Steven Reidburn, at 1 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 3, will be at the 1883 Stutsman County Courthouse, to give a presentation on the role and travels of Buffalo Soldiers in North Dakotas.
While site supervisor at the State Historical Society of North Dakota’s Fort Buford in Williston, N.D., Reidburn discovered Buffalo Soldiers had been stationed there. While seeking information on Buffalo Soldiers he discovered that the first African-American Masonic Lodge in North Dakota; was also at Fort Buford.
During his seven-year tenure at Buford, (during the 2010-17 oil boom), Reidburn learned that two regiments of Black Soldiers were stationed at the remote northwest Dakota military site.
As the camp was decommissioned, many of the Buffalo Soldiers and their families remained in the area, obtaining land, homes and went into business. Some are buried in the Fort Buford cemetery.
Reidburn was managing the SHSND site when he and an area Mason contacted Robert Campbell of the Prince Hall Masonic Lodge in St. Louis, who helped them get rolling with more contacts and garner more information. What he discovered was unusual for North Dakota, and for the United States, considering it had been just a short time since the end of the Civil War.
“I realized we had a noteworthy treasure here,” Reidburn said. “The aftermath of the war left broken families, broken lands and hearts. To discover there was a flourishing community here, with Black families doing well, providing a living and having stabile lives in this remote site, was for me quite a discovery.”
He said his studies in Civil War history did not show Black soldiers had even been in North Dakota, much less that they had fathered thriving social and business lives.
“When Jim (Savaloja) and I walked the old Masonic Lodge footprint in 2010, it was impressive that Masons were here period. It would be later that I’d find there was a Black lodge nearby as well. It was then the research began in earnest,” he said.
From that time, he and his immediate SHSND director Guinn Hinman determined a display needed to be designed and installed at Fort Buford. After several years a three-panel display was built and placed at the Missouri-Yellowstone interpretive site, adjacent to Fort Buford. A traveling version that can be checked out is planned.
In 2016 the Prince Hall Masonic Lodge in St. Louis and the Yellowstone 88 of Williston placed a life-size bronze horse (monument) commemorating the unique connection the two lodges had at that remote site.
“A scrawny, saddled horse was erected and dedicated near the footprint of the former (white Mason’s) Lodge, commemorating the bare essentials provided the Buffalo Soldiers,” Reidburn said. “Their place in history may not be in textbooks yet, but hopefully it will be one day. At least we marked the site where Black soldiers (and Masons) were once stationed and fashioned respectable lives for themselves. It’s commendable,” he added.
The 1883 Courthouse is located at 504 Third Ave. SE.
If anyone has an item for this column, please contact Sharon Cox, PO Box 1559, Jamestown, ND 58402-1559.