Minnesota Historical Society/Nicollet County Historical Society
“Fort Ridgely” Exhibit
Located at Historic Fort Ridgely Commissary
Reviewed on June 21, 2016
Items of Interest
MHS employees were involved in this exhibit; one had oversight. Nicollet County Historical Society employees were involved. Interns were involved. However, the exhibit does not credit anyone for their work.
No credit is given for funding. Who provided the funds for this exhibit?
This exhibit discusses some topics such as slavery at Fort Ridgely which have not been discussed previously at the Fort.
- The book Soldier, Settler Sioux: Fort Ridgely and the Minnesota River Valley, 1858-1867, by Paul N. Beck, was one of the main sources used. However, a sketch of Fort Ripley appears on the cover and on page xxii. And it is misidentified as Fort Ridgely. This tends to make me skeptical of the contents of this book.
- Unbalanced – White leaders in the battles are named. Dakota leaders are not named.
- Disrespectful – The Renville Rangers, some 50 Dakota/white mixed-bloods and whites, fought bravely in the defense of Fort Ridgely. They are completely omitted from this exhibit. Two of my mixed-blood uncles were members of this group. I am offended by this omission.
- Disrespectful – The Dakota War of 1862 was the most important historical event at this site. But, the war is briefly discussed on only one panel.
- Incorrect – Complicated subjects need more space else they should not be mentioned.
- There were many incorrect statements in the text at Fort Ridgely already. The existing mistakes should be fixed before adding more mistakes.
Most Objectionable Statements
Fort Ridgely is located ten miles south of Lower Sioux Agency.
- Incorrect – Fort Ridgely is located southeast of Lower Sioux Agency.
- Incorrect – The next panel states that Fort Ridgely was 15 miles from Lower Sioux Agency. One trail sign says Fort Ridgely was 15 miles from Lower Sioux Agency. Another trail sign says Marsh’s men marched 11 miles to the Redwood Ferry crossing. Redwood Ferry was within a mile of the Lower Sioux Agency. What is correct?
It [Fort Ridgely] was built as a police station to keep the peace between settlers moving into former Dakota lands and the Dakota in the area.
- Incorrect – New Ulm has a police station. Fort Ridgely was not a police station. It was a frontier fort, built to protect the settlers and government employees from the Indians. To arrive at this fact, compare the actions of Fort Ridgely soldiers to the actions of city police. I cannot find that Fort Ridgely was ever involved in crimes between whites.
- Fort Ridgely soldiers tried to maintain peace between the Indians and the whites. They responded to attacks on the whites by Indians. They maintained order during annuity distributions. They tried to prevent liquor sales to the Indians. They tried to prevent warfare between the Dakota and Ojibwe. They provided protection for wagon trains going further west.
[Photo] – Fort Ridgely building foundations…
- Incorrect – These are outlines of the foundations. They are not the actual foundations.
Soldiers began building Fort Ridgely in February of 1853.
- Incorrect – It cannot be determined when actual construction started.
- Paul Beck states that soldiers began building Fort Ridgely in February of 1853. But as shown below, there is doubt when construction of the fort started. We need to examine Beck’s primary sources. I believe as stated below, that these soldiers who arrived in February 1853 were sent to secure the site. It would be best to state that construction started in the spring of 1853.
- “Five or six dragoons had been in charge of the place during the winter, who were now to be relieved by the superior force we had carried up.” See, John P. Owens, “A Trip to the New Fort”, St. Paul Minnesotian, May 7, 1853
- This new fort was formally established on 29 April 1853, by Companies C and K, Sixth Infantry, from Fort Snelling. See Paul L. Hedren, “On Duty at Fort Ridgely, Minnesota: 1853-1867”, South Dakota History, spring 1977
- Post Sutler Benjamin Randall wrote William Folwell on March 14, ????, “I assisted Capt. N. J. F. Dana on Sunday, the first day of May 1853 in chaining out the site for Fort Ridgely. I saw every building erected, it was as familiar to me as if I had built it…” See Folwell Papers, Minnesota Historical Society.
The fort was then on the frontier between the Dakota Indians and the settlers who lived in this part of the Minnesota Territory.
- Incorrect – While it may have been between the Dakota and settlers in Nicollet County, it was not between the Dakota and settlers in Brown County across the Minnesota River.
Additionally, the fort’s distance from the Dakota agencies (about 15 miles to Lower Sioux and about 40 miles to upper Sioux) made it difficult to enforce violations by settlers or by Indians of the provisions of the Treaty of Traverse des Sioux.
- Incorrect – The previous panel states that Fort Ridgely was 10 miles from the Lower Sioux Agency. See my comments on that panel.
- Disrespectful – This is an opinion. This is disrespectful of the U.S. Army decision to place the fort here. What violations occurred at the agencies? What would have been a better location for the fort? Had the fort been placed further west, it may have been easily taken by hostile Dakota at the start of the Dakota War.
- Incorrect – There were two treaties in 1851. The Treaty of Mendota established the Lower Dakota Reservation. The Treaty of Traverse des Sioux established the Upper Dakota Reservation. The fort was involved with both treaties.
- Incorrect – They did not “enforce violations.” They enforced a few of the agreements in the treaties.
The structures on the site were not surrounded by a protective wall, which was not unusual at that time.
- Incorrect – Fort Snelling, Fort Ripley and Fort Abercrombie, the other forts in the area, all had walls.
By a military order issued on June 27, 1853, the post was named Fort Ridgely in honor of three army officers who died in the Mexican War.
- Incorrect – According to other signage at Fort Ridgely, Captain Randolph Ridgely died due to a non-war related fall when his horse lost its footing. He died during the war, but not in the war.
Constructed in the 1850s, Fort Ridgely was designed as a police station to keep peace as settlers poured into former Dakota lands after the treaties of Traverse des Sioux and Mendota in 1851, in which the Eastern Dakota ceded 24 million acres to the U.S. government.
- Incorrect – Fort Ridgely was not a police station. See my comments above.
- Incorrect – This land was ceded by both the Eastern Dakota (Mdewakanton and Wahpekute) and Western Dakota (Sisseton and Wahpeton).
- Incorrect – This land cession was never surveyed. We do not know how many acres were ceded.
[Map – Southern Minnesota, 1862]
- Incorrect – The Upper Agency location is shown, but the Upper Reservation is identified as “Upper Agency.”
- Incorrect – The Lower Agency location is shown, but the Lower Reservation is identified as “Lower Agency.”
- Incorrect – “Lac Qui Parle” is shown but not identified. Is it the lake, county, river, or mission site?
- Disrespectful – In 1861, there were 35 Dakota Indian villages. Why is Chief Red Iron’s Village the only Dakota village shown on this map?
- Incorrect – Beaver Creek is identified as “Beaver Cr.” Why aren’t Yellow Medicine, Redwood, Cotton Wood, Lac Qui Parle, Crow, Minnesota, and Mississippi identified as rivers or creeks?
- Incorrect – There is a bullet for “Redwood.” What does this mean?
- Incorrect – The road shown between Fort Ridgely, Henderson and Fort Snelling was not the only road in this area in 1862.
List of daily events
- Is this correct? – The source states that “Extinguish Lights” occurred at 9:45 p.m. The panel states that Taps occurred at 9:45 p.m. Which is correct?
[Eliza Muller]…helped Artillery Sergeant Jones use a cannon to set fire to the fort’s stables, in which Indians were hiding.
- Incorrect – If there is not enough space to fully explain the event, do not mention part of the event. By this text, it appears that Mrs. Muller helped fire a cannon. However, Mrs. Muller pulled a rope that opened a door in the central hallway in the post commander/post doctor house, so Sergeant Jones could fire 2 red hot cannonballs into the stables setting them on fire and dislodging the Indians.
Godfrey testified against some of the Indians who were brought to trial for their actions.
- A short bio on Joseph Godfrey appears on the “slaves at the fort” panel. Godfrey was a runaway slave. However, he had nothing to do with the fort except he was among the Indians who attacked the fort.
- Incorrect – Godfrey testified in more than 45 trials. This is more than “some of the Indians.” See Bachman, Northern Slave Black Dakota, page 220.
- Disrespectful – It is necessary to state that in his trial, Godfrey professed he was a reluctant soldier and minimized his participation in the fighting. He said he was threatened and coerced into fighting. See Bachman.
[Panel] – a link to the civil war
- Here are bios of officers who served at Fort Ridgely and in the Civil War.
Captain Bernard Bee of the 10th Infantry Regiment led an unsuccessful search for the Indians who killed 34 settlers at Spirit Lake in 1857.
- Inkpaduta’s band also killed settlers at Jackson, Minnesota.
[Panel] – survival threatened
- Here are more bios of officers who served at Fort Ridgely and in the Civil War. These bios could have been merged with the bios on the previous panel.
- Here is information on “Galvanized Yankees” who came to Fort Ridgely in 1864. Do we really care about the “Galvanized Yankees”?
- Why are these two very different subjects shown on the same panel?
- What does the heading “survival threatened” have to do with these two subjects?
In the spring of 1864 fifty-seven “Galvanized Yankees” from Point Lookout, Maryland arrived at Fort Ridgely…
- [painting] – Is this Point Lookout? Why do we care to see a painting of Point Lookout?
[Panel] – the dakota war
- Disrespectful – How sad when only one panel is dedicated to this significant event.
- Incorrect – This is a silly format where the panel titles are not capitalized.
- Incorrect – Current title for this war is the “U.S./Dakota War of 1862.”
They were ambushed across the river from the Agency, and Marsh and others were killed.
- They were ambushed across the river from the Lower Agency.
- Incorrect – It is not certain whether Marsh was killed or if he drowned in the river from a cramp or from the weight of his equipment.
Lieutenant Gere, the temporary commander of the fort, sent messages asking for help, including one to Lieutenant Sheehan, who was on an assignment with his men.
- Disrespectful – Before leaving Fort Ridgely for the Lower Agency, Captain Marsh sent messages to Lieutenant Sheehan with his company and to Indian Agent Galbraith with the Renville Rangers to return to the Fort.
- Incorrect – Lieutenant Gere later sent messages to Lieutenant Sheehan to hasten his return and to Governor Ramsey.
- Incorrect – Lieutenant Sheehan was not on an assignment.
- Disrespectful – No mention is made of Indian Agent Thomas Galbraith and the Renville Rangers who helped defend the fort during the battles.
With additional help from civilians who took refuge at the fort, the Indians began to lose their advantage over the defenders.
- Incorrect – The Indians did not receive additional help from the civilians. The defenders did.
[Photo] – Sergeant John Jones
- Unbalanced – Where are the photos of Dakota leaders?
It should be noted that those Indians represented only a portion of the Dakota Indian population in Minnesota. Many Indians were opposed to the conflict, and many sheltered and saved people who would otherwise have been killed or taken as captives.
- Good note!
The Dakota Indians had been removed from their land at the Upper and Lower Sioux Agencies.
- Incorrect – They had been removed from their land on the Upper and Lower Reservations.
The 75 men of Company H of the 10th Infantry Regiment who were the last to garrison the fort departed for Fort Sisseton in the Dakota Territory.
- Incorrect – They departed for Fort Wadsworth, which was later renamed Fort Sisseton.
[Panel] – reutilizing the fort
- Incorrect – The CCC did not utilize the fort; they started restoration, marked the foundations of fort buildings. They made improvements within the park.
Fort Ridgely became the site of a Civilian Conservation Corps camp on July 31, 1934.
- There already is an exhibit at this site on the work of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and the Veteran’s Conservation Corps (VCC).
- The State Park also has a kiosk that discusses the work of the CCC and the VCC.
- Incorrect and Disrespectful – This exhibit does not mention the VCC who finished the work started by the CCC. The VCC was a subgroup of the CCC. However, this exhibit’s information conflicts with information in the other exhibit and on the kiosk.
The Corps constructed the replica of the missing portion of the commissary that is still in use today.
- What does this mean? – “the replica of the missing portion of the commissary that is still in use today”
- What does this mean? – Which corps, VCC or CCC?
[Photo] – Left center: Restoration of the Commissary by CCC crew, 1937
- Incorrect – According to the other exhibit and the kiosk, the VCC was here in 1937.