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Fort Ellis
Gallatin County, east of Bozeman, Montana
Fort Ellis nps.jpg
Fort Ellis, July 1871
Type Fort
Site information
Condition No Remnants
Site history
Built August 27, 1867
Built by U.S. Army
Materials Logs
Demolished August 2, 1886 (decommissioned)
Events Marias Massacre
Washburn-Langford-Doane Expedition
Great Sioux War of 1876-77
Garrison information
Garrison U.S. Army 2nd Cavalry, 7th Infantry

Fort Ellis was a United States Army fort established August 27, 1867, east of present-day Bozeman, Montana. Troops from the fort participated in many major campaigns of the Indian Wars. The fort was closed in 1886.


The fort was established by the War Department to protect and support settlers moving into the Gallatin Valley of Montana. The post was named for Colonel Augustus van Horne Ellis who was killed in 1863 at the Battle of Gettysburg during the Civil War. Five troops of the 2nd US Cavalry Regiment and infantry companies from the 7th Infantry Regiment provided the fort's garrison. Nearby Fort Elizabeth Meagher, which was established in the spring of 1867 on Rocky Creek, was abandoned after Fort Ellis was built.

Fort Ellis was an important post during the prominent Indian Wars of the 19th century as well as a base of operations for exploring the region now known as Yellowstone National Park. In January 1870 Major Eugene M. Baker led elements of the Second Cavalry against elements of the Piegan tribe, culminating in the Marias Massacre on the Marias River in Montana. In April 1876 Colonel John Gibbon departed Fort Ellis with 400 infantry and cavalry as the "Montana Column" during the summer campaign of the Great Sioux War of 1876–77. Troops from Fort Ellis also participated in the Nez Perce War in 1877.

The fort provided military escorts for a number of prominent expeditions into the Yellowstone region. In 1870, Lieutenant Gustavus C. Doane and five cavalrymen escorted Henry Washburn and eight other civilians from Helena, Montana on the Washburn-Langford-Doane Expedition. Doane would also accompany expeditions in 1871 and 1875, as well as an ill-fated exploration of the Snake River in 1876.

Like many frontier garrisons, the fort's troops had an ambivalent relationship with the nearby town of Bozeman, located 3 miles to the west of the fort. On 11 December 1867 and again 14 December 1867, soldiers of the 13th US Infantry destroyed buildings in and around the town that were found to be selling alcohol to the soldiers. Through the post's history, the settlers of Bozeman enjoyed the federal money brought to the city by contracts and payroll, but often acted nefariously as they competed among themselves for those dollars

Commanding officers

Lt. Colonel Eugene M. Baker and group of army officers at Fort Ellis, Montana Territory 1871. Mr.W.H. Jackson the veteran photographer who took this photograph writes in 1928, "We, the Geological Survey, were at Fort Ellis again from September 1st to 5th on our return. On the first one of these occasions, I made several scenic views about the neighborhood at the suggestion of and in company with some of the officers, this one among them. Although the photograph bears the imprint of the Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey of the Territories, Washington, D.C., no. 197, the negative has been lost or destroyed, no record of it being now obtainable at the Geological Survey; and this old print now has special historical interest. "Left to right: Frank C. Grugan, 1st Lt. 2nd Cavalry; Lewis Thompson, Capt. 2nd Cavalry; George H. Wright, 2nd Lt., 7th Infantry; Gustavus C. Doane, 2nd Lt. 2nd Cavalry; Lewis Cass Forsyth, Capt., acting Quartermaster, A.B. Campbell, Asst. Surgeon; Dr.R.M. Whitewood Contract Physician; Sam T. Hamilton, 1st Lt. 2nd Cavalry; Col. Eugene M. Baker in command of post Dec. 1, 1869 - Oct. 15, 1872; Edward Ball, Capt. 2nd Cavalry; Lovell H. Jerome, 2nd Lt. 2nd Cavalry (rear); George L. Tyler, Capt. 2nd Cavalry; Edward J. McClerand, 2nd Lt. 2nd Cavalry; Charles B. Schofield, 2nd Lt., 2nd Cavalry.
  • 1867 – 1869 Captain R. S. LaMotte
  • 1869 – 1870 Colonel A. G. Brackett
  • 1870 – 1873 Major Eugene M. Baker
  • 1873 – 1876 Major N. B. Sweitzer
  • 1876 – 1877 Captain D. W. Benham
  • 1877 – 1880 Major J. S. Brisbin
  • 1880 – 1881 Lieutenant Colonel A. J. Alexander
  • 1881 – 1884 Major D. S. Gordon
  • 1884 – 1886 Major G. G. Hunt


Since the post was located on prime agricultural land, many settlers in Bozeman petitioned to have the post closed after the arrival of the Northern Pacific Railroad in 1883. The civilians wanted to open the 26,000-acre military reservation to private settlement. Documents indicate that the post would likely have remained active for several more years but since Generals Sherman and Sheridan struggled to find posts to close for fiscal reasons in the face of strong political pressure, they seized the chance with local support, to close this post. The post was decommissioned on August 2, 1886 (S.O. No. 73, Headquarters Department of Dakota, Fort Snelling, Minnesota) and was abandoned by the Army by the end of August 1886.

After decommissioning, the parade ground was used for sometime by the Montana Militia. As of August, 1924 many of the fort's buildings remained intact, including a two-story house that was the Commanding Officer's quarters. That building today has been renovated and is occupied by the Agricultural Experimental Station operated by Montana State University.

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