GARRISON The location of the frontier military fort after which Fort Stevenson State Park is named lies beneath the surface of Lake Sakakawea, about three miles southwest of the park's scenic overlook today.
Old Fort Stevenson was founded in 1867, crudely built, primarily from cottonwood trees that were cut along the nearby Missouri River. It was a full military fort by the standards of the day. It included officers quarters, parade ground, guard house, barracks and at least two rifled cannon that were the most modern and accurate artillery of the time.
A replica of the original guard house was constructed at the park in 2003 and overlooks Lake Sakakawea today. It is a popular attraction for visitors to the park and the centerpiece for the park's annual Frontier Military Days. The guardhouse contains an interpretive center that helps visitors better understand the history of the region.
A small cannon sits on display near the Interpretive Center at Fort Stevenson State Park. The center was constructed in 2003. It is a replica of the original guardhouse at old Fort Stevenson.
Fort Stevenson was a fully operating military post from 1867 through 1883, once serving as the frontier army's command post for what was then known as the Middle District of the Department of the Dakotas. The best known commander of the fort was Col. Philippe Regis de Trobriand. He directed construction of the post and was stationed at Fort Stevenson from 1867 through 1870.
Two large bays that form the eastern and western edges of Fort Stevenson State Park bear names that are directly associated with the history of the region. On the east side of the park is de Trobriand Bay and marina. On the west side is Garrison Bay and marina. While de Trobriand is named after the first commander of the old military post, Garrison is a reference to the "garrison" stationed at the fort. Both are fitting reminders of the historical importance of the area.
Soldiers at Fort Stevenson did not have an easy life. They were virtually dumped into the middle of the Great Plains. Although the region was inhabited by Indians, both friend and foe, the soldiers' biggest worries usually came from wicked winter weather or prairie fires. Their assigned duties included protecting the mail routes to other frontier forts, such as Fort Buford to the west and Fort Totten to the east. Mail for the frontier was delivered by the occasional steam boat that arrived at the Fort Stevenson landing and then dispersed by wagon or courier to other locations on the frontier.
Fort Stevenson drew its name from a Union general during the Civil War, Thomas Stevenson, who was killed at the Battle of Spotsylvania in 1864. A great deal of historical information about Fort Stevenson can be found in the interpretive center. Displays include old photographs, various frontier military equipment and the story of the final days of Fort Stevenson when it served as a boarding and industrial school for the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara.
The Fort Stevenson Foundation was formed in 1993 for the purpose of preserving and promoting the history of the old fort. Those interested in learning more about the Fort Stevenson Foundation are encouraged to call 337-5576.
Today the memory of Fort Stevenson lives on through the state park. The park contains 138 modern campsites, a tent camping area, rental cabins, hiking trails, the "trooper" forest and two marinas.