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Notes from Ft. Buford


Construction began on Fort Buford on this date in 1866; where the Missouri meets the Yellowstone River near Williston. Fort Buford served as a military post until 1881, when Sitting Bull surrendered to the fort’s military officials.

Soldiers had to provide much of their own food, whether by gardening, fishing or hunting. A lack of fruits and vegetables often led to scurvy, plus the fort had no trained cooks. Preparing meals was a soldier’s duty – the job was rotated among them every 10 days. This led Surgeon J.V.D. Middleton to report, “Under the present system, the cooking is simply abominable, the meat is almost always overdone, dried up, and indigestible and the other articles of the ration share about the same treatment.”

Food and provisions also arrived via steamboat, but when the Missouri River froze, that supply line was lost. Other problems included boredom and alcohol; some men wounded themselves so they could leave the army and go home.

During the winter of 1876 a man signing his name simply as “Major” sent a report to the Bismarck Daily Tribune titled “Notes from Buford,” which he wrote on New Years Eve. Here’s a portion of it: “The post hospital contains, among other patients, two who are suffering from insanity. One case commenced with an attack of acute mania ….

“Suddenly a man walks up to the stove, selects a fine, large, red hot coal, places it in his pocket, and prepares to increase the supply …

“The man growing worse was taken to the hospital, and it was at times found necessary to contain him in a straight-jacket.”

The major must have decided he should paint the picture a bit rosier, because he also wrote of the well filled shelves of the Post Library, its numerous files of papers and magazines and eleven hundred books. He reported that “… six monthlies are regularly received, five illustrated and seven weekly newspapers and two dailies are also subscribed for, and by this means, those who wish a good book, or a quiet evening, need never suffer disappointment.”

Fort Buford was abandoned decades ago, but in 1963 (also on this date), a museum was opened in the old headquarters building. Since that day, other portions of the historic military post have been restored as well.

Source: North Dakota History, Vol. 69, Nos. 2, 3, & 4 (2002), "Securing the Confluence: A Portrait of Fort Buford, 1866 to 1895," Mark Harvey, pp. 34-49.

Bismarck Daily Tribune, January 12, 1876, p. 8.

Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm