Exclusive to the HPWHC

Now on Display – Ft Sully Artifacts

Fort Sully Artifacts

The High Plains Western Heritage Center (HPWHC) has just acquired an extensive collection of artifacts from Fort Sully and the Arikara village which was located nearby.  The collection is on loan to the HPWHC.

The Arikara tribe occupied much of South Dakota and the High Plains.  They were a semi-nomadic people and one of their permanent camps consisting of earthen lodges was located approximately 30 miles north of Pierre, SD.  Smallpox severely reduced the Arikara population in the mid 1800’s, providing an opportunity for the Sioux to take their lands.  The Arikara, who had no love for the Sioux, provided many scouts to the American military, including George Armstrong Custer.  Several Arikara scouts, including Custer’s favorite scout, Bloody Knife, lost their lives in the Battle of the Little Bighorn.

The Ft. Sully collection includes many intricately decorated Arikara pot sherds, some covered with soot from camp fires.  Also in the collection are stone tools, finely crafted bone tools, and several beautiful display cases of arrowheads, arrow straighteners, fish hooks and awls.

Also on loan are artifacts collected from Fort Sully.  The fort was originally built near Farm Island, just east of Pierre, but after a couple of years, the fort was relocated approximately 30 miles north of Pierre, to a better location on the banks of the Missouri River.  The fort is now under water as a result of building the Oahe Dam.  The artifacts were collected with permission prior to the flooding of the site. Included among the items on loan are military insignia, uniform buttons, a bayonet, the hilt from a sword, and a cannonball. We have also been given a copy of an early map of the fort and drawings of many of the original buildings, as well as an old line drawing of the original Fort Pierre.

A temporary exhibit with some of the items is already on display in our Early Pioneer Room. The remaining items are being moved to the Center where they will be cataloged and prepared for display over the next few months.  Please stop in and see this incredible display of an early and important part of our history.

Ft Sully Military Artifacts

Several military artifacts were included with the collection. This is a small sample. In the row of items second from the top are remnants of children’s toys.

Ft Sully was built on top of an Arikara Indian village. These potsherds date back upwards of 300 years. Each family had their own unique designs that were engraved in the pieces. Some pieces are blackened after having been used for cooking over an open fire.