Civil War and Native American History by Bonnie and Bill Neely

BISMARK, North Dakota, the capital city which so few Americans know, is a really pretty town with lots of trees planted around neat houses, and a state capitol like no other! We spent a long time looking for a domed building and finally discovered it is not on Capitol Street, BISMARK, ND as the first capitol burned in 1930, but instead it is the only skyscraper in town and is on State Street! There are interesting tours every hour and you can go to the eighteenth floor for a view of all the plains for miles around. The North Dakota Hall of Fame we thought was very interesting…seeing all the paintings of most notable natives who have achieved highly in their given professions, from politicians to scientists, writers, actors…all now Theodore Roosevelt Rough Riders! Teddy Roosevelt, who owned two ranches in this Northern Territory, loved this place and returned as often as possible.
Just across the street from the Capitol we enjoyed the Heritage
Museum where we were engrossed for hours learning the
history of the Dakotas.

Soon after the Civil War the Northern Territory began the process of its application for statehood. The Sioux Indians, or horsemen of the Great Northern Plains, had hunted the 40-50 million buffalo and thousands of elk and antelope who roamed the flat, grassy lands and provided for the Native Americans’ every need for the -50 degree (F) winter months. Lakota, Nakota, and Dakota, all SiouxTribes, lived peacefully, sharing the grassy plains, the Bad Lands of rain and wind-carved dry spires, and their sacred Black Hills, where they worshipped and honored the Great Spirit and nature.


Heritage Museum
Bismark, ND

When Lewis and Clark made their way slowly up the Missouri River against the current and arrived here in October of 1803, they were forced by the approaching bitter cold to make camp in the Mandan area, just outside of today’s Bismark. They remained in the area until April, during which time they found Sakakowea (which we often mis-name Sacajawea), who had learned English from fur traders, the only whites to frequent the area. She and her French husband and baby agreed to accompany the Lewis and Clark Expedition, and she acted as their guide and interpreter through the rest of their journey.

But it was the railroad which created the towns of the Dakotas. When the Northern Pacific and its many laborers reached Yankton first, it became the capital of the Dakota Territory. In 1880, the Northern Territories wanted statehood. The railroad, which brought new settlers, passed through the middle of the Dakota Territory and made a logical division, and the push became for two states, but the powerful railroad owners were Democrats and opposed it. After years of discussion, the vote finally passed and President Harrison signed the bill, creating the new states of North and South Dakota in 1889. They took their name “Dakota” from the Sioux word meaning “allied tribes.”

The Sioux Indian tribes tried to live peacefully with the white man and his iron snake, until the desire for buffalo hides and the the gold rush into the Native American’s sacred Black Hills forced the famous battle which was Custer’s Last Stand, and the Sioux were forcefully contained by the Military onto reservations. The familiar and sad history is one of the most despicable of American history, in which the takers ruined a civilization, a way of sustaining life on the Great Plains, and the natural herds which had roamed peacefully for eons.


1875: Custer’s Last Home

North Dakota has many historical places commemorating the ways of life of the Native Americans, Lewis and Clark, and early Military forts which you will want to visit. Mandan, a suburb of Bismark, has a wonderful state park and campground with the reconstruction. We strolled into the year 1875 under the direction of the excellent living history guide Ed of the cavalry fort, Fort Abraham Lincoln, and Custer’s last home. You will also find the reconstruction of the Mandan Indians earth lodge village by the Heart River, where they grew crops and built amazing houses and were sustained by buffalo, of which they used every part. You can see recreated their way of life from dried food to games for children, and you will be amazed to see this civilization from the 1500’s until the late 1800’s, when smallpox from European traders reduced their population from 15,000 to about 150.