Historic Fort Ridgely – Visitors Beware

Historic Fort Ridgely – Visitors Beware
© June 23, 2016, John LaBatte
Updated on July 17, 2016

Fort Ridgely State Park is managed by the Minnesota DNR. Historic Fort Ridgely occupies about 22 acres within the State Park. The Minnesota Historical Society (MHS) owns Historical Fort Ridgely and sub-contracts its operation to Nicollet County Historical Society (NCHS). Today, MHS is asking for $34,000,000 from the State Legislature for Historic Fort Snelling. Fort Snelling was never attacked. Historic Fort Ridgely is the most significant historic site in Minnesota. So, how do MHS and NCHS treat Historic Fort Ridgely? Read on.

A Brief History

In 1965, Russell Fridley, then Director of MHS wrote: “Fort Ridgely Memorial State Park owes its existence as a unit of the state park system to the important historical values inherent in the site and the remains of the frontier outpost. Through the years, these historical values, once considered primary, have been neglected as the park increased in size and as other recreational uses were added, such as picnic grounds, erection of a clubhouse, a golf course with a fairway through the historical area, etc. We believe that Fort Ridgely is one of our most important state parks. No place in Minnesota has a more interesting and dramatic story to present to its visitors. As a frontier military post, as a refugee center during the uprising, and as the site of two decisive battles in 1862, the fort exerted a profound influence upon the subsequent development of Minnesota. This fact alone gives great historical significance to the site.”

Brave People Fought and Died Here

In 1862, Fort Ridgely survived two attacks by superior numbers of Dakota Indians. Lieutenant Gere, one of the defenders, wrote that no less than 100 Indians were killed. Inside the fort, 3 soldiers were killed; 13 were wounded. 4 civilians were killed; 26 were wounded. 9 babies were born during the siege; only 2 survived. 7 men volunteered to carry dispatches to St. Peter; 5 were killed. These statistics are not given anywhere at Historic Fort Ridgely.

     Anton Treuer wrote: “…we owe it to those who died and suffered to tell the truth, and we owe it to future generations not to lie to them.” (Treuer, Everything You Wanted to Know about Indians But Were Afraid to Ask, 32)

A Visit to Historic Fort Ridgely

If you go on the internet and look for information on Historic Fort Ridgely you may come across the MHS Fort Ridgely website. See “Review – MHS Three New 2012 signs [and MHS Fort Ridgely Website]” below. As you can see below, there are 16 incorrect statements related to Fort Ridgely on this website.

Difficulties in the Parking Lot

Three or four years ago, the parking lot was resurfaced with pea rock. Curbs were installed. This pea rock never formed a firm surface. It gets moved around in the winter by the snow plow. Today, it is as much as five inches deep in places. This makes it very difficult for people who use wheel chairs, walkers and canes. Because the pea rock has either settled or been removed from the curbs, it is easy to hang up cars on some of the curbs.

Do Not Believe Everything You Read and Hear!

Fort Ridgely Site Sign

This large black and gold sign is the first sign you see. It states, “On August 20 and 22, 1862, as many as 400 Dakota warriors attacked the fort, defended by just 280 soldiers and refugees.” It should state, “On August 20 and 22, 1862, as many as 800 Dakota warriors attacked the fort, defended by just 180 soldiers and refugees.” When this MHS sign was erected in 2012, I asked that this text be corrected and the sign replaced. MHS continues to refuse my request.

“U.S.-Dakota Conflict” Trail Sign

This trail sign is posted near the commissary entrance. It contains a whopping 23 incorrect statements. It is one of the worst signs I have reviewed. See my review of the Fort Ridgely trail signs below. Note that I find a total of 60 incorrect statements on these signs.

Watch Your Step on the Trails

The present trail system was installed three or four years ago. It was intended to make the site “handicap accessible.” The installers used “spike nails” to nail down a plastic base and then covered it with pea rock. I do not know what they expected to happen. This plastic base is popping up in many places creating hazardous conditions. It cheapens the site to see this. The pea rock has settled in low places so that the surfaces of the trails are not consistent. Nails are popping. Soon they will add to the hazardous conditions. This has gone on for several years. MHS and NCHS do nothing about this.

Trail to Nowhere

When the new trail system was installed, the trail signs were taken down and not secured. When the signs were replaced, the “Attack from the Southeast” sign was missing. It has never been replaced. This trail leads nowhere.

What are These White Posts?

Watch for the white pointed posts in the distance to the southeast, south and northeast. When you find them, try to figure out what they mean. They were placed at the same time as the trail signs, but no mention is made of them.

Birds Like the Trail Signs

The slanted trail signs are perfect places for birds to perch and leave their droppings. These signs are not cleaned often enough.

Weeds Everywhere

There are weeds in the parking lot, weeds around the commissary, weeds on the trails and weeds in some of the building cellars. All these weeds are disrespectful to this site.

Inside the Commissary

If you go inside the commissary, do not believe everything you see and hear. I count a total of 189 incorrect statements in the Introduction Video and inside exhibits. See my reviews below.

A Word about Incorrect Statements

In my reviews, I say a statement is incorrect if one of the following conditions exists:

  • The statement is wrong.
  • The statement is incomplete.
  • The statement cannot be proven.
  • The statement does not apply to all members of the group.

For specific examples of incorrect statements, see my Historic Fort Ridgely reviews below.

Review – MHS Three New 2012 signs [and MHS Fort Ridgely Website]
     16 incorrect statements

Review – Minnesota River Valley Scenic Byway Mobile Tour
     4 incorrect statements about Fort Ridgely

Review – MHS Fort Ridgely Trail Signs
     60 incorrect statements

Review – MHS FR – Video
     26 incorrect statements

Review – MHS Fort Ridgely Exhibits
     34 incorrect statements

Review – Gustavus Adophus Exhibit – Revisited
     94 incorrect statements

Review – MHS/NCHS – Fort Ridgely Exhibit
     35 incorrect statements

A Visit to Historic Fort Ridgely is Expensive

Today at Fort Ridgely, a family of four pays $5 for state park admission and $20 admission to the Historic Commissary for two parents and two children, ages 5-17. Don’t they deserve the best value possible for their money?

Historic Fort Ridgely is Significant to Me

The names of three of my uncles appear on the list of defenders on the Fort Ridgely State Monument. Two of them were Dakota/white mixed-blood members of the Renville Rangers. One of my grandfathers was post interpreter for the U.S. Army. He was killed in the Battle of Redwood Ferry and is buried under the Captain John S. Marsh State Monument in the Fort Ridgely Cemetery. Two of my grandfathers were among the Dakota who attacked the Fort in 1862. I am offended by the way this site is maintained and interpreted.


The trail system and parking lot need attention. The interpretation at Historic Fort Ridgely contains many incorrect statements.

     Minnesota Historical Society and Nicollet County Historical Society have an obligation to the historic site and to the public to properly maintain and correctly interpret Historic Fort Ridgely. MHS and NCHS need higher standards. If these goals are unattainable, MHS and NCHS should get out of the history business.


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