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Fort Abraham Lincoln (Fort McKeen)

By | Last Modified: January 24, 2018

Fort Abraham Lincoln (originally Fort McKeen) was a pioneer military fort located at the confluence of the Heart and Missouri Rivers, just south of present-day Mandan. It is arguably best known for its former commander, General George Custer, who was stationed there at the time of his infamous massacre. It should not be confused with the similarly named nearby Fort Lincoln, which served as an internment camp during World War II.

Established in 1872, the fort’s primary purpose was to support and protect the construction of the Northern Pacific Railroad. It also served as a base of operations for military expeditions, including gold prospecting.

The fort is located on what was former the On-A-Slant village occupied by the Mandan in about 1575. Its position at the mouth of the Heart River was the original intended Missouri River crossing of the railroad prior its relocation in 1873.

Fort Abraham Lincoln was abandoned in 1891. Today, the site is a state historic park.

History

Fort McKeen was approved on April 16, 1872 by Special Order No. 65 of the Headquarters of the Department of Dakota in Saint Paul. The order appointed a board of directors, including Doctor Benjamin Slaughter, to select a site for the location of a new post within the “immediate vicinity of the point where the railroad would cross the (Missouri) river.”

McKeen and Camp Greeley/Hancock were a direct result of this order. McKeen was occupied in June, followed by Greeley in August.

The fort’s original namesake was Colonel H. Boyd McKeen, who was a Pennsylvanian officer and brigade commander killed at the Battle of Cold Harbor during the Civil War.

The 6th U.S. Infantry was first to be assigned to Fort McKeen, with Lieutenant Colonel Daniel Huston Jr. as McKeen’s first commander.

General Sheridan renamed it Fort Abraham Lincoln in November 1872.

By 1873, the 7th Calvary, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Customer, had occupied the fort.

In 1876, the fort received nationwide attention following the Battle of the Little Bighorn, in what today is commonly known as Custer’s Last Stand.

After the fort was abandoned in 1891, the structures were dismantled by locals to re-purpose its materials.

Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park

The site was designated a state historic park in 1907. In 1934, work commenced on reconstructing the fort and Mandan village earth lodges. Custer’s mansion was recreated in 1989 to mark the state’s centennial. It is a common field trip for local elementary students.

Name Inaccuracy

Some sources spell Fort McKeen as Fort McKean, but this is inaccurate. A Fort McKean did exist, but not in Dakota Territory.

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