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Expanding the Northern Pacific rail line to the west was dangerous work in the 1870s, and the U.S. Army was ordered to Dakota Territory to provide protection. Fort McKeen was built in 1872 across the Missouri from Bismarck. The fort was expanded to include a cavalry post, and it moved five miles south, renamed Fort Abraham Lincoln.

On this date in 1873, the 7thCavalry arrived at Fort Lincoln under the command of Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer. Custer was already famous due to his Civil War exploits. The cavalry arrived with much fanfare. The band played Garryowen. The story is that one evening Custer’s Irish troops were singing the traditional Irish song. Custer overheard it. The lively beat reminded him of marching horses. He adopted the song as the official tune of the 7thCavalry. Whenever the 7thCavalry marched out, it was to the sound the regimental band playing Garryowen.

Fort Lincoln became the most important fort in Dakota Territory. The total compliment was 650 soldiers. In 1874, Custer led the 7thCavalry on the Black Hills Expedition. The expedition confirmed rumors of gold in hills. That led to the abrogation of the treaty with the Sioux.

On the morning of May 17, 1876, the band played Garryowen for Custer one last time. The 7thCavalry marched out on the Centennial Campaign. Custer intended to force non-treaty Indians back onto reservations. The mission ended when over 260 men, including Custer, were killed.

The cavalry left Fort Lincoln for the last time in 1883. The Fort was abandoned for good in 1891. In 1907 the land was deeded to the state. In the 1930s the Civilian Conservation Corps built a visitor center, lodges, blockhouses, and roads. In the 1980s and 90s, the Custer House was reconstructed. The barracks and granary were added at that time. Today it is a significant Historical Site.

Fort Lincoln no longer holds any military value, but for a time, it was home to the most famous cavalry unit in United States history.

Dakota Datebook written by Carole Butcher

Fort Abraham Lincoln Foundation. "" Accessed 6/22/14.

Legends of America.
Accessed 6/22/14.

North Dakota Parks and Recreation Department. "" Accessed 6/22/14.