Fort Totten – A View of History at the State Historic Site

Fort Totten, North Dakota.

Fort Totten is the site of the tribal headquarters of the Spirit Lake Nation. The reservation supports about 6,700 tribal members and comprises over 67,000 acres near the city of Devils Lake, North Dakota. The town of Fort Totten itself has a population of 1,247 residents as of 2019, and is situated just south of the state’s largest natural lake.

In the southeastern corner of the town the historic Fort Totten once protected the settlers. The well-preserved fort was originally comprised of log buildings when it was constructed in 1867. It remained a military site until 1890 when it was decommissioned and put into use as an Indian Boarding School.

Company Quarters

In 1960, the fort became a North Dakota State Historic Site. Since then, it’s been well cared for and the buildings are well kept and now house museum exhibits. Of course, in this time of Covid, the buildings were closed on the day of my visit. I’d been stationed at nearby Camp Grafton, a North Dakota National Guard Training Center for a Civil Air Patrol joint exercise with the ND Army National Guard. Given a morning off of my duties, I traveled the 11 miles (18 km) or so to visit the site. Fortunately at 8 AM, the fence to the grounds was opened and I was able to wander about the facility, though apart from the rest rooms and a concession area, the buildings were all closed to visitors.

The image above features the original company quarters which became the boy’s dormitory when the fort became a boarding school. The well-cared-for buildings are all labeled with dual signage indicating their usage both while it was a fort and while it was a school.

Captains Quarters

One of the larger buildings was the Captain’s Quarters, seen from the opposite side of the fort. There is no stockade, nor does it appear there ever was one, though the town has grown up around it, so any remnants of a stockade are long gone, it would appear. The fort has all buildings arranged in a large rectangle with a huge center courtyard as you can see in the image above.

Quartermasters Storage

The Quartermasters Storage building is located just south of the Company Quarters. A boardwalk leads the visitor from one building to another. The site is one of the best-preserved frontier posts in the country. By 1873, it’s use as a military post was discontinued and it began its tenure as an industrial school in 1891. The school housed Sioux children from the Spirit Lake Tribe and Chippewa children from the nearby Turtle Mountain Reservation.

Pioneer Daughters Museum

The facility had a third life from 1935-1940 with a 5-year program as a tuberculosis treatment to care for and educate children who contracted tuberculosis. The image above features the Surgeon’s and Chaplain’s residence.

2nd Lieutenants Quarters

Even though the buildings are closed to public viewing right now, there was work in progress in the 2nd Lieutenant’s quarters. Workmen were busy making construction noises inside the building as I walked by.

Totten Trail Inn

The 1st Lieutenant’s quarters is now a 10-room inn that is open to the public. You can reserve a room and stay in one of the rooms decorated with period accessories. The best part is that you can step out the doors in the image above and be in the courtyard/parade grounds of the Fort Totten Historic Site.

This post is my first full post written with photos stored on my Flickr account. Not only are the images are available in a higher resolution for better viewing, but I have included more images there than I have posted on this page. If you click on the image below, you will be linked to the album of all the images I captured that morning on my visit to the Fort Totten Historic Site. For photographers, camera model, lens type, and other photo details are included underneath each image (if you care about such matters.)

I will look forward to the time when the pandemic is behind us and I get to visit the Pioneer Daughters Museum and wander through the museum exhibits inside all of this well-preserved bit of North Dakota history.

Fort Totten Historic Site

John Steiner

6 comments

  1. Looks like an interesting place to visit, with some lovely buildings. Over here museums etc are open but with reduced numbers allowed inside and you have to book a time slot in advance. At least that means we get to go inside, unlike at the height of the pandemic!

    • My post on Fort Totten was actually written in early June. We’ve had really low covid numbers in our state, so much has reopened now. I tried to see if they reopened Fort Totten yet, but am still unsure after checking their website.

      • Good to know things are improving over there. Our figures are going up but despite that the government is ending all restrictions on Monday, relying instead on our common sense – which would be a great idea if only everyone HAD common sense. It’s not as common as the name would suggest 🙃

  2. It’s nice to see such sites preserved and with activity. I’ve just looked at the photos on Flickr, it’s great to have that extra quality.

    • I am looking forward to revisiting when the buildings are open again.
      It was a lucky discovery that I found the Flickr link tool. It was a bit of work to implement including changing themes because the tool didn’t work well in my old theme.
      All in all, I hope readers take advantage of the higher quality images that I’ll be sharing on Flickr as well as here in WordPress.

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