Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Haunted Fort Assinniboine

Empty buildings with hollow windows sprawl across the windswept prairie off U.S. 87 outside Havre, Montana. Fort Assinniboine, established in 1879, once housed some five hundred soldiers and their families. As the largest fort in Montana, its famous residents included General “Black Jack” Pershing. Stationed at the fort in the mid-1890s, “Black Jack” earned his nickname as first lieutenant in the African-American Tenth Cavalry unit.  The fort closed in 1911, and over the decades the remaining structures served as a state agricultural experiment station, church retreat, farmers’ gathering place, shelter for the homeless, and a 4-H camp.

Although some of the fort’s buildings, listed in the National Register of Historic Places, remain intact, the hollow windows of this ghostly shell recall the fort’s former residents. Photo courtesy Havre Chamber of Commerce.
Former Hill County legislator Toni Hagener tells of an experience an elderly acquaintance once shared with her. He attended camp at the fort in the 1930s and recalled bunking in the enlisted men’s barracks. Upstairs, the fort’s records and ledgers lined the walls, leaving a narrow path down the center of the long room. It was forbidden territory, but this pathway offered the boys an irresistible sport. At every opportunity they snuck upstairs, took an open volume, got a running start, and flopped down for an exhilarating slide on the wooden floor.
One night, the boy awoke to an odd rustling overhead. Sneaking upstairs to investigate, he saw an old man sitting cross legged on the floor; his long grizzled hair hid his face. A quartermaster’s report lay open in his lap as he slowly turned the pages. The boy slipped back downstairs, woke his buddy, and together they climbed the stairs. Both saw the old man, turning pages. They returned to their bunks to watch the stairway. No one came down. At first light, the boys checked upstairs. The old man was gone.

In 1954, fire claimed these barracks where the boy had encountered the ghost of an old soldier, turning pages in the quartermaster’s ledger. 1955 NPS photo by R. H. Mattison.
The memory stayed fresh as the boy grew up. Fire left the barracks a burned-out shell in 1954, prompting the man to further speculate on the old timer’s identity. He concluded it was the ghost of an old soldier, searching for something in the ashen ruins. He could picture the scene in his mind’s eye, a ghost within a ghost.

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