Steve Reidburn, attired in a replica of a corporal's dress uniform of the period ( a blue wool coat and a kapi with a "pom pom" on front), presented a brief history of Fort Seward June 20 at the Stutsman County Memorial Museum. In November 1871, a small detachment of soldiers of the 20th Infantry came from Fort Ransom with supplies to set up camp on the south side of the James River, near the present-day Anne Carlsen Center.
There was not much activity until May 1872 when Col. George Sykes of the 20th Infantry came with more help to build the fort (according to Dana Wright). The fort was named after Sykes. It was later changed to Fort Cross and, finally, to Fort William H. Seward -- named for Lincoln's secretary of war. The main purpose of the fort was to protect the Northern Pacific Railroad workers who were constructing a railway system near the James River.
Steve described the life of the soldiers (many of whom were immigrants recruited from Ellis Island) as a lonely existence in an often harsh climate. Most of their time was spent in fatigue duty, building, hauling, some patrolling, parades and drills. Soldiers on guard duty were provided with buffalo coats and mittens to wear for warmth during the bitter cold winter, but the rest of the soldiers were not so fortunate. He said the guardhouse was usually filled to capacity with soldiers who had managed to make it to the bars in the tent town nearby (Jamestown). He mentioned a hard biscuit-like staple called hardtack that was kept on hand and was made more palatable by dunking it in coffee with cinnamon, when possible.
Dr. E.W. Dubose, the surgeon, was responsible for recording information about the weather, plants and animals in the area (when he was not occupied with treating soldiers for alcoholism, sexually transmitted diseases or whooping cough). He learned about the medicinal use of local plants from the Native Americans. He also noted that it was possible to grow fresh produce in the fertile soil of the area once a garden could be established.
Reidburn highlighted some of the interesting details of the life of the more prominent figures who were in command at the fort. Capt. John H. Patterson, the last commander at the fort, commanded Company A and later (in 1897) received the Medal of Honor for his Civil War heroics.
Reidburn discussed the sale of the buildings in the fort after the fort was decommissioned and went on to talk about more recent projects supported by the Fort Reconstruction Committee: The giant American flag, the Veteran's Memorial, the engraved paving stones and the planned stone wall with site pipes.
For this coming Sunday's Front Porch Chat, Katie Morehouse will be portraying Amelia Jenks Bloomer, a temperance reformer and advocate of women's rights, who became famous for wearing "Turkish Pantaloons" called bloomers. She will speak at 2 p.m. at the museum, 321 Third Ave. S.E.
There will be no Front Porch Chat on July 4.