July Fourth at Fort Union – NHPA
The National Historic Preservation Act was created to help preserve the diverse archaeological and architectural treasures of America. One of these treasures in North Dakota was Fort Union, a well-built trading post instrumental in the fur trade. Fort Union was east of Buford in Williams County. Initially established as Fort Floyd in 1828, the fort was renamed Fort Union by the American Fur Company, which operated it for most of the time it was active.
The fort was 240 by 220 feet, and two stories high. The lower story was “pierced for cannon” and the upper story had a balcony for observation. It was largely dismantled in 1867, with the materials being used in building nearby Fort Buford. However, it was reconstructed in the 1960s, preserving a slice of history.
Aside from the historical importance of the structure and its role in fur trading, Fort Union was visited by a number of historical people, including artist George Catlin in 1832; German Prince Maximilian in 1833; Alfred Sully and troops in 1837; and John Audubon in 1843
Through the Frontier Scout, the oldest newspaper published in the state, we even have a chronicle of daily life at the fort. On this date in 1865, the men stationed at Fort Union celebrated a unique Fourth of July, surrounded by the many different cultures in that area. All business was put aside. A thirteen gun salute greeted the sunrise and sunset, and then the men underwent review at 9:30 in the morning. Following that were a series of games, with foot races, sack races, blindfolded wheel barrow races, horse races, target practice, a mock dress parade, prizes, food, and merriment. Some ladies present watched the games from the papapet, while officers and frontiersmen, bedecked in slouched hats, sashes, and moccasins, watched from below. Also attending were American Indian men, women, and children dressed in various fringe, beads, feathers, paints, and buffalo robes.
In the evening, a veritable feast was served, including clam chowder, pea soup, salmon, trout, sardines and lemon, lobsters, roast buffalo and elk, mashed potatoes, tapioca pudding, berries, figs, prunes, nuts, plus all variety of drink, and cigars.
The Frontier Scout called it “the happiest Fourth of all time, past, present, or to come.”
Dakota Datebook by Sarah Walker