It had been two years since the US-Dakota Conflict of 1862 and, as part of the campaign to counter spreading hostilities, the Army planned to establish forts along the Missouri River, including the existing Fort Union Trading Post. While in St. Louis, General Alfred Sully chose Charles Larpenteur to be the commissary of freight being sent to Fort Union. In addition, the owner of Fort Union commissioned Larpenteur to take charge of the fort upon arriving with the military.
After leaving St. Louis on the steamer Benton, loaded with freight, they learned that 1500 lodges of Sioux were determined to stop all navigation by rolling rocks down a bank into the river to sink boats. When the steamer made a stop at Ft. Sully, the Army ordered them to wait for an escort. Larpenteur, as commissary, challenged the order and said “that all the reports, were exaggerated, and [I]should not be at all surprised if we did not see a single Indian on our Journey.” He went on to argue there was not enough wild game along the river to sustain 1500 lodges. Further, there were no such banks along the river to roll rocks down. Thus, with 150 well-armed men on board there was little danger. The Benton resumed its journey with no incidents.
Charles Larpenteur arrived at Fort Union early in the morning on this date in 1864, but upon disembarking from the Benton he found a Fort Union that had passed its heyday of fur trade and up-keep. Larpenteur could not even find men sober enough to help unload freight and was forced to use women. Over the next year he began a multitude of tasks – painting and repairs.
By June, Fort Union began its new military mission with the arrival of Company I of the 30th Wisconsin Infantry as they marched off the steamboat Yellow Stone and set up what Larpenteur described as ”two fine rows of tents. “ In July, five steamboats delivered military supplies to the warehouse at Fort Union. However, when General Sully arrived and saw the condition of Fort Union he decided not to use it as a permanent fort.
Fort Union was sold shortly thereafter and just three years later Charles Larpenteur noted in his journal, “The soldiers commenced tearing down the Fort Union yesterday.”
Dakota Datebook written by Richard Campbell
Elliott Coues (ed.). Forty Years a Fur Trader on the Upper Missouri: The Personal Narrative Charles Larpenteur, 1833-1872 (Minnesota, 1962).
Thompson, Erwin N., Fort Union Trading Post: Fur Trade Empire on the Upper Missouri, 1986.