Review – MHS FR – Trail Signs

 Minnesota Historical Society
Fort Ridgely Trail Signs
Revised – October 20, 2014

 Items of Interest

When these signs were installed, it was rumored, that MHS intended to make this a self-guided tour and close the Fort Ridgely interpretive center. If not for the Friends of Fort Ridgely and later Nicollet County Historical Society, the Fort Ridgely interpretive center would have closed.

General Comments

  • U.S.-Dakota Conflict is used here while US-Dakota War is used in other exhibits.
  • The diagram of the Battles of Fort Ridgely is very incorrect.
  • Subjects that should be mentioned here, but are not:
    • Estimates of defenders, refugees and attackers
    • Specifications about the weapons especially the cannons
    • Lt. Sheehan’s forced-march back to Fort Ridgely
    • The return of the Renville Rangers to Fort Ridgely
    • Later in the 2nd battle, the Indians withdrew from the northeast and moved to the southwest to stage one final assault
    • Firing 2 red-hot cannonballs through the hallway of the commander and surgeon’s house into the barn to set it on fire
    • Battle of Birch Coulee

Most Objectionable Statements

A Minority in Their Homeland

Through treaties in 1851, the Dakota sold all of their land in southern Minnesota.

  • Incorrect – They sold all of their land, not just in southern Minnesota
  • Incorrect – This panel ignores the 1858 Treaties. By discussing only the 1851 Treaties, the visitor does not understand the correct situation in 1862.

Making an “X” on a piece of paper was not the same as the Dakota way of taking council and obtaining the majority’s consent.

  • Incorrect – They did have councils before signing the 1851 Treaties.

After the signings, the Dakota were coerced onto reservations on the Minnesota River…

  • Incorrect – Dakota leaders agreed that their people would move to the reservations. If any were coerced, it was those who disagreed with their leaders.
  • Incorrect – Many of the Sisseton and Wahpeton villages were already on their reservation.

…but only until that land, too, was needed for white settlement.

  • Incorrect – In the 1858 Treaties, they were given ownership of their reservations on the south side of the river.

By 1860, white settlers in the Minnesota River Valley outnumbered the Dakota five to one.

  • What does this mean? How far down river from the reservations did one have to go for this fact to be true? In the immediate area of the reservations, the whites were outnumbered.

U.S. Dakota Conflict

One of the bloodiest U.S.-Indian wars was fought along the Minnesota River…

  • Incorrect – It was fought across a wide area not only along the Minnesota River.

Here at Fort Ridgely, soldiers and Dakota warriors battled for two days.

  • Incorrect – They battled on 2 separate days.

By the summer of 1862, Dakota families were on the verge of starvation.

  • Incorrect – Dakota families were starving, Dakota families were on the verge of starving and Dakota families were not starving. But, they were on the verge of harvesting a bumper crop.

They had been waiting months for food promised them in government treaties.

  • Incorrect – Agent Galbraith did issue food to the Sisseton and Wahpeton. He did not issue food to the Mdewakanton and Wahpekute.
  • Incorrect – They had been waiting since about July 1

…when Dakota leaders confronted Lower Sioux Agency trader Andrew Myrick demanding the food they had been promised, Myrick reportedly said they should “eat grass if they are hungry.”

  • Incorrect – Agent Galbraith was confronted and he asked Myrick if the traders would supply food to the Indians. However, it was the U.S. Government’s responsibility to feed the Indians.
  • Disrespectful – Why did Myrick say this? He learned that the Lower Sioux Soldiers’ Lodge planned to refuse to pay their debts when the annuity money arrived.

Furious Dakota warriors attacked the agencies…

  • Incorrect – Causes of the Dakota War were much more complicated than only about food and Myrick’s statement.

The violence lasted more than a month. About 500 settlers and 80 soldiers were killed. Many Dakota were also killed, and hundreds died in the aftermath. Hundreds more were rounded up and incarcerated at Fort Snelling where at least 130 died, most of them children.

  • Incorrect – More than 650 whites were killed
  • Unbalanced – About 150 Indians were killed.
  • Incorrect – Most of those taken to Fort Snelling were at Camp Release when Sibley arrived. They weren’t “rounded up.”
  • Unbalanced – What happened to the whites after the war? Hundreds on both sides died in the aftermath.

…the Dakota people were exiled from the state.

  • Incorrect – Not all of the Dakota people were exiled from the state.

…the largest mass execution in U.S. history

  • Incorrect – It was the largest simultaneous mass execution.
  • Unbalanced – The mass murder of more than 550 white civilians was the largest mass murder of white civilians by Indians in US history.

Major Battle Sites U.S.-Dakota Conflict, 1862

  • Incorrect – There was no battle at Lower Sioux Agency.
  • Incorrect – There were 2 battles at New Ulm.
  • Incorrect – Following the Battle of Wood Lake, Little Crow fled with his followers. His followers included men, women and children.
  • Incorrect – There was no battle at Camp Release.
  • Incorrect – The 2 battles of Fort Abercrombie are missing.
  • Incorrect – The Battle of Acton is missing.

Battles at Fort Ridgely [map]

  • Incorrect – There is a small building near the SW corner of the commissary. I don’t think this is correct.
  • Incorrect – The direction is indicated incorrectly. The fort was not built on a true north-south, east-west direction.

August 20, 1862 – Pejutazanzan’s men launch attack, firing three shots to signal warriors hiding in the ravine to join in.

  • Incorrect – One account says that a picket from the fort saw the Indians coming up the northeast ravine and fired a warning shot. Why has the 3-shot narrative been selected?

August 20, 1862 – Dakota attacks from the ravines are delayed leaving Pejutazanzan’s men exposed to cannon fire in the northeast.

  • What does this mean? Had they all attacked at the same time, Pejutazanzan’s men would still have been exposed to cannon fire.
  • Incorrect – Attacks are shown from the northeast and southeast. There were other points of attack.

August 22, 1862 – The Dakota hear three shots from the east when a mail carrier is killed and prematurely launch their attacks from the ravines.

  • Is this correct? A mail carrier from New Ulm is coming into the fort on the 5th day of the war?
  • Incorrect – The arrow shows the mail carrier coming in from the southwest. However, the text states that he was coming in from the east.
  • Incorrect – Attacks are shown from the west and southwest. There were many other points of attack.

This Fort Had A Purpose

Fort Ridgely served as a buffer between Dakota Indians on the reservations and white settlers pouring into the Minnesota River valley.

  • Incorrect – Fort Ridgely was not between all of the settlers and the reservations.

Soldiers stationed here …protected the Dakota from intrusions onto their reservations.

  • Incorrect – The Dakota Indians didn’t need protection. Henry Sibley wrote that a fort was needed “…for the protection of the settlers and of those officers entrusted with the charge of our Indian relations in that quarter…”
  • Incorrect – The fort also tried to maintain peace among the Indians and tried to stop the liquor traffic to the Indians.

Over the years, the army attempted to keep peace despite mounting friction and strife between the two groups over social, economic, and religious issues.

  • Incorrect – Which 2 groups? There was probably as much friction and strife from the Traditional Indians to the Farmer and Christian Indians as between the whites and the Indians.

Others, like Ridgely, were “buffer” posts and not considered permanent.

  • Is this correct? Do we really know if Fort Ridgely was a buffer post? Do we care?

Pros [of Fort Ridgely site]

Supplies and soldiers could easily be transported up the Minnesota River.

  • Incorrect – The river was too low or frozen most of the year. This was not a pro.
  • Incorrect – Other pros that need to be listed: Close to a granite deposit, good supply of grass for the animals and good supply of trees for wood.

Cons [of Fort Ridgely site]:

  • Incorrect – Other cons that need to be listed: Water was outside the fort a half a mile away and the fort and no walls or defensive structures.

…15 miles from the Lower Sioux Agency and 40 miles from the Upper Sioux Agency.

  • Incorrect – Another sign, says Marsh’s men marched 11 miles to the Redwood Ferry Crossing. Redwood Ferry was within a mile of the Lower Sioux Agency.
  • Incorrect – The fort was about 47 miles from the Upper Agency.

Fort Ridgely was on the north side of the river, while both agencies were on the south side.

  • Incorrect – This was not a con.

The site was cold, windy and unprotected during winter.

  • Incorrect – Weren’t most forts in the northern U.S. cold, windy and unprotected during winter?

Economic Engine

  • What does Economic Engine mean?

With hundreds of men and some 175 horses…

  • Incorrect – In 1857, Lt. Col Thomas reported there were 24 horses, 125 mules and 28 oxen at Fort Ridgely. I might suspect these 175 horses were not all horses.

For years, this system made Fort Ridgely the best market in the Minnesota River Valley for farmers and businessmen.

  • Incorrect – What about New Ulm, Mankato, St. Peter, Traverse des Sioux and Henderson, which were also in the river valley?

Four Days from Fort Snelling

The workers found these granite boulders on the prairie and used them as foundation stones.

  • Incorrect – These are stones. A visitor might think these are the stones currently laid on the foundation lines.

Reinforcements Arrive

Soldiers and civilian refugees peered anxiously in this direction…

  • Incorrect – They would have been peering in all directions. They would have seen these riders as they came out of the ravine to the north. They may have spotted them from the roofs of the commissary or barracks. The pickets may have spotted them on their approach. There were no trees in 1862 are there are today.

The garrison had dug entrenchments and built an earthen wall south of the fort.

  • What does this mean? Where were these entrenchments and earthen wall and when were they built?

…galloped down the road in front of you.

  • What does this mean? I might think they were on the current township road in front of me.

Sibley also sent 150 men to bury those slain at the Lower Sioux Agency and Redwood Ferry and to rebuilt the ferry.

  • Incorrect – They were not sent to rebuilt the ferry.
  • Incorrect – Also, their objectives were to look for survivors and locate the hostile Indians.
  • Is this correct? I believe there were about 170 men sent out, including teamsters and civilians.

Surprise Attack At Redwood Ferry

After an 11-mile march, the soldiers prepared to cross the ferry…

  • Incorrect – Another sign says 15 miles to Lower Sioux Agency. The ferry was within 1 mile of the Lower Sioux Agency.

The remaining soldiers straggled back to the fort under the cover of darkness.

  • Incorrect – The last of the survivors did not reach the fort until Wednesday.

What Did Sunka Ska Really Do at the Ferry Site?

  • Unbalanced – I don’t think this subject should be mentioned or debated here.

Officers’ Quarters – C

Assisted by unemployed World War I veterans from the Works Progress Administration…

  • Incorrect – The CCC and VCC were here.

A Second Wave of Attacks [white post in the distance]

  • What does this mean? – There is a white pointed post in the distance.

The Dakota plan of attack on August 22 was the same as on the 20th…

  • Incorrect – Their plans were similar but not the same.

The plan was disrupted again when a mail carrier was spotted on the New Ulm road.

  • Is this correct? – I don’t believe a mail carrier would be approaching Fort Ridgely after New Ulm, Fort Ridgely and the settlements had been attacked by Indians. From inside the fort, it appeared that firing started from every direction.

During the day many small buildings were burned, and we tried to burn the big ones with fire arrows.

  • Incorrect – Many small out-buildings, serving as cover, were burned by cannon fire. The Dakota tried to burn the buildings on the parade ground with fire arrows.

Some wanted to wage another battle, while others wanted to attack New Ulm again for the spoils.

  • What did they do?

The sutler’s store that Tasina Wakanhdi refers to stood west of the post in the direction you are facing.

  • What does this mean? Is this referring to the white pointed post in the distance? I think the Sutler Store was northeast of this white post.

Surgeon’s Quarters – Headquarters

  • No comment

 A Doctor’s Life

  • Is this correct? Is this indicating his office was here? Was it?

Five Days and Nights on the River

Several Christian and farmer Indians led desperate whites to the safe haven of the Fort. Lorenzo Lawrence for example, abandoned his plan to escape with just his own family and instead took a total of three women and 13 children 62 miles down the Minnesota River…

  • Incorrect – Only 2 Dakota men brought whites to the fort.
  • Incorrect – My 1859 mileage chart of the Minnesota River shows 102 river miles between Fort Ridgely and Upper Sioux Agency where Lorenzo started.
  • Disrespectful – Rather than devoting this entire sign to Lorenzo Lawrence, part could discuss Simon Anawangmani, the other Dakota man who brought whites to the Fort.

Attack from the Southeast [white post in the distance]

  • This sign is missing. It was not replaced after the stone trail was installed around the parade ground.
  • What does this mean? There is a white pointed post in the distance.

Officer’s Quarters – B

  • No comment


A Far Cry From Glory

Officers and Agents

  • Incorrect and Disrespectful – Are these comments by Day and Musgrove enough proof to make these generalities about what all officers and soldiers thought about all Indian agents? Does this belong here?

Officers’ Latrines

  • No comment

 Officers’ Quarters A

  • No comment


  • No comment

 Attack from the Northeast [white post in the distance]

  • What does this mean? – There is a white pointed post in the distance.
  • Incorrect – If this post indicates point of attack, it does not properly indicate that the Dakota attacked from the length of this ravine not from just this singular point.

You are standing where cannon fire stopped the Dakota assault on August 20, 1862.

  • Incorrect – Cannon fire from this point, cannon fire from northwest of the barracks, infantry on the ground and infantry on the second floor of the barracks stopped attacks from the northeast ravine in both battles.

The plan of attack called for Pejutazanzan’s men to give a signal of “three big shots,” drawing the soldiers’ attention to the north and allowing warriors hiding in the ravines on the east, west and south sides of the fort to rush in.

  • Unbalanced – This “3 shot” story is repeated 4 times on these signs. There were other narratives that tell different stories. Perhaps some “white” narratives about the attacks should be included also.
  • In the first battle, Dakota came out of the northeast ravine and gained possession of some of the log cabins. Three got inside the barricades. In the second battle, they remained in the ravine. Perhaps more should more be written about the attacks and defense that took place here during both battles?

Garrison Life Was Like Clockwork

  • No comment

Stone Barracks

  • No comment

 Who Lived in the Barrack?

  • No comment

 Fort Ridgely Closes

  • The National Park Service, CCC and VCC were also involved here in the 1930s.

Camp Women

  • No comment

 Log Buildings

  • No comment

Powder Magazines

 “This original powder Magazine and another one similar to it, stood across the road in front of you…”

  • Incorrect – They stood 200 yards northwest of the fort.

“During the 1862 battles, a detail of soldiers left the security of the fort’s main square…”

  • Incorrect – This happened during the 1st battle.
  • Incorrect – They were civilians.

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