment, but for survival in the hot dry climate. The summer of 1863 was particularly brutal. The countryside, suffering under a protracted drought, was a nightmare of choking dust, unbearable heat and maddening dryness. While eastern Dakota Territory was normally filled with small freshwater ponds, years of scarce rainfall had made most water sources little more than brackish mud puddles; forcing the men to either strain large quantities of algae from their water or dig wells to locate something suitable for drinking.

The water at Camp Buell was no different; like so many other campsites, its only water source was a fetid lake. But that day's march had been grueling. The pack animals had given out and a number of men had fallen to the prairie grass alongside the trail. Too weak to continue they had to be carried to the campsite in the Army's ambulance. When the men finally arrived at the camp they didn't care about the condition of the water. The soldiers were ready to drink about anything. They simply scraped the algae from the top of their water pots and gulped down what they could.

Today, little remains of Camp Buell or the other overnight campsites from that bitter 1863 campaign. Nonetheless, their retention plays an important role in the preservation of North Dakota's past. Sibley's expedition and its tragic outcome represent an important chapter in the late nineteenth century struggle between the United States and the American Indian population of the Upper Plains. While sites like Camp Buell are perhaps not as popular as Fort Abraham Lincoln or Fort Union, their quiet dignity, set among North Dakota's expansive plains, provide a timeless memento of the state's early past, and a haunting reminder of the trials and hardships faced by those who fought on both sides in the struggle for America's Upper Plains.

Dakota Datebook written by Lane Sunwall


Clodfelter, Micheal. The Dakota War: The United States Army Versus the Sioux, 1862-1865: McFarland, 1998.

Pritchett, John Perry. "Notes and Documents on the March with Sibley in 1863: The Diary of Private Henry J. Hagadorn." North Dakota Historical Quarterly 5, no. 1 (1930): 103-129.

Snortland, J. Signe, ed. A Traveler's Companion to North Dakota State Historic Sites. Bismarck, ND: State Historical Society of North Dakota, 2002.

"State Historical Society of North Dakota Strategic Long Range Plan", State Historical Society of North Dakota http://www.nd.gov/hist/LRPlan.htm (accessed January 19, 2009).