Gordon Stockade

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Gordon Stockade (1874-1875) - A stockaded fort established in 1874 near Custer, Custer County, South Dakota. Named Gordon Stockade after the elected leader of the party that built it John Gordon. Also known as Fort Defiance (18), Camp Harney (2), and Fort Union (7). Abandoned in 1875.

Gordon Stockade Bastion Interior
Gordon Stockade Cabin
Gordon Stockade Replica in 2020.


Gold was first discovered in the Black Hills of present-day South Dakota on 2 Aug 1874, by two civilians with Lt. Colonel George A. Custer's 1874 cavalry expedition. Meager amounts of gold were found along French Creek in the portion of the Black Hills that was then on the Great Sioux Indian Reservation. Custer's expedition was allowed on this reservation by the 1868 Fort Laramie treaty but that treaty prohibited any settlers or miners on the Sioux Reservation. Custer's task was to map the Great Sioux Reservation and to select a fort site to protect the 26 million square mile area. Custer also was to confirm reports of gold in the area if he could. The Custer expedition was a massive undertaking with over 1000 men, 1900 horses, and 50 Indian scouts.

Reports of the French Creek gold discovery quickly spread and were greatly exaggerated by newspaper accounts of vast riches in the Black Hills. Immediately companies of men formed to enter the Black Hills to stake claims before all the best spots were gone. Because all of this activity was illegal, Custer's men soon became engaged in removing the companies of men as they found them and the Sioux began killing as many as they could. The companies of miners responded by building their quarters in stockaded compounds to protect themselves and their claims. These stockades were generally named after the elected leader of the company. Many of these stockades formed the basis for present-day towns like Sturges and Spearfish. The illegal population soared to some 12,000, well beyond the ability of the military or the Sioux to manage and Congress acted in 1877 to remove the Black Hills from the Sioux Reservation.

Gordon Stockade Interior Cabins

One company of 28 prospectors left Ames, Iowa on 6 Oct 1874, following the wagon tracks left by Custer's command. By 23 Dec 1874, the company had reached the area now occupied by Custer State Park just east of present-day Custer, South Dakota. This group was led by John Gordon. The first three weeks were spent in building a stockade with seven small cabins inside. The stockade itself was built with ponderosa pine logs sunk upright into the earth leaving a wall some 10' high with sides 40' by 40'. A single entrance gate and four firing bastions, one at each corner for protection, completed the structure. Inside the compound were the seven cabins complete with fireplaces. After completing the stockade the men set to prospecting with meager results
On 5 Apr 1875, the compound was discovered by Captain John Mix and elements of the 2nd U.S. Cavalary escorted the miners back to Fort Laramie. The remaining soldiers renamed the stockade Camp Harney (2) or Fort Union (7). After some time at Fort Laramie, most of the miners found their way back to the vicinity of the Gordon Stockade and resumed prospecting.

In the aftermath of the Custer Massacre at Little Big Horn, cavalry elements occupied the Gordon Stockade area for some two months, recovering from the Battle at Slim Buttes.

Current Status

The current (2020) Gordon Stockade is the third replica built on the original site. The first was constructed by the citizens of Custer in 1925. In 1941, the Civilian Conservation Corps from Camp Narrows rebuilt the entire structure. The second replica deteriorated and had to be closed in the late 1990s. In 2004 that structure was torn down and later replaced with the present-day structure at a cost of over $800,000.

Location: Near Custer in Custer County, South Dakota.

Maps & Images

Lat: 43.76985 Long: -103.53077

  • Multi Maps from ACME
  • Maps from Bing
  • Maps from Google
  • Elevation: 5,186'

GPS Locations:

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Visited: 12 Jun 2020

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