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John Palliser


Captain John Palliser, a celebrated Irish explorer and sportsman, arrived at Fort Union on this date in 1847. He had traveled to Fort Union from Independence, Missouri, on an expedition to reach the mouth of the Yellowstone River. Palliser would later recount his Fort Union adventures and hunting forays in his book, Solitary Rambles and Adventures of a Hunter in the Prairies.

In Chapter Five of Solitary Rambles, published in London in 1853, Palliser writes that he arrived at Fort Union around 3 o’clock in the afternoon. He and his small expedition of men had left Fort Pierre, South Dakota, on the 5th or 6th of October. Along the way, they had been astonished at the sheer size and flatness of the plains. Between Fort Pierre and Fort Union, Palliser also encountered his first buffalo; the author described it as a “curious and interesting animal, and uncommonly good eating.”

The party was grateful to finally reach Fort Union on October 27th and find shelter, for only days later, a three-day blizzard signaled the onset of winter. Palliser writes of celebrating Christmas with the traders, Indians, and soldiers. A trader, thinking it would be a great treat, fattened up a cow for the Christmas feast. Upon tasting the beef, however, both the Indians and traders turned up their noses, preferring the more-familiar bison.

Palliser passed the winter making hunting forays from the Fort, often accompanied by Indians or traders, and bringing back rabbits, prairie hens, buffalo, or deer. At one point, an epidemic nearly brought the Fort to its knees, and Palliser and a trader were the only two well enough to supply the Fort with food.

Palliser left Fort Union in the spring, and went on to Fort Berthold; he would later return to Fort Union, and then descend the Missouri south. He would go as far as Panama and Belize before returning home to Dublin on an English mail steamer. He would return to explore North America several times during his life, and hotels, mountain ranges, and neighborhoods bear his name today. He passed away at his home in Ireland in 1887.

Dakota Datebook written by Jayme L. Job


Palliser, John. 1853 Solitary Rambles and Adventures of a Hunter in the Prairies. Bradbury and Evans : London.