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DAKOTA DATEBOOK: Fort Stevenson

by Jayme L. Job February 12, 2018 -- The lands of the abandoned Fort Stevenson Military Reservation were sold by public auction on this date in 1901. The majority of the 45,000 acres were purchased by Black and Associates, a group of eastern busi...

 

by Jayme L. Job

February 12, 2018 - The lands of the abandoned Fort Stevenson Military Reservation were sold by public auction on this date in 1901. The majority of the 45,000 acres were purchased by Black and Associates, a group of eastern businessmen. The men planned on starting a sugar beet enterprise, but this was never realized, and the acreage was eventually sold off piecemeal to adjacent landowners. Today, most of the land is underwater, inundated by the building of the Garrison Dam and the creation of Lake Sakakawea in the 1950s.

Established in 1867, Fort Stevenson was built on the north bank of the Missouri River to guard traffic on the river, which at this time was at its peak. In addition to the river traffic downstream hauling beaver and buffalo furs to St. Louis, gold had been discovered four years earlier in Montana. A westward rush of fortune seekers led the military to build a string of forts to protect the traders, steamboats and families utilizing the Missouri.

The men engaged to build the fort faced numerous challenges, including the location’s isolation and lack of resources. They had to construct the fort’s ten main buildings from local materials, including cottonwood tree trunks and homemade mud bricks. These materials degraded quickly in North Dakota’s severe winters and required frequent repairs.

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Winters at the fort were legendary, with temperatures dropping to forty below zero and enormous snowdrifts preventing travel most of the season. In 1883, the fort was abandoned by the military, and the buildings were turned over to the Bureau of Indian Affairs. They were used to house the Fort Berthold Indian School until 1894. In 1900, the Department of the Interior ordered their sale at public auction.

“Dakota Datebook” is a radio series from Prairie Public in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota and with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council. See all the Dakota Datebooks at  prairiepublic.org .

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