Dakota Datebook: Fort Pembina

December 8, 2014,
“Fort Pembina”


Long after the Dakota Uprising, citizens of Minnesota were afraid of Indian attacks.  The Minnesota Legislature petitioned Congress for protection against incursions by the Sioux.  On this date in 1869, Major General Winfield Scott Hancock recommended the establishment of a fort at Pembina in the Dakota Territory, located only two miles south of the Canadian border.  As late as 1823, the United States and Canada had both considered Pembina as Canadian.  That changed when Major Stephen H. Long’s survey of the 49th parallel showed that Pembina was definitely in United States.

Pembina was already an important settlement by 1869.  It was established by the French as a fur trading post, and later it was involved with the bison trade.  In 1851, the United States chose Pembina as the site for the first post office in present-day North Dakota.  According to the 1860 census, Pembina was the most populous settlement in the future state.  A mixed group of citizens inhabited the town, including Indians, Americans, immigrants, and mixed-blood Metis.  The settlement was associated throughout its history with French Canada, the Hudson’s Bay Company, the Red River Colony, and the Red River ox cart trains.

General Scott located the fort a mile and a half south of the settlement, just above the mouth of the Pembina River.  The Fort was completed on July 8, 1870.  It was originally called Fort Thomas in honor of Major General George H. Thomas, who died on March 28, 1870, but that September it was renamed Fort Pembina.  It reached a maximum garrison strength of 200 men in 1878.  By 1890, only 23 men were stationed there.

The War Department began abandonment procedures in 1891.  A fire extensively damaged the Fort on May 27, 1895, and it was officially abandoned on August 16, 1895, with the last soldiers leaving in September.  The fort was later sold at public auction.

Dakota Datebook written by Carole Butcher


Dakota Datebook, Prairie Public (2014). http://www.prairiepublic.org/radio/

Subject Matter


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