THESE PAGES DESCRIBE THE FORTS IN MONTANA STARTING WITH FORT ASSINNIBOINE.
"Assini boise" Objiway (Chippeewa)
Stone cookers/stone boilers
Map of Fort 1908
Fort Assinniboine was built in the aftermath of the Custer disaster at the Little Big Horn.
It was established primarily to ward off possible attacks by Sioux Chief Sitting Bull hiding
in the Cypress Hills and by the Nez Perce, some of whom were also in Canada following
the defeat and capture of Chief Joseph by the army in the Bear Paw Mountains in 1877.
There were some secondary reasons for the structure. Army General William Sherman had
envisioned a line of forts near the northern and southern boundaries of the United States.
When starving Indians pressed south from Canada pursuing buffalo, cattlemen, miners and
other settlers pressured for federal troops to intervene. Control of the large Blackfeet
Reservation in northern Montana Territory and protection of trade routes were additional
reasons for the fort.
Finally, there were whispers that Maine Senator James G. Blaine was pressing for a
strengthened military position in the northern states to advance his dream of acquiring Canada.
At the time of its construction, Fort Assinniboine was the most elaborate post in the
United States. Unlike earlier frontier posts, it was an offensive fortress and had no
perimeter wall. The rectangular shaped post eventually boasted 104 mostly brick
buildings constructed over a four-year period. L.K. Devlin was selected to undertake
construction. The bricks were manufactured on the spot by Colonel C. S. Broadwater.
Much of the work on Fort Assinniboine was done by the troops themselves. Construction
progressed so rapidly that the Indians said the Fort Assinniboine "rose out of the ground".
At its peak, the Fort housed 36 officers and 453 non-commissioned officers and enlisted
The Tenth Cavalry was dubbed the Buffalo soldiers by the Cheyenne Indians. While
it has been reported that the name "Buffalo soldiers" was given because of the
troopers’ curly hair, the Cheyenne respected the fighting abilities of the troopers
and likened their strength and courage to the sacred buffalo. These men were given
the worst mounts in all the cavalry, and because of their race, had no chance to
become officers. The 24th and 25th Infantry black units were also stationed at
Fort Assinniboine. The Fort had a multi-racial force that included Native Americans,
and whites, as well as Afro-Americans.
10th Cavalry "Buffalo Soldiers" on escort duty 1894
Typical assignments out of Fort Assinniboine were recovering lost mounts, scouting
and rounding up renegade Indians, usually Crees, burning their shacks and
escorting the starving people to the border. The Milk River Valley had become
a battleground between warring border tribes, (Blackfoot nation Plains Cree
and Sioux); Fort Assinniboine troops took an active roll in curtailing these
clashes. Additional responsibilities included stopping the liquor trade and gun
running into Canada.
Elite cavalry unit leads a drill at the recently completed Fort Assinniboine.
Several prominent military men served at, or were connected with the Fort,
These included generals Ruger, Brooke and Otis. Colonel J.K. Mizner, C.O.
of the 10th Calvary, had been a highly decorated American Civil War hero.
The most famous officer to serve at the Fort was John J. (Black Jack) Pershing.
Pershing, voluntarily arrived in 1896 with the Tenth Cavalry, a black regiment.
During his time at Assinniboine, he managed to accomplish two notable things.
He impressed visiting dignitary, Major General Nelson Miles, and he laid the
foundation for his future nickname “Blackjack.”
Col. Mizner (standing Center) with officers of the 10th cavalry and 25th Infantry
at Fort Assinniboine, 1897. Lts. Pershing and Hardelman are seated right.
General John J. (Black Jack) Pershing
Photo courtesty of Library of Congress
After the failure of the Riel Rebellion in 1885, several hundred Cree Indians led
by Little Poplar and Little Bear settled around the Fort. They were given political
asylum from their Canadian crimes. They were given food and work cutting wood.
When cutting wood was banned for conservation reasons, and other work dried up,
Chief Little Bear’s tribe scattered.
In 1895 and 1896, the anti-Cree campaign was intensified. The Cree were not
recognized as US citizens and were squatters on land given by treaty to the
Gros Ventres. Pershing participated in the roundup of several hundred homeless
Cree Indians under Chief Little Bear, and escorted them back to a temporary
home in Canada. Lieutenant Letcher Hardeman took a detachment to round up
Crees near Chinook. Eventually the Cree found a home on the Rocky Boy’s
Reservation carved out of Fort property in 1916.
After the war against Spain, Fort Assinniboine never regained its military
preeminence. The post was abandoned in 1911, the State of Montana turned
the site into an agricultural experiment station.
The Fort’s remote location dictated that it be practically a self-contained town.
There were several specialty buildings located on Fort Assinniboine - blacksmithing,
wagon wheel making, and saddlery - all operated by civilian employees.
Familiar Havre names associated with the Fort include Simon Pepin, who had
been wagon master for Colonel Broadwater’s Diamond R freighting outfit, and
Louie Shambo who acted as scout and dispatch carrier. The Herron family
established a dairy just east of the post and William Thackeray delivered mail.
L.K. Devlin had the contract for supplying the post with meat. C.A. Broadwater
and Co. had the post store.
Blacksmith & Tin Shop Inside Blacksmith Shop
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