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Palmer's Spring State Historic Site

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Palmer’s Spring State Historic Site, near Esmond, Benson County, marks the location where on August 23, 1868, six soldiers from the 31st Infantry and two civilian scouts escorting a mail wagon stopped for their midday rest and were attacked by Yankton and Blackfeet Indians. The Indians launched their attack from behind a large, limestone boulder (below, left), and three of the soldiers were killed in the first two volleys. Two other soldiers escaped to the safety of an earthen bank near the spring, and a civilian scout survived by hiding behind a wagon wheel. Another civilian scout (Frank Palmer, SHSND A3112) and a soldier teamster had taken a horse to the spring for water and escaped the initial attack.

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Frank Palmer
SHSND: A3112
Palmer's Rock (detail)

When Palmer and the teamster heard the commotion, they ran to the bluff above the spring where they fired at the Indians. The Indians were riding off on the soldiers’ mules when two of the soldiers, the ones who had hidden in the spring bank, recovered their weapons and fired at them.

After the Indians withdrew, Palmer rode the one remaining horse to Fort Totten to get help. The surviving soldiers hid the mail and surplus arms and followed on foot. A relief party was dispatched from Fort Totten on August 24, 1868, and succeeded in recovering the wagon, mail, and supplies. The bodies of the dead were also taken back to Fort Totten for burial.

Palmer’s Spring, the site of the battle, shows little change after the passage of more than a century. The limestone boulder surrounded by prairie grass stands at its original location. Frank Palmer, for whom the spring was named, spent the remainder of his life in the Fort Totten-Crary area and served as a delegate to the original North Dakota Constitutional Convention in 1889.

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612 East Boulevard Ave.
Bismarck, North Dakota 58505
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phone: 701.328.2666