Northern Dakota Territory was the scene of intense armed conflict between the Army and various bands of Lakota and Dakota between 1863 and 1864. Much of this conflict related to the outbreak of war between the Mdewakanton and Wahpekute Dakota and European American residents of south-central Minnesota known as the Dakota Conflict of 1862. Some of the Dakota fled seeking refuge in northern Dakota Territory. Henry Hastings Sibley led the army in pursuit and engaged Indians (most of whom had not participated in the Dakota War and were not hostile toward the army) in skirmishes and battles several times in 1863. Then General Alfred Sully joined the pursuit, leading mounted troops up the Missouri River from Yankton. Sully’s troops turned east following a large band of Indian families who were preparing to hunt buffalo along the James River.
On September 3, 1863, Sully learned of the camp at Whitestone Hill. He attacked, killing men, women, and children and taking many more captive. Sully then ordered his men to destroy the tipis, food supplies, and other goods left behind by the fleeing survivors.
This period of conflict led to the construction of several army posts beginning with Sully’s Fort Rice in 1864 on the western bank of the Missouri River (30 miles south of present day Mandan.) Marching from Fort Rice on July 28, 1864, Sully attacked Teton and Yanktonnais Sioux in the Killdeer Mountains. There was another encounter in the badlands along the Little Missouri River.
Sibley’s and Sully’s expeditions were supposed to punish the Dakota, but by attacking all the Indians they found whether they were preparing for war or not, they generated ill-will that led to heightened hostilities. Some of the Indians pursued by Sibley attacked a boat full of gold miners returning from the gold mines in July 1863; others besieged a wagon train heading for the Montana gold fields at Fort Dilts in present-day Bowman County in September 1864.
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