Fort Buford State Historic Site – Williston North Dakota

Fort Buford State Historic Site – Williston North Dakota

Military history buffs will enjoy visiting the Fort Buford State Historic Site. This spot is best known as the spot where Sitting Bull surrendered in 1881, although for thirty years it was a working military post that was used to protect the land of those that were settling in the west, and housed up to six companies of soldiers.

Fort Buford was constructed in 1866 in Dakota Territory, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel William G. Rankin, and was named for a hero of Gettysburg, Major General John Buford. A 360 foot square stockade enclosing log and adobe buildings meant to house a single company garrison made up Fort Buford. Although this area originally belonged to the Hidasta, they were decimated in number by smallpox, and the Sioux took over control of the area. The new establishment quickly angered the Sioux, with the tribe attacking a work party at the sawmill. The raids continued, with the Post Surgeon saying it was none other than Sitting Bull that was leading the attacks.

Rankin learned that four additional companies were to soon join the garrison, and construction on a larger fort began just a year after the original had been completed. The stockade was in part demolished, and the remainder of the buildings were torn down or destroyed. A three foot stockade enclosed three sides of the new building, but with the new construction consisting of adobe bricks and green lumber, it didn’t last and began quickly deteriorating. A new fort was once again constructed, and was designed for up to ten companies but only housed six.

As the Northern Pacific Railway picked up where it left off west of the Mississippi River, and the Yellowstone and Black Hills expeditions underway, the Sioux wanted the President to stop the railroad, and challenged the invasion of their land, yet were later ordered to return to their reservation. The Sioux Wars began, and Sitting Bull relocated in Canada, yet with the resources not being the same up north, he quickly returned to Dakota Territory, Fort Buford, to be exact, and surrendered his .44 caliber carbine. The fort was then used to protect the construction of the Great Northern Railway, but with the buildings in need of repair once again, Fort Buford was abandoned in 1895.

Three buildings are still standing on what is now the Fort Buford State Historic Site – the stone powder magazine, wood-frame officer’s quarters, and a wood frame officer-of-the-guard building – with just the metal framework remaining of the original guardhouse. The officer’s quarters now hold a museum that shows the history of the site, and its role in Dakota Territory history. Across the road now stands a restroom, office building, and site supervisor’s home. The fort cemetery is located southwest of the museum, yet after the fort was abandoned, the military personnel buried there were disinterred and moved elsewhere. It is believed that the civilians buried there remain.

Along with those three original buildings, Fort Buford State Historic Site also now includes a picnic area and campground, and every spring, a large paddle-fishing gathering brings in the sport fishermen of the area. Each July, the Sixth Infantry Reenactment Group holds the annual Fort Buford Sixth Infantry Frontier Military Encampment, and the fur trade is interpreted just a few miles away at the Fort Union Trading Post National Historic Site.

Fort Buford charges an admission fee of $5.00 per adult and $2.50 per child, with 5 years old and under being free. The admission fee includes admittance to the Missouri-Yellowstone Confluence Interpretive Center. School groups pay $1.00 per student, with the adult chaperones being admitted free. Tour buses may enter for $40. North Dakota Heritage Foundation members are admitted free. Fort Buford is open from 8:00 AM to 6:00 PM from May 16th through September 15th, and the rest of the year it is open by appointment only.

Fort Buford State Historic Site
15349 39th Ln. NW
Williston, ND 58801
(701) 572-9034