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Civil War Era in North Dakota

Military Actions 1863 - 1864

Henry Hastings SibleySibley and Sully in Northern Dakota Territory In the spring of 1863, Henry Hastings Sibley reluctantly raised another army of volunteers. He had thought that the U.S.-Dakota War was over, but President Abraham Lincoln then appointed him to the rank of Brigadier General and head of the Department of Minnesota. Sibley was now taking orders from General John Pope.

General Sibley had worked with the Santee Dakota, knew their language, and had some sympathy for the poor conditions they faced on their reservations. On the other hand, like many other Minnesotans, he believed that the Dakotas who had fled to Dakota Territory should be returned to Minnesota for punishment. Rumors fed fears among the settlers that the Santees would return, reinforced with their allies, the Yanktonais and Tetons, to continue attacks in southern Minnesota.

General Alfred Sully was also ordered into the field that summer. General Pope planned to have the two large armies meet on the plains of eastern Dakota Territory. Pope had three goals: to safeguard the Missouri River for steamboat traffic; to keep the Dakotas away from settlements; to intimidate the tribes of the Upper Missouri. The two armies were to approach the land of the Dakotas from different directions. Pope wanted to catch the Indians between the armies and force them to surrender.

It was a hot and dry summer on the Great Plains. The drought caused both generals a lot of trouble. Sibley trailed northwest from Minnesota via Fort Abercrombie on the Red River to Devils Lake. His 3,000 men and some 400 wagons followed the trails left by gold seekers who had crossed the plains a year earlier. They had received information that Little Crow, a leader of the Minnesota Santee Sioux who was considered a leader in the uprising, was living at Devils Lake. In fact, Little Crow had died sometime earlier and very few of his followers were in that area.

Alfred SullySibley’s men suffered from lack of fresh water. They often had to dig wells when they camped, or in some extreme situations, drink algae-infested water from small sloughs or lakes. They traveled on short rations (food supply). Their livestock including horses, mules and beef cattle often did not find enough grass to maintain their health and energy. By the time Sibley’s troops reached a Dakota village on the Missouri Coteau in central Dakota Territory, they were exhausted and hungry. They were also eager for a fight.

At the same time, General Sully was traveling up the Missouri River from Fort Randall in southern Dakota. He planned to send his supplies up the river on steamboats, but the water level was so low the boats could not travel very well. He was a month late in arriving at the meeting place on the upper Missouri River at the mouth of Apple Creek.

The two-point approach failed. They did not find the Santees from Minnesota, or other Indians considered “hostile” (those who had fought the U.S. Army or attacked settlers). Nevertheless, both armies saw action in four battles that summer.

The soldiers under Sibley and Sully had little experience with frontier conditions and they had never fought the western Dakotas. The Dakotas had little experience with the Army and its tactics and weapons. The soldiers thought they were going to punish the Indians who had attacked farm families in Minnesota. The Dakotas (most of whom had not been in Minnesota) were protecting their homelands which had been guaranteed to them by the Treaty of Fort Laramie of 1851. The battles and massacre of the summer of 1863 set in motion a series of events that did not end until 1890. Along the way, both the Dakotas and the soldiers learned a lot about each other.

Big Mound, Dead Buffalo Lake, and Stony Lake

Marching West, 1863

General Sibley pressed southwest from his camp near Devils Lake where he left a portion of his men and supplies. Finally, on July 24, 1863, encountered a group of Sisseton, Yanktonai and Wahpekute Dakotas who were hunting buffalo near some prairie potholes or small lakes.

Several officers including the Army surgeon, Dr. Josiah Weisser went out to meet the Dakotas. While shaking hands in a friendly greeting, the officers asked that the leading chiefs, Standing Buffalo and Scarlet Plume, to come to a council with General Sibley. The head men emerged from their tipis dressed in their best clothes to honor the importance of this council. At that moment, someone (probably a Dakota) fired a shot which killed Dr. Weisser. When the shot rang out, both sides opened fire. Many of the first to fall were the elders who were walking toward the council.

Harpers 09-12-1863As the battle, or skirmish, ended, the soldiers thought they had chased off the Dakotas. But mounted warriors quickly returned and charged the soldiers, putting them on the defensive. The Dakotas’ bravery impressed the soldiers whose pursuit was slowed enough to give Dakota women and children time to escape from the battle ground.

For two days, the soldiers marched on through a series of small lakes and low hills. They came to a lake with a dead buffalo in it. There, they once again encountered Dakotas, though it is likely that these were different groups than had fought at Big Mound. Some were Wahpekutes, and there were also some Hunkpapas and Blackfeet Teton Dakotas. A small battle, now called the Battle of Dead Buffalo Lake, took place.

Harper's Weekly Sept 12, 1863The soldiers, by now tired, hungry, and discouraged, continued on the march and were surprised on the morning of July 28 by the appearance of Indians on the hills around them. Here, in a brief battle at a place now known as Stony Lake, artillery was used to scatter the warriors. Warriors attacked in small groups, charging the soldiers and then retreating. The officers thought they were on the edge of victory and could prevent the Dakotas from crossing the Missouri River to safety. However, the warriors prevented the soldiers from moving rapidly toward the river, and again successfully covered the escape of their wives, children, and elders.

Dakota women had the responsibility for moving their small children and as much of their household goods as they could to safety. The women loaded their supplies and children on travois pulled by horses or dogs. They also used Red River carts to transport household goods. Some of the slow-moving carts had to be abandoned on the way or at the Missouri River crossing. Many soldiers wrote in their diaries about this event. They said that because the wide river had treacherous currents and a sand bottom, several people, including children, lost their lives.

In these three battles six soldiers were killed, and six were wounded. The Army claimed 150 Dakotas had died in the three battles. An accurate number is hard to determine because the Dakotas, if possible, removed their dead and wounded from the battlefield. The soldiers comments about the number of Indians killed indicate that the official military count may have been overstated.

Sibley marched his troops on to the Missouri River. He still hoped to cut off the retreat of the Dakotas who were fleeing to the west side of the river where they would be safe. He was also trying to maintain the plan to meet with General Sully near the Missouri River. Following Apple Creek to the banks of the Missouri River, Sibley and his troops fired across the river at Dakota warriors who taunted them from the distant bluffs. The Army retreated a few miles to a flat area along Apple Creek to wait the arrival of General Sully. Still worried about the Dakotas, they set up pickets who stood guard behind sod embankments. Some Dakota warriors had stayed on the east side of the river and managed to attack and kill two soldiers, Lt. Beaver and Private Nicholas Miller. These soldiers were buried under the sod embankments so that their graves would not draw attention after the Army left Camp Slaughter.

On August 1, Sibley turned his troops to the northeast to join the rest of his command and return to Minnesota. He failed to do more than disturb the Dakotas; he did not locate the Mdewakanton Santees who had been involved in the war in Minnesota; and he did not meet Sully. Basically the campaign, as Sibley experienced it, was a failure.

Sully, however, was marching north and would soon find another Dakota hunting village.


Clash at Whitestone Hill

General Sully arrived on the Upper Missouri to find that General Sibley and his troops had been there and gone. However, Sully’s scouts found signs indicating that a large group of Dakotas had passed by traveling towards their traditional hunting grounds west of the James River. Sully turned his troops and supply wagons eastward on their trail.

Indeed, the Dakotas had crossed the Missouri River and joined up with some other bands to resume their late summer hunt. They needed to put up a good supply of meat for the coming winter. The hunt was successful. They had about 400,000 pounds of bison meat drying in camp by the first week in September.

Massacre at Whitestone HillThe village included between 300 and 400 tipis, or lodges, housing about 3,000 people of the Yanktonais, Santees, Sissetons, and some Tetons. There may have been some Wahpekutes and one or two Crow families there as well. The leaders included Mato Nopa or Two Bears, Medicine Bear, Little Soldier, and Big Head (Pahtanka). Some historians believe that Inkpaduta was there to hunt with his band, but he did not act as a war leader.

On September 3, 1863, Sully’s advance troops, 300 men led by Colonel Albert E. House, met up with a large group of Dakotas. Wisely, House dismounted, shook hands, and indicated that they would like to talk. House asked the chiefs of the village to surrender themselves to the Army as security against a fight. The Dakotas refused to surrender all chiefs, but offered up some. House, uncertain about which one might be the most powerful chief, refused this offer.  House did not understand that Dakota chiefs did not have the authority to give up a member of their band.  The negotiations lasted about three hours.  As the council ended, people began to leave the village, looking for safety.

Meanwhile, Army scout Frank LaFramboise slipped away. He rode back to General Sully to inform him of the situation. Sully, ten miles away, mounted his best troops and quickly headed for this place, which the Dakotas called White Stone Hill. Sully’s best troops had some difficulty with the command to mount and ride. Their horses, not trained for combat, reared and kicked at the commotion and bugle calls. Soldiers lost gear from their saddles including the important picket ropes used to control horses during combat. Some soldiers may have been thrown from the saddle in the excitement.

When Sully and his troops arrived at White Stone Hill, he found House surrounded in a tense, though not desperate, situation.  While some of his soldiers surrounded the camp, Sully led the charge into the village.  They encountered Little Soldier and Big Head.  Pahtanka tried to surrender by waving a white cloth.   Though the Dakotas had been peacefully hunting, and did not fight, soldiers killed some old men, women and children in the camp.  Those remaining in camp were taken prisoner.

It was late in the afternoon when fighting began. Cavalry troops rode to a ravine about ½ mile from the village where Dakota warriors were prepared to fight. Troops surrounded them and the fight continued until dark. In the fading light, some soldiers were killed or wounded by other soldiers. During the dark night, the surviving Dakotas slipped away.

The next day, September 4, Sully sent out scouts to round up wounded and straggling Dakotas. They found some who had died of wounds as well. Sully estimated that his troops had killed 150 Dakotas and captured 156 prisoners (32 men, 124 women and children). He escorted the prisoners to Crow Creek reservation in southern Dakota Territory. Sully’s losses included 17 enlisted men killed, 2 officers and 34 enlisted men wounded. The dead soldiers were buried on the battlefield. Horses were picketed on the graves so that all signs of the burials would be erased and no one would disturb the site.

Sully, a professional soldier, believed in a “scorched earth” policy as did many other generals fighting at the same time in Confederate states. The soldiers gathered all the material goods of the Dakota camp:  tipis, wagons, food, clothing, utensils, tools, weapons, dogs, horses, and all the bison meat. These were burned so that they would be of no use to the Dakotas or anyone else who might come across the camp.

On September 5, as troops burned the Dakotas’ possessions, a small detachment of cavalry ran into about 300 Dakotas prepared to fight. Two soldiers were killed in the encounter and the troops retreated quickly.

Sully returned to his winter quarters at Fort Randall with the prisoners who were kept there for about two years.  After his return, Sully wrote to General Pope that he had delivered “one of the most severe punishments that the Indians have ever received.”  Though he was pleased with the results, Pope sent Sully out again in 1864 on another campaign against the Dakotas.

Conflict on the Northern Plains

The heat was terrible in the summer of 1864. Some days in July the temperature reached 110 degrees fahrenheit, and drought dried up some of the small streams and sloughs.  The hills, buttes, valleys, and ravines between the badlands and the Missouri River appeared so wild to the soldiers who traveled north that summer that some believed no white man had ever been there before.  Not true.  Wagon trains of gold-seekers (also called emigrants) had crossed the northern plains using a trail along the north side of the Missouri River since the summer of 1862.  Some of these men were avoiding service in the Union or Confederate Army; others had served, but had not re-enlisted.  All were intent on becoming rich by discovering gold in Montana.  In the summer of 1864, two large wagon trains carried men, women, and children across northern Dakota Territory while wealthy or disappointed gold-seekers floated downriver, returning to the states.

Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851

The traffic through the land that had been guaranteed to the Teton Dakotas by the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851 was more than annoying.  The emigrants’ horses ate all the grass along the trail. The drying water holes were drained by the increased demand for water.   Sometimes the emigrants took pleasure in shooting at Indians who appeared along the riverbanks.

Dakotas resisted this invasion by raiding remote ranches or stealing horses and cattle from emigrants and the Army.  In their typical style of warfare, the Dakotas attacked small or poorly defended wagon trains taking some women and children captive.  Some captives died; others were returned for ransom.

After the US-Dakota War in Minnesota (1862), many Santees, Yanktons, and Yanktonais moved westward, sometimes camping and hunting with the Teton Dakotas.  They brought word of the war and the terrible conditions which provoked the Santees into attacking the settlers.  The summer of 1863 had been filled with more violence and loss.

General Alfred Sully brought troops to the northern Plains again in the summer of 1864 with two brigades numbering 3,400 men, along with hundreds of horses, mules, and wagons full of supplies for a four month campaign against the Western Dakotas.  They also had the “Prairie Battery” of four Howitzer cannons.  Sully, under orders from General Pope, was intent on securing a major victory over the Tetons and their allies.  The plan was to intimidate the Tetons and keep river traffic safe.

Sully’s men were uneasy and anxious for a fight.  Many brought with them a strong hatred of Indians; some sought revenge for the deaths of friends in Minnesota.  However, they were disciplined and well trained for combat.

Along the march, three young Dakotas attacked and killed the expedition’s topographical engineer (mapmaker), Captain John Feilner.  Soldiers rode after the Dakotas and killed them. Sully avenged Feilner’s death by placing the heads of his killers on posts.  The Dakotas, who always made every effort to remove their dead from a battlefield, and who believed that wounds would continue to harm a person in the afterlife, were enraged by Sully’s act.

Killdeer Mountain 1913As word spread about Sully’s march north toward Dakota treaty lands and the beheading of three warriors, several bands of Tetons, Yanktonais, and some Santees joined the Teton camp of Sitting Bull near Tah-ka-o-kuty or Killdeer Mountain. Altogether there may have been as many as 1,600 lodges and 6,000 warriors. Among the Oglalas was a white woman named Fanny Kelly who had been captured that summer near the Platte River.  She prepared for the coming battle along with the Dakota women by setting up their tipis and arranging their household goods.  The Dakotas fully expected to defeat the soldiers.

Battle of Killdeer Mountain

General Sully’s command marched north along the east bank of the Missouri River to a place where Sully determined that Fort Rice should be built (about 30 miles south of present-day Mandan). For several days, his troops worked with the regiment assigned to build the fort while their horses rested and Sully made his plans.

On July 19, Sully and 3,000 men (plus 123 emigrant wagons heading for Montana which the soldiers were ordered to guide and protect) headed west on the north branch of the Cannonball River. Sully had expected to meet a large encampment of Dakotas at Rainy Butte. Wild rumors ran through the soldiers’ camp about war parties of Dakotas who had participated in the war in Minnesota and had the scalps of white women as trophies. Other rumors had the soldiers believing that Indians had attacked the steamboats carrying supplies upriver for Sully’s troops. Some soldiers heard that another wagon train, headed by Captain James Fisk, had been attacked and all the women had been taken captive.

Killdeer MountainsAll of the rumors were false, but they fed the fears of the soldiers and heightened their anticipation of battle. When Sully finally received reliable information that the Dakota were camped about 80 miles north at Tah-ka-o-kuty, he turned his troops north. The wagon train was left at the Heart River with a guard of several hundred soldiers. Sully and 2,200 soldiers headed north once again.

On July 26, the Nebraska scouts, riding ahead of the main column, encountered about 30 Dakotas. The skirmish alerted both the soldiers and the main Dakota camp about each others’ locations. Late on the morning of July 28, the Dakotas and the soldiers observed each other near the village. Sully ordered his troops into formation and marched forward.

Long Dog, a young warrior, believed that he carried a special power that day in the form of a ghost that would protect him from the soldiers’ bullets. He said that if the soldiers shot at him, then the Dakotas would know their intentions and would shoot back. Alone, he rode toward the troops. The soldiers fired, but most Dakotas and soldiers (except for General Sully) said Long Dog was not wounded. That is how the battle began.

The soldiers held out against several charges by the Dakotas.  As it became evident that the soldiers’ weapons and artillery gave them the advantage, the Dakota women began to leave the village.Ft. Berthold 1864 Women and children ran into the thickly timbered ravines where the soldiers were at a disadvantage. The warriors covering the women’s flight drew the attention of Major Brackett whose troops rode toward the ravines. It was a poor place for the cavalry to make a fight, but artillery fired shells onto the hills driving the Dakotas out. Still, the warriors tried to draw the soldiers away from their families by riding up hills where they could be seen, and then disappearing when the soldiers came after them.

TravoisLate in the battle, a Dakota man, known as The Man Who Never Walked, or Bear’s Heart, asked to enter the battle. He had never participated in battle because he was disabled from birth. With the consent of Sitting Bull and other leaders, Bear’s Heart was placed on a travois pulled by a horse and sent down the hill. His horse was killed, and then soldiers fired on Bear’s Heart, killing him as he sang his death song. After the battle, when the soldiers discovered his disability, they fired their guns in salute to Bear’s Heart’s courage.

By dark, the Dakotas had left Killdeer Mountain, taking most of their dead and wounded with them, but little of their household goods. They acknowledged 31 warriors had been killed. Sully, however, put their death toll at between 100 and 150. Only two soldiers were killed: George Northrup and Horace Austin. They were buried on the battlefield after dark. Horses were picketed on their graves to eliminate any possible sign of their burials.

The next day, Sully ordered the troops to destroy the remaining goods of the Dakota camp. Sully's CampThey burned an estimated 1,500 tipis, 200 tons of dried bison meat, utensils, tools, and clothing.

Sully’s troops returned to the Heart River corral where the emigrant train waited for them. With the guidance of experienced scouts, soldiers and gold seekers headed into the badlands on their way to the Missouri River near Fort Union where they expected to meet their steamboats. Though the Army claimed to have defeated the Sioux at Killdeer Mountain, they found themselves in constant skirmishes with the Dakotas as they forged a trail through the steep canyons and bluffs of the badlands. After a couple of days, the Dakotas had made their point– they were not defeated and would continue to defend their country and their families.

The Dakotas split up, and Sitting Bull and his band of Hunkpapas headed south. Not far from White Butte, they encountered yet another emigrant train bound for Montana. Once again, they challenged Sully’s effort to establish control over their country.

Fort Rice and the Galvanized Yankees

As General Sully’s troops marched north in the hot, dry summer of 1864, the General boarded a steamboat so that he could survey the banks of the river for the location of a new fort. On July 7, 1864, Sully reached a narrow spot in the Missouri River, 450 miles from Sioux City, Iowa. There was plenty of timber along the banks. On a flat piece of land, below the bluffs, he established the site of Fort Rice along with a military reservation 25 miles long and 7 miles wide. It was the first of a string of forts that would be built along the upper Missouri River. As soon as the soldiers arrived, they began to cut timber for the buildings and the stockade.

Sully assigned the 30th Wisconsin Volunteers to take charge of construction. Sully and his troops marched on July 19th to locate the Dakotas, but he left a portion of his combat troops, under commanding officer Colonel Daniel Dill, at the post.

Less than a month later, on August 15, 1864, the survivors of the Battle of Killdeer Mountain and the Battle of the Badlands were returning by steamboat toFort Rice Fort Rice. At the same time, the First U. S. Volunteers (1st U. S.) were beginning their journey from Virginia to Dakota Territory. Their orders were to relieve the troops at Fort Rice and to remain there to protect transportation on the Missouri River and throughout northern Dakota Territory.

The 1st U.S. Volunteers were also called Galvanized Yankees. Less than six months earlier they had been Confederate prisoners of war at Point Lookout Prison in Maryland. They had suffered from poor living quarters and malnutrition. Given a chance to fight for the Union, about 595 prisoners signed up. The Galvanized Yankees fought in a few skirmishes with Confederates. Their officers worried that if the volunteers were captured in battle, they would be treated as deserters and traitors. They would probably be executed.

The Union Army needed more fighting men, but General Pope needed soldiers in the West to protect the trails and rivers and to subdue the Dakotas. Pope traded western troops from Iowa and Minnesota for several regiments of Galvanized Yankees.

The 1st U. S. rested at Fort Sully (in present-day South Dakota) and resumed their march on October 8. The nights were getting cold. The march was difficult; each soldier was allotted just one quart of water per day. By October 12, the soldiers had to carry their own firewood along with the rest of their gear. The first death occurred on October 12th, when a soldier died of dysentery (a severe form of diarrhea). The next day, two more men died of intestinal disease. The 1st U. S. did not reach Fort Rice until October 17. The fort was unfinished, but the soldiers welcomed a place to rest after their long journey by train, boat, and foot. However, on that day the dreadful conditions of the march took another life. Only 531 of the original regiment remained after desertions and deaths.

The Sixth Iowa Cavalry, which had been occupying Fort Rice marched out on October 18. This left the 1st U.S. to finish construction, defend the post, and wait out the long winter. No more boats loaded with food and supplies would travel up the river until May. The scant rations they brought along would have to suffice until spring. Commanding officer Colonel Dimon expected that they would have deer and bison meat to supplement their diet. They had been given four barrels of sauerkraut at Fort Sully. Sauerkraut, made from cabbage, was necessary to prevent scurvy, a deadly disease that resulted from the lack of Vitamin C in the diet. The soldiers ate some of the sauerkraut before they arrived at Fort Rice. The remaining supply was not enough to get them through the winter.

At Fort Rice, the Galvanized Yankees and their officers published a newspaper (it was originally published by the 30th Wisconsin Infantry). In this newspaper, The Frontier Scout, they reported news from other western posts and the Civil War, letters from friends, poetry, stories, and jokes. On June 15, 1865, shortly after the Civil War ended, the newspaper carried the record of deaths at Fort Rice from scurvy and other diseases. Thirty-five men died of scurvy during the winter of 1864-1865, the last on May 30. Many others had lost their teeth and suffered life-long disability from the disease. The men who still suffered from scurvy were cured as soon as wild onions (a good source of Vitamin C) appeared on the prairie. An additional seven men had died in combat.

Before the 1st U. S. marched away from Fort Rice, they defended the fort from an attack by the Hunkpapas, led by Sitting Bull. The Dakotas were angry with Sully over what they thought was a senseless attack at Killdeer Mountain, and fearful that the Army had planted Fort Rice in their treaty lands in order to destroy them. Sitting Bull refused to accept Sully’s promises that the government did not want to take their lands. The attack on Fort Rice was well-planned, but the fort was well-defended. The Army did not abandon the post.

The 1st U. S. finally marched for home on October 10, 1865. The Civil War was over; they had served their nation well.

Fort Dilts

Horatio H. Larned Sketch

Click to Enlarge

After harassing General Sully’s troops for a few days in the northern end of the badlands, Sitting Bull’s group of Hunkpapa Dakotas traveled south. Undefeated, but short of food and supplies for the coming winter, the Hunkpapas needed to hunt and trade. At the end of August, in the butte country a few miles east of the Little Missouri River, they spotted yet another wagon train passing through their treaty lands.

The wagon train was headed by James L. Fisk, a businessman who had managed to get Congressional funds to support his venture. Though Congress was focused on the Civil War, it was also interested in securing roads to the gold fields of Montana (then called Idaho Territory). Fisk had led wagon trains in 1862 and 1863 from St. Paul to Fort Abercrombie and on to Fort Benton, Montana over a trail along the north side of the Missouri River. This year, without permission from Congress, Fisk wanted to try a southern route.


With a train of about 100 wagons carrying supplies and 120 men, women, and a few children, Fisk set out from St. Paul on July 15, 1864. General Sully was still at Fort Rice, overseeing the construction of the post. Fisk expected to travel with Sully’s protection.

One month later, Fisk’s train arrived on the east bank of the Missouri River, opposite Fort Rice. The gold seekers had to wait six days in this camp before a steamboat arrived from upriver (carrying Sully’s wounded) to move their wagons across the river. Fisk was upset to find that Sully had departed without him, but sought protection from the officers at the fort. Though the commanding officer, Colonel Daniel Dill, at first refused to provide escort, Fisk finally convinced him to release 50 men who were recovering from illness to escort the train.

On August 23, the Fisk train left Fort Rice following Sully’s trail along the north branch of the Cannonball River. Instead of turning north to the Heart River as Sully had, Fisk angled southwest. On September 2, the train, traveling in two columns, came to Deep Creek (west of present-day Amidon). One wagon turned over at this difficult crossing. It needed repairs, so another wagon stopped to help while the train moved on. Nine soldiers of the rear guard stayed with the two wagons.

The Hunkpapas were watching from the nearby hills. When they saw the two wagons left behind, they attacked.

The men under attack sent a message to the train, 1½ miles ahead, and men rode back to help. They found nine men had been killed, three wounded. One Dakota died in the fighting, and Sitting Bull was wounded.

Over the next two days, the train continued to move forward, fighting continuously. On September 3, as they left their camp, one of the emigrants left poisoned bread near the cooling campfires. Dakotas found the bread and those who ate it became sick and died a couple days later. Finally, on September 4, the emigrants agreed to stop and fortify their position. That night, they sent several riders back to Fort Rice for help.

Each wagon company dug sod and piled it up to build a wall. Wagons formed a corral inside the wall with their wheels and tongues overlapping. The livestock was kept in the center of the corral and the emigrants set up tents between the wagons and the wall. They named the fortification Fort Dilts in honor of one of the men who was wounded in the initial attack, and died a few days later. Dilts and two others were buried beneath the sod walls.

For 16 days, the residents of Fort Dilts and the Hunkpapas exchanged shots and entered into negotiations. The Hunkpapas asked for food, cattle, and ammunition. They also presented a note written by the captive, Fanny Kelly. Kelly asked the emigrants to rescue her, but also told them not to trust the Dakotas. Fisk offered to give the Dakotas three horses and some supplies. Neither side trusted the other. Negotiations broke down and the Hunkpapas moved on with Mrs. Kelly still a captive.

Eleven emigrants and soldiers died in the fighting during the conflict. The death toll of the Indians is unknown.

On September 20, a rescue party of 800 soldiers with artillery arrived from Fort Rice. After a heated debate, the emigrants agreed to return to Fort Rice with the military escort, though Fisk and a few others wanted to continue to Montana. Some emigrants remained at Fort Rice all winter and helped complete its construction. The rest of the members of the wagon train returned to Minnesota.