Fort Totten marks 140th anniversary
This year marks the 140th anniversary of Fort Totten's construction by the U.S. Army on the south shore of Devils Lake. To mark the anniversary, programs and events featuring living history, crafts and American Indian music and dancing will be he...
This year marks the 140th anniversary of Fort Totten's construction by the U.S. Army on the south shore of Devils Lake. To mark the anniversary, programs and events featuring living history, crafts and American Indian music and dancing will be held at the fort from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. The site is maintained and managed by the state's history agency, the State Historical Society of North Dakota (SHSND).
Featured events will include traditional American Indian music and dancing by the group Eagle Thunder of Fort Totten, an impersonation of the Metis guide and diplomat Pierre Bottineau, portrayed by Tom Gibson of Bottineau, N.D., a basket weaving demonstration, a portrayal of an officer's wife by Barbara Jo Miller, 1860s song and dance by Johannah Miller, Suzannah Miller, Mara Hintz and April Hintz, and a performance by Gary Miller. Food will be available for purchase both days.
Fort Totten was built between 1867 and 1873 as a military outpost, but it actually served for most of its history as an Indian boarding school. Units stationed at Fort Totten included two companies of the U.S. Seventh Cavalry that were transferred to Fort Abraham Lincoln in March 1876. These soldiers were among the five companies that were wiped out with Lt. Col. George A. Custer's command at the Battle of the Little Bighorn three months later.
Established July 17, 1867, soldiers were stationed at Fort Totten to guard overland mail and transportation routes and to oversee the members of the Devils Lake Sioux Indian Reservation. It was named for Brig. Gen. Joseph Gilbert Totten, chief engineer of the U.S. Army, who died in 1864. The original, hastily-constructed buildings were replaced by permanent buildings in 1869-70. The rolling plains, timbered hills and nearby lake made this one of the most attractive military forts on the Northern Plains.
Decommissioned as a military post in December 1890, Fort Totten became an industrial school for Indian children in January 1891. The military buildings were adapted to the various needs of the school. Sioux children were the first students at the boarding school but were later joined by Chippewa children from the Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation and others. Students received vocational and academic training in such skills as seamstress/tailoring, harness and shoe making, baking, farming, dairying, printing and carpentry.
The Fort Totten school functioned as a tuberculosis preventorium between 1935 and 1940, a five-year experimental program to care for and educate children with tuberculosis. After 1940, Fort Totten returned to its day and boarding school function until 1959 when the facility and students moved to a new school just east of the site. It became a state historic site, administered by the SHSND, in 1960.
The site is open daily to the public from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. May 16 to Sept. 15. Visitors will see several special and permanent exhibits at Fort Totten State Historic Site, including "TV in '53," which explores how television's arrival in North Dakota in 1953 revolutionized people's lives.
The site's interpretive center exhibits highlight Fort Totten's military history, school history, and the State Historical Society's efforts to preserve the buildings. Included is a food supply/ commissary exhibit illustrating use by the frontier military. The Plummer Mercantile exhibit features original merchandise from a pioneer merchant in Minnewaukan, N.D., and the Powder Magazine exhibit describes the use of this building during the frontier military era. Open also is the quartermaster's building which houses firefighting equipment, buggies, agricultural equipment and an assortment of other items relating to the local pioneer era. Independent Order of Odd Fellows/Rebekahas and the Pioneer Daughter's Museum display many early pioneer items relating to the frontier military fort and Indian school periods. Visitors can also enjoy a bed and breakfast stay at the site's Totten Trail Historic Inn, converted from its original use as an officers' quarters and later as Indian school apartments. For reservations, call (701) 766-4874 or visit its Web site at www.tottentrailinn.com .
For more information about Fort Totten State Historic Site, call (701) 766-4441 or visit the State Historical Society of North Dakota's Web site at www.nd.gov/hist .