4480 Fort Lincoln Rd.
Mandan North Dakota 58554United States
Midwest Living Recommends
Lively tours share engaging stories about the Mandan natives who lived on the site during the 1700s and of George Custer and his wife, Elizabeth, during their 1870s sojourn.
Al Johnson, who dresses in 1870s period clothing and acts like an officer in the Fort Lincoln infantry, says this historic site tells three stories: the story of Lt. Col. George Custer and his wife (they lived here briefly before Custer died in the battle at Little Big Horn); the story of the Mandan natives; and the story of the Civilian Conservation Corps, who worked under FDR to reconstruct the site for historical tours. You can learn all of those stories in a solid 90-minute visit to this decommissioned military property, thanks to lively guides. A "soldier" stationed at the decommissioned Fort Lincoln leads guests through the Custers' reconstructed prairie home and offers up first-person tidbits about the couple and about how they lived. Visitors see replica furniture and kitchen items and hear a waltz played on a violin by a costumed guide. After the tour, you can head across the field where marching drills once took place (and where reenactments happen now) to the stark barracks where the soldiers once served out their five-year stints. Stick to the right side of the building, where open-lid trunks at the foot of each bed display the name and biography of soldiers who served at Fort Lincoln. If you spend 15-20 minutes reading those stories, you'll quickly learn about the harsh realities of service at a remote outpost, which was built to protect Western mail routes. Next, drive over to On-A-Slant, the Mandan earthen mound village that also is part of the historic site. Knowledgeable guides lead 20-minute tours through the reconstructed site and explain the history and culture of this indigenous people and how they lived here along the Missouri River for hundreds of years before the Lewis and Clark expedition arrived in 1804. (The white visitors brought the smallpox virus to the area, killing 80 percent of the people who lived here.) Tours snake inside the earthen mounds, where guide share info about the various tools preserved and about how the Mandan stayed warm during those harsh prairie winters. Before you go, stop by the visitors center, which was built by the CCC during the 1930s, and browse the little exhibits there about the site. It's not anything flashy, but overall, this sleepy historic site is worth a stop for a quick history lesson brush-up. Admission charged.