Fort Pembina

Fort Pembina


William Ash

The coming of Fort Pembina did much for the Upper Red RiverValley. It provided protection for the few white settlers in the area. Italso helped the customs officers with their collecting of revenue.

The necessity of a fort in the upper Red River Valley wasseen in late 1862 with the Sioux uprising in the Minnesota Valley. The Siouxhad massacred a number of Minnesota citizens. A local regiment made up ofMinnesota settlers and a few regiments of the regular army pulled back fromfighting the War Between the States and was assembled to punish the SiouxIndians who had participated in the massacre.

These regiments defeated the Sioux in battle but a largegroup of Indians fled to this surrounding area and also into Canada.

A batallion of about 300 men was organized and placed underthe command of Major E. A. C. Hatch to protect the settlers around Pembina.They began their march for Pembina from St. Paul on October 5, 1863. Theyencountered their first snow on October 15, 1863.

They started to build the fort on arrival. They were workingin temperatures between 20 to 40 degrees below zero putting up the log buildings.On January 1, 1864, the temperature hit a record 60 degrees below zero.

Many of the soldiers came down with scurvy during the winter.Dr. Armington recommended that the post buy 200 bushels of potatoes, 50bushels of onions, and a number of cabbage. All that could be found thoughwas 18 bushels of potatoes at $6.00 per bushel, 7 bushels of onions at $8.00per bushel and no cabbage at any price.

In December, 1863, Major Hatch was told the Sioux wouldsurrender if they would not be punished. He told them he would only acceptunconditional surrender. 400 of the Indians surrendered to Major Hatch.The Canadian authorities captured the Sioux chiefs Little Six and MedicineBottle and turned them in at the fort in Pembina. They were sent away onMay 1, 1864 on the steamer "International" on their trip to FortSnelling. After this, the fort was abandoned and left to rot.

In 1870, the need again rose for a fort because of possibleIndian attack and the need of the military to help custom officers collectrevenue. Congress later laid aside money for building a fort at Pembina.

The buildings that were erected were: two sets of officerquarters, one company barracks, two company kitchens, one bakery, one guardhouseand a hospital.

The post surgeon wrote, "The guardhouse is well adaptedfor its purposes, but its capacity is too small" (1) The post magazinewas the only building that was made of brick. There were not enough washrooms.There was no headquarters building built.

The first commander of the new fort was Captain Lloyd Wheaton.Captain Wheaton was later awarded the medal of honor for a feat during theCivil War.

The first person to die at the fort was Charles I. Raschwho died from pneumonia on March 15, 1871. The only major action in thepost's 25 years of action was an invasion force of Fenians.

In the fall of 1872, a telegraph line had been laid tothe fort.

A routine day in the life of a soldier was reville, followedby dress parade, flag salute, fatigue duty, lunch, fatigue duty, dinnerand then taps.

Fatigue duty was hauling water, cutting wood, and growingvegetables for the kitchens. Also, they cleaned the stables, disinfectingthe sinks and hauling the garbage.

In 1887, Fort Pembina had an added luxury with the installationof bathhouses and running water. This was done with water mains leadingfrom a water tank. This tank was filled by a stationary steam engine.

The typical meals that any solder could expect was: boiledbeef, beef stew, fried beefsteak, boiled bacon, fried and baked port, friedpotatoes, vegetables, soup, baked beans. For dessert there might be driedapple pie or peach pie. They drank milk, coffee or water.

Patrol duty during many of the later years in the lifeof the fort was watching for smugglers and chasing army deserters. The desertionrate was high at Fort Pembina.

Enlisted men were always going to saloons to drink. Somepeople did not like this so they had a temperance lodge on the fort. Tocombat this some of the soldiers started a drinking club. It went bankruptshortly.

A common cause of death during the winter was that thesoldiers were drunk and froze to death when they got lost.

There were not enough girls around Fort Pembina so themen ran an ad in the Pembina Pioneer that said: "Wanted: Paterfamiliaewith marriageable young daughters, to settle around the fort. Speedy engagementsguaranteed." (2)

Around 1890, it could be seen that Fort Pembina was nolonger needed. The sheriff and local constables could handle any trouble.Abandonment started in 1891 when the post cemetery was no longer used. Thedead were taken to Custer Battlefield cemetery. Then on May 25, 1895, theend was near for on this day a fire raged through the fort. All that wassaved was the water tank, hospital, officers quarters, guardhouse and themagazine. The damage was estimated at $25,000.

On July 11, 1895, the Secretary of War ordered the abandonment.All but ten men left for Fort Assiniboine on August 15, 1895. They stayeduntil the final disposition of the fort was made. They left the fort onSeptember 26, 1895.

In some ways it can be said that Fort Pembina was the beginningof a new era for the Red River Valley. For it was Fort Pembina that firstmade it safe for settlers to farm this fertile soil and make the valleyimportant as an agricultural area as it is today.


Kittson County Enterprise, 50th Anniversary Edition; Hallock,Minnesota; September 11, 1935.

North Dakota History, State Historical Society of NorthDakota, Bismark, North Dakota, Vol. 36 No. 1, Winter, 1969.

(1) North Dakota History, Bismark, North Dakota, vol. 36,no. 1

(2) North Dakota History, Bismark, North Dakota, vol. 36,no. 1