Wednesday, November 29, 2006
On this day in 1921, the residents of Bismarck were still excited over the recent visit of Marshal Ferdinand Foch of France. During the visit, Foch was reported to have touched the spirit of the West. By then, little remained of Bismarck’s Old West, but residents were reminiscing about Bismarck’s earlier days—a time when the city truly resembled the pioneer days of the West.
Residents could not reminisce about the West without remembering the Sheridan Hotel, a place, stated the Bismarck Tribune, that was “for many years the center of the romance of the West.” In those days, seeing military heroes and important politicians was not a special event as it was with the visit of Marshal Foch, but an everyday occurrence. There was no better place to see them than at the Sheridan.
The Sheridan Hotel was built by E.A. Bly in 1877. At that time, Bismarck was the end of the railroad, and the train stopped right at the front door of the hotel. Almost daily, officers, soldiers, frontiersmen, and pioneers could be seen boarding and leaving the train, and the Sheridan remained at the center of it. Among the famous generals who stayed at the hotel were Generals Hancock, Sturgis, Sherman, and of course Sheridan, for whom the hotel was named.
But much like Marshal Foch’s visit, what helped make the Sheridan House unique in those early days was not the presence of soldiers, but the presence of the many Native American visitors. The Tribune wrote, “The story of the recently burned Sheridan House and of its connection with the ‘Winning of the west’ could not be complete without the names of its many Indian guests. Sometimes the big chiefs were present as honored attendants at some function, in much the same manner that many Indians were present at the reception of Marshal Foch.”
Native Americans were brought to the hotel more often as prisoners, but many prominent chiefs also visited as guests, including Sitting Bull, Gall, Rain in the Face, Red Cloud, Running Antelope, and Sitting Bull’s daughter, Shooting Star. Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce was brought to the hotel by General Miles after the chief was caught following his famous—and almost successful retreat from the US Army. From there, Joseph went to the east to ride in the dedication parade for Grant’s tomb.
During his stay, however, Joseph added a story to the many others that made the Sheridan a legacy of the West. According to the Tribune, Chief Joseph was seated at one end of a table at a banquet while General Miles was at the other. A white woman present at the banquet was so impressed with the chief that she wrapped her arms around him, kissed him, and placed her ring on his finger. “Joseph, not to be undone by any act of gallantry,” said the Tribune, “searched among his followers until he found a ring. It happened to be a brass one, badly disfigured, which he placed upon the finger of the young lady, also returning her salutation.”
The Sheridan had burned down a month before Foch’s visit, but the Sheridan lived on in the memories of Bismarck’s early pioneers. To them, it was the “palace of the frontier,” and home of “the bronzed trooper, wily scout, and silent and impressive Indian.” It was a true marker of the Old West.
By Tessa Sandstrom
“Many noted men, both red and white, used to put up at the old Sheridan House,” Bismarck Tribune. Nov. 30, 1921: 2.
“Sheridan House, renamed the Northwest Hotel, was known as Palace of the Frontier,” Bismarck Tribune. Nov. 28, 1921: 3.