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North Dakota Tourism

Bowman County Courthouse
104 1st St NW
Bowman, ND 58623

Crowd gathers to celebrate 150 years of Fort Dilts

September 12, 2014

By BRYCE MARTIN | Pioneer Editor |

Dean Pearson speaks to a crowd Sept. 6 in Bowman for the 150th celebration of Fort Dilts. PHOTO BY BRYCE MARTIN | PIONEER

Bowman County marked the final of three spots this summer that commemorated important historical events that helped shape the Badlands region of western North Dakota.

People wanting to learn about the final leg of history surrounding the battles of the Badlands gathered at the Four Seasons Pavilion in Bowman on Sept. 6. It was a day dedicated to recalling the events forcing the establishment of Fort Dilts more than a century ago.

Bowman’s was the third and final event that followed the travails of specific wagon trains that traveled and battled extensively through western North Dakota in the late 1800s. Each commemorative event was held on or close to the actual dates the battles took place on in 1864.

The first commemoration, held July 26 and 27 in Killdeer, focused on the epic Killdeer Mountain Battle, fought between native Sioux and American forces belonging to Gen. Alfred Sully. The next stop was in Medora, Aug. 8 and 9, to educate the public about the Battle of the Badlands that occurred subsequent to the battle in Killdeer.

Bowman County’s Fort Dilts was discussed in the third event last weekend, where interested parties also got to take an interpretive bus tour Sept. 7, mapped across the same trail taken by wagons in 1864, ultimately leading to Fort Dilts, located to the northwest of Rhame.

The three battles with the Native Americans stemmed from a derisive campaign led by Sully to endanger the Sioux, beginning in Killdeer. The bloody battles culminated in disaster for the Sioux, who lost countless of their own. Though, American soldiers and civilians weren’t spared at the hands of the fighting Sioux.

Fanny Kelly, a 19-year-old Caucasian captive of the Sioux, was at all three of the 1864 engagements.

Kelly was abducted by an Indian tribe at the Platte River and then traded to the Sioux in North Dakota, according to Dean Pearson, chairman of the Pioneer Trails Regional Museum, which hosted the event.

Kelly was taken all the way to the Killdeer Mountains, arriving there the night before the attack, and ransomed to American Gen. James Fisk. Negotiations for her release, however, broke down and she remained in Sioux custody. Kelly was ultimately released later that year at Fort Sully.

She penned a book detailing the harrowing events that took her from Killdeer, through Medora and on to Bowman County, during the battle necessitating the construction of Fort Dilts. Pearson also wrote a book, “Fort Dilts: The Story behind the Story,” chaptering the battle surrounding the fort.

About 80 people attended the Bowman County event that focused on Fort Dilts, with other portions of the presentation dedicated to various aspects of the fort and life during that time, including a discussion about “Galvanized Yankees.”

The term “Galvanized Yankees” applied to confederate soldiers that defected from the confederacy and pledged their allegiance to the Union. Those parties were responsible for building Fort Rice, under the command of Col. Daniel Dill.

They chose to defect to avoid prisoner of war camps and were sent up to help build forts.

“We had a lot of players here,” Pearson said. Those “players” included Sitting Bull, who was actually injured during the battle of Fort Dilts.