Remembrance in Stone

Yellowstone Lodge #88 Monument

County: Williams County, ND

Location: Just West of Fort Buford State Historic Site

Coordinates: N 47o59.183' W 104o00.083'

In 1866, at the confluence of the Missouri and Yellowstone rivers, three officers and eighty-nine soldiers, Brevet Lieutenant Colonel William Rankin commanding, founded a military post named Fort Buford. Over the next few years they operated under considerable pressure from the rising Hunkpapa war leader, Sitting Bull, who declared the outpost should not stand. Most of the soldiers at Fort Buford were seasoned veterans of the Civil War, and many of them also carried another affiliation--as members of the Ancient Free and Accepted Masons--the Masonic lodge. Hungry for fellowship and regularity, they petitioned the Minnesota Grand Lodge for a charter. This resulted in the founding of Yellowstone Lodge #88, the first Masonic Lodge in what would become North Dakota, on January 25, 1871.

The freemasons of Fort Buford began with twenty-nine members. First Worshipful Master of the lodge was Captain Asa Peabody Blunt, later the long-time commander of the US Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth. Over the next couple of years membership in the lodge rose to forty-eight, and the men erected an impressive, two-story, 90x100' hall they used for dances and balls. Yellowstone Lodge #88 was short-lived, however, as most of the officers and soldiers composing it were transferred out in 1874. The Minnesota Grand Master discontinued the lodge the following year, and its lodge hall started down the historical road to disrepair and disappearance. Fort Buford itself was abandoned by the army in 1895, to be revived later as a State Historical society of North Dakota site comprising the surviving buildings and the post cemetery.

Masons have long memories, however. In the 1920s North Dakota masons, including the historian Orrin Libby from the University of North Dakota, tried unsuccessfully to buy the acreage on which the Yellowstone Lodge hall had stood, but failed, as the owner didn't like the masons. In 1957 a mason named Edwin A. Haakenson took up the cause of remembrance. At his instance, the masons managed to buy not quite two acres from a new farmer-owner, Homer Selby. They hauled a glacial boulder in to mark the site and affixed a bronze plaque to it, with a dedication taking place on May 15, 1960. The plaque reads, "Site of Yellowstone Lodge No. 88, Ancient free and accepted Masons, at Fort Buford, Dakota Territory. Under dispensation and charter from the Grand Lodge of Minnesota, the lodge was active from January 26, 1871 to June 6, 1874 and occupied the first Masonic hall in the area which is now North Dakota."

Today the masons take a continuing interest in this historic site, and here is an interesting footnote. There was a second Masonic lodge at Fort Buford, Eureka Lodge #135. Its members were buffalo soldiers who brought their charter with them from Fort Apache, Arizona, in 1891. When the North Dakota masons held a rededication ceremony for the Yellowstone Lodge monument in 2010, descendants of the buffalo soldiers were invited and attended, too-uniting brothers who in historic times there had been segregated.--Research by Tom Casler, HIST 489, 2010

Recommended Reading

Pond, Harold Sackett. Masonry in North Dakota, 1804-1964. Grafton: Record Printers, 1964.

Remele, Larry, Ed. Fort Buford and the Military Frontier on the Northern Plains, 1850-1900. Bismarck: State Historical Society of North Dakota, 1987).

MacNulty, W. Kirk. Freemasonry: A Journey Through Ritual and Symbol. London: Thames and Hudson, 1991.

Grand Lodge A.F. & A.M. of North Dakota / Fort Buford State Historic Site

Photo Gallery
Photos by Thomas Casler

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Remembrance in Stone / Center for Heritage Renewal