Fort Abercrombie | June 10, 2021

My ideal vacation consists of strategic lounging.  I lounge on beaches; by pools; in restaurants; on patios.  In the early morning I lounge with books; midday I lounge with pina coladas; and in the late afternoon I lounge with my eyes closed.

On the other hand, the only time anyone lounges on a Kyle-planned trip is when you’re provided a brief bathroom break.  It’s fairly common for Kyle to lament that we “didn’t get to do everything on the list” due to inconveniences such as “the kids want to go swimming again” and “there aren’t any showtimes at 5am on a Wednesday.”

Anyways, after years of being dragged off of lovely padded umbrella chaises and forced to put on socks, I’ve come to actually look forward to our aggressive schedule of activities.  One of my family favorites?  Touring historical forts.

The thermometer in our living room read 105 degrees last weekend, so naturally we felt it would be a good time to pack up the boys (ages nine and six, as a reminder) and take a wander around an open field and several unairconditioned buildings at Fort Abercrombie in Abercrombie, ND.  This is how we came to that decision:

Kyle, drinking coffee in his pajamas: What do you want to do today?

Me, drinking coffee in my pajamas: I need to clean out the guest room closet and do a bit of work.

Kyle, pulls out a packed backpack and four bottles of water: Want to go to Fort Abercrombie?

Me, fully dressed, camera around my neck: Sure.

Fort Abercrombie was the first military fort in North Dakota (or what is now North Dakota), and was set up to guard fur trade, gold rush, and military trails, as well as steamboat travel.  It was established by Lieutenant Colonel John J. Abercrombie, who showed up in August of 1858 and declared a beautiful spot alongside the Red River the perfect site for such an important endeavor.  A year later, after springtime flooding inevitably occurred, Abercrombie declared a higher point directly across the river an even better spot, and the fort was moved to where it sits today.

These days, Fort Abercrombie is an official state historic site, and consists of an interpretive center, three reconstructed Blockhouses and a Guard House, and site markers and signage for all of the remaining now-long-gone structures.

We have learned from experience that if a site offers any kind of guided tour, we take it.  First of all, if we go on our own, we end up scattered all over the place (me still in the car meticulously reading the guidebook, Kyle wandering around seeing what he sees, Nine hidden in a corner memorizing a painting, and Six in the gift shop complaining he is hungry).  Second, it’s good to have an expert around to answer our family’s constant barrage of questions, such as, “Which direction do you think this fort is the most susceptible to attack?” (Nine) and “Have you ever seen a bee before?” (Six).

And third, and most importantly, tour guides know all of the juicy stories that aren’t fit to print.  For example, at Fort Abraham Lincoln in Mandan – home of Lieutenant Colonel George A. Custer – our tour guide told us that prior to George’s Last Stand, the most common cause of death among the troops was by drowning in the river while attempting to swim back from town after having too much to drink. 

The site of Fort Abercrombie the First was replaced by a small slab town and its own brewery, and the considering our tour guide made a point to explain one of the punishments for over-imbibing (digging a hole with increasingly-smaller implements), I have to assume the troops at Fort Abercrombie were affected by a similar fate.

I’m sure it will surprise you to hear that the 1800s weren’t exactly kittens and rainbows for the Indian tribes and early settlers, and so Fort Abercrombie is infamously known for holding off a six-week siege against the Dakota (Sioux) Indian tribe after the government traded food for land to the starving Dakota, and then reneged on the payment.  The fort was defended by a rag-tag group of volunteer troops (all of the “real” soldiers had left to fight the Civil War) and a slap-dash wall made of food barrels.

Kyle’s favorite part of the Abercrombie tour was a hidden tunnel through the trees that the children of the fort took to get water during the siege.  Mine was that our tour guide took us around on a golf cart, which is basically the perfect way to experience history.  Nine’s favorite thing was “everything,” which was also his answer at Fort Lincoln, On-A-Slant Indian Village, Fort Mandan, Fort Snelling, and the Laura Ingalls Wilder Homestead.  Six’s favorite thing was that he met his new best friends, all three of the guides working in the Interpretive Center.  We celebrated the amazing history we learned by spending so much money at the gift shop that we now own Fort Abercrombie Kosior.

My parents published an actual photo book of North Dakota landscapes, so I’m sure they are very proud of this picture I took at Fort Abercrombie, posted above.  The clump of trees in the background is the site of the original (flooded out) fort, which later became a slab town.  The blue thing in the corner is our tour guide’s shoulder.  Email me in the next 30 minutes for my free e-book, “Tips and tricks for mediocre art.”

This week’s news has a field of dreams, a dusty crophopper, and a hunted house.  Read on.

If you are a kid and you are riding a bike and you are wearing a helmet, you’ve upped your chances of getting a free ice cream cone. (KX Net)

Grand Forks’ Shawn Urban is thankful to be alive after the quick-action efforts by coworker Shauna Weber and Sheriff’s Deputy Adam Vonasek. (Grand Forks Herald)

North Dakota’s Nikki Blowers is sharing her personal story of human trafficking in support of the 31:8 Project. (KX Net)

Grand Forks’ Anna Hovet Dias and her husband will be featured on an episode of House Hunters. (Grand Forks Herald)

Holmes, ND now has it’s own “field of dreams” after their original field was abandoned in the late 90’s. (Grand Forks Herald)

Wahpeton’s Eric Klindt has built his own Dusty Crophopper and his fuel truck friend, Chug, to give kids “a good toy” to better understand aeronautics. (Wahpeton Daily News)

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