General Sibley Park History

The land upon which General Sibley Park resides has a dramatic history intertwined with North Dakota settlement and development. Once known as Assiniboine Island, the Missouri River had a channel that nearly isolated the land mass from the main shore. While General Sibley Park is no longer an ‘island’ due to changes in the Missouri River course, evidence of the river’s channel can still be found along the northern perimeter of the park. The island was later referred to as General Sibley Island to reflect its historic significance in relation to the Sibley Expedition of 1863.

In 1862, broken treaties and fear of starvation led some members of the Dakota People to attack settlers and soldiers along the Minnesota River in southwestern Minnesota. In retaliation for the loss of life and property, General Henry Sibley and General Alfred Sully were dispatched with U.S. troops to pursue the bands assumed responsible for the assaults. Military suspicions led both innocent and guilty Dakotas to flee to northern Dakota Territory in the regions spanning from Devils Lake, North Dakota, to Canada. Sibley and Sully sought retribution by pursuing the responsible bands, leading their troops to the present vicinity of General Sibley Park. On July 29, 1863, Dakotas and Lakotas encamped along the bluffs of the Missouri River and Apple Creek engaged in a confrontation with Sibley’s troops resulting in a loss of lives for both parties. Facing food shortages and exhaustion from their long journey, Sibley’s troops returned to Minnesota. Sully’s troops remained in the Dakota Territory for several months and attacked guilty and innocent bands alike, killing women and children and burning Dakota and Lakota food, supplies and transportation.

The U.S.-Dakota War provided settlers with a sense of security during the homestead expansion across the nation and brought greater confidence in business and transportation development. However, the impacts were devastating for the Dakotas; innocent families were displaced and broken while fleeing the U.S. troops, tribal politics were disrupted, and ancestral lands abandoned. Conflicts with the U.S. government continued westward, and as a result, more tribes faced violence and displacement through what is collectively referred to as the Sioux Wars of 1854-1890.

What is known today as General Sibley Park and Campground opened on May 27, 1967. Strong support from the conservation group The Izaak Walton League and collaborations with U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Burleigh County and the City of Bismarck led to the formation of this popular recreational area. The park is now managed by the Bismarck Parks and Recreation District and covers 138 acres. The campground has 113 RV sites, two shower houses and a tent camping section. There is also a day park with two picnic shelters, two playgrounds, 18-hole disc golf course, and boat ramp with access to the Missouri River.