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Historical Background

Survey of Historic Sites and Buildings

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Soldier and Brave
Survey of Historic Sites and Buildings


Location: Hill County, on an unimproved road, about 7 miles southwest of Havre.

The original missions of Fort Assinniboine (1879-1911), some 38 miles south of the Canadian border, were to prevent Sitting Bull and his followers, who had fled to Canada in 1876, from reentering the country and to protect area settlers from the Blackfeet Indians. Although Sitting Bull never appeared in the area and the troops took part in few regional engagements of importance, the fort accommodated a large garrison throughout its history. Of brick construction, it was one of the most elaborate posts in Montana. In 1913 the U.S. Department of Agriculture acquired it, and in 1927 tore down most of the buildings.

Fort Assinniboine
Scene at Fort Assinniboine in the 1880's. (Denver Public Library, Western Collection)

The remaining structures, a guardhouse and a multiplex officers' quarters, are utilized by a U.S. Agricultural Experiment Station. A commemorative marker, erected by the Daughters of the American Revolution, stands on the parade ground.

The Northern Plains (1868-1890). (click on image for an enlargement in a new window)


Location: Big Horn County, on an unimproved road, about 1 mile west of I-90 and 2 miles southeast of Hardin.

Some of the troops that massed in the region following the Custer catastrophe, which occurred the year before only a few miles away, activated Fort Custer (1877-98). By that time most of the hostile Indians in the vicinity had been confined to reservations, but the post supplied troops for some of the Plains campaigns, the Bannock War (1878), and an uprising at Crow Agency, Mont., in 1886. After the Army evacuated the post, the buildings were sold and became the nucleus of present Hardin.

Cavalry parade
Undated photograph of 10th Cavalry parade at Fort Custer. (National Archives)

A Daughters of the American Revolution marker designates the site, within the boundaries of the Crow Indian Reservation on an abandoned golf course. All that remains are scattered cellars and ground depressions.


Location: Gallatin County, on I-90, about 3-1/2 miles east of Bozeman.

Fort Ellis (1867-86) watched over miners and settlers in the Gallatin River Valley of western Montana and the nearby Bozeman, Bridger, and Flathead Passes. Figuring in the 1876-81 Sioux campaigns, it was the base at which Col. John Gibbon, operating out of Fort Shaw, Mont., acquired additional troops in 1876 before proceeding eastward in the ill-fated operation that ended in the Custer disaster. Gibbon also led Fort Ellis troops in the Battle of the Big Hole, Mont.

The Montana State University's Fort Ellis Experiment Station occupies the site, but no buildings remain. A commemorative monument is located just off I-90.


Location: Custer County, on U.S. 10, southwestern edge of Miles City.

Situated on the south bank of the Yellowstone River at the mouth of the Tongue River, this post was known as the Tongue River Cantonment for the first year or so and then relocated a mile away and redesignated Fort Keogh. Col. Nelson A. Miles founded it in August 1876 as a base for patrolling the Yellowstone to prevent the escape to Canada of the Indians who had wiped out Custer. Combining diplomacy with war, he persuaded many hostiles to give up, and in May 1877 defeated Chief Lame Deer in the Battle of Lame Deer, Mont. By spring of that year most of the Sioux and Cheyennes had reported to their agencies except Sitting Bull and his followers, who in May fled to Canada. Miles patrolled the international boundary so closely they could not pursue buffalo into the United States and surrendered at Fort Buford, N. Dak., in 1881.

skating party
Weather conditions on the northern Plains created hardships for troops in the field, but their families could often enjoy skating. Here is a skating party at Fort Keogh about 1890. (National Archives)

In September 1877, despite the exigencies of the Sioux-Cheyenne campaign, Miles set out from Fort Keogh and crushed the nontreaty Nez Perces, heading for Canada, in the Battle of Bear Paw Mountains. The next month his troops escorted 418 captives to the fort, from where they proceeded in November to Fort Leavenworth, Kans. The Army garrisoned the post continuously until 1908, reactivated it as a quartermaster depot during World War I, and in 1924 transferred it to the Department of the Interior.

A Range Livestock Experiment Station of the U.S. Department of Agriculture occupies the site today. Although several officers quarters, barracks, and noncommissioned officers' quarters are used by the experiment station, most of the buildings associated with the military period have given way to modern construction. The superintendent resides in Colonel Miles' residence, at the western point of the post's unusual diamond-shaped parade ground. A mile to the east, in a field on the southern side of the highway, is the site of the Tongue River Cantonment, marked by mounds of dirt, rubble, and an original wall.

Fort Keogh winter scene
Fort Keogh winter scene, undated. (National Archives)

Location: Meagher County, on an unimproved road, about 20 miles northwest of the town of White Sulphur Springs.

Called Camp Baker until 1878, when it was renamed Fort Logan, this fort (1869-80) was established at one site in the Smith River Valley and later relocated to another 5 miles to the north. It protected miners and settlers; guarded the freight route to Fort Benton; and provided troops for many of the campaigns in western Montana, including the Nez Perce War (1877).

Traces of almost all the buildings are extant, though some have been moved and are utilized by the present ranch owners. An adobe storehouse is deteriorating. Two frame officers' quarters are in near-original condition. The blockhouse, commemorated by a Daughters of the American Revolution plaque, has been relocated to the center of the parade ground.


Location: Missoula County, just off U.S. 93, southwestern edge of Missoula.

The Army founded this fort in 1877 on the Bitterroot River to watch over settlers. Its garrison took part in only one engagement of consequence, the Battle of the Big Hole (August 1877), 90 miles to the south, in the Nez Perce War. The captives were incarcerated at Fort Missoula. During the next 2 years, when they were not countering minor Indian harassments, the troops restored a stretch of the Mullan Road, running from Fort Benton, Mont., to Fort Walla Walla, Wash. In post-frontier days the fort was not continuously active or garrisoned. Today's Fort Missoula Military Reservation serves Reserve units and various Government agencies.

The only extant buildings of the old post are the stone magazine (1878); log laundresses' quarters (1877), originally a temporary officers' quarters and today an officers' club; and a log sergeants' family quarters (1878). A stone marker and plaque commemorate the garrison's participation in the Nez Perce War.


Location: Cascade County, on Mont. 20, about one-half mile northwest of the town of Fort Shaw.

Founded in 1867, this post protected settlers, kept the road open between Fort Benton and Helena, and guarded miners in northwestern Montana. During the 1876 campaign against the Sioux and Cheyennes, Col. John Gibbon, the base commander, led the garrison up the Missouri, procured reinforcements at Fort Ellis, Mont., rendezvoused with the forces of General Terry on the Yellowstone at the mouth of the Rosebud, and subsequently relieved the survivors of Custer's regiment at the Little Bighorn. The next year troops from the fort and Forts Ellis and Missoula, again under Gibbon, defeated the nontreaty Nez Perces, retreating from Idaho to Montana, at the Battle of the Big Hole. After the Army relinquished the fort in 1891, for many years the Department of the Interior used it as an Indian school. At that time workmen covered the frame-roofed adobe buildings with wood siding and erected some new buildings. Later the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation occupied the fort. In 1926 ownership passed to the Fort Shaw School District.

Since then, a few of the buildings have been used for school and community purposes, some have been rented to private individuals, and others have deteriorated or been demolished to make way for new construction.


Location: Rosebud County, a short distance off an unimproved road, about 1-1/3 miles southwest of Lame Deer. Make local inquiry.

One of the final struggles in the Army's conquest of the Sioux took place at this site on May 7, 1877. Col. Nelson A. Miles' troops, from the Tongue River Cantonment, defeated Lame Deer's band of Miniconjou Sioux, except for Sitting Bull's Hunkpapa group the last remnant of the coalition that the year before had overwhelmed Custer at the Battle of the Little Bighorn. Surprised and surrounded in his camp, Lame Deer at first attempted to surrender but a scuffle broke out in which the chief, his son, 12 warriors, and four soldiers died. The subdued Indian survivors reported to the reservation.

The battlefield, indicated by a marker, is located along Lame Deer Creek, a tributary of Rosebud Creek, on a privately owned ranch near the Northern Cheyenne Agency. Except for the unimproved road running up the valley from Lame Deer, the site is not marked by any significant modern intrusions. It is surrounded by rugged hills dotted with scrub pine.


Location: Powder River County, accessible via an unimproved road, about 4 miles northeast of Moorhead. Make local inquiry.

At this battlefield occurred the opening battle in the 1876 Army campaign against the Sioux and Cheyennes. In March 1876 Brig. Gen. George Crook advanced north from Fort Fetterman. Discovering an Indian trail, he sent Col. Joseph J. Reynolds and six troops of the 2d and 3d Cavalry to find the village he suspected to be at the end of the trail. At dawn on the 17th, in the Powder River Valley, Reynolds located and charged the village. The surprised inhabitants fled from their lodges to the bluffs above the valley, occupied the commanding heights, and poured a deadly fire at the troops below. After burning most of the village, Reynolds captured the Indian ponies and hastily retreated. That night the warriors harassed him and recaptured all the ponies. Crook reunited his forces but, discouraged by the setback, the shortage of supplies, and the bitter cold and deep snow, he returned to Fort Fetterman to refit. If anything, he had succeeded only in stiffening Indian resistance.

The site, privately owned, is used for ranching purposes. The Indian village was situated on the west side of the Powder River. In 1923 the river overflowed and covered the bottom land with about a foot of silt. The mesa and bluffs from which the Indians counterattacked are unchanged. A marker is located near the northern edge of Moorhead.


Location: Big Horn County, just off an unimproved road, about 9 miles southwest of Kirby. Make local inquiry.

The second battle in the Army's 1876 campaign against the Sioux and Cheyennes was fought on this battlefield. After the Battle of Powder River in March 1876, General Crook retreated from Montana to his base at Fort Fetterman. In May, as part of a three-pronged offensive, he once again advanced northward from the fort, and was the first of the columns to meet the enemy. Scouts from a huge Indian camp on the Little Bighorn River reported Crook's approach northward down Rosebud Creek. Crazy Horse led forth about 1,500 warriors to stop the 1,774 troops. On June 17 Crook drove the attackers from the field, but the opposition was so strong he returned to his supply depot and base on Goose Creek at present Sheridan, Wyo., to reorganize and await 200 reinforcements. This action prevented him from joining forces as planned with the other two columns, which were not aware of his withdrawal. One week later Custer met disaster when he attacked the village on the Little Bighorn.

The battlefield consists of rugged and rolling terrain, today used for ranch purposes. A few grainfields are scattered about the landscape, but most of it is stock range that has not changed to any appreciable degree since 1876. A monument stands near a gravel road east of the battleground. Permission to visit the site, accessible only by foot, must be obtained from the ranch owner.

Battle of the Rosebud
The Battle of the Rosebud, colorfully depicted by J. E. Taylor in Richard I. Dodge's Our Wild Indians (Hartford, 1883). (Colorado Historical Society)

Location: Lake County, on the southwestern edge of the town of St. Ingatius.

Established in 1855 by Father Adrien Hoeken, this mission carried out the terms of an 1855 treaty by which the U.S. Government agreed to provide the Flathead Indians with schools, mills, and blacksmith and carpenter shops as part of the payment for ceded lands. On the reservation created by the treaty the priests taught the Indians the rudiments of farming, carpentry, and milling. Later Sisters of Providence from Canada set up a boarding school for girls, and the priests erected a school for boys.

Surviving structures include a log cabin (1854), the first home of the missionaries; an old mill, in poor condition; a girls' dormitory built in the 1890's, not used currently; and a church (1891) of considerable architectural interest. The Society of Jesus operates the mission today.


Location: Rosebud County, on an unimproved road, about 15 miles southwest of Birney.

The battle fought at this site climaxed Col. Nelson A. Miles' winter drive of 1876-77 in pursuit of the Sioux under Crazy Horse who had annihilated the Custer command the preceding summer on the Little Bighorn. In October Miles captured and sent 2,000 of them back to the reservation. Despite blizzards and extreme cold he remained in the field. On January 7, 1877, he camped be side the Tongue River on the southern flank of the Wolf Mountains. The next morning Crazy Horse and 800 braves made a surprise attack. Miles, his howitzers disguised as wagons, quickly repulsed it. The Indians took refuge on bluffs overlooking the camp. When the troops assaulted the bluffs, the warriors withdrew under cover of a snowstorm. Many of them surrendered with Crazy Horse and Dull Knife's Cheyennes in the spring at Fort Robinson, Nebr.

The battlefield is on the east side of the Tongue River, beneath Pyramid Butte, a spur of the Wolf Mountains. A gravel road bridges the river from the west, crosses the valley where Miles camped; ascends the bluffs just south of Pyramid Butte, the final Indian position; and continues toward the town of Birney. Except for the road, the site is unchanged since 1877.

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Last Updated: 19-Aug-2005