MHS FR – Visitors Beware – May 2017

Minnesota Historical Society
Historic Fort Ridgely
Visitors Beware – May 2017
© June 2, 2017, John LaBatte
Updated on June 11, 2017

This is the 2nd notice to the Minnesota Historical Society (MHS) and to the Nicollet County Historical Society (NCHS) that serious problems exist at Historic Fort Ridgely. The 1st notice was posted on this blog and mailed to people at MHS and NCHS in June 2016. See bulleted items below for changes to the site since June 2016. I visited Historic Fort Ridgely several times in May 2017. See below for problems that still exist.

Fort Ridgely State Park is managed by the Minnesota DNR. Historic Fort Ridgely occupies about 22 acres within the State Park. MHS owns Historical Fort Ridgely and sub-contracts its operation to NCHS. 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 you may come across the 2 MHS Fort Ridgely websites. See reviews of these websites below.

Wooden Fort Ridgely entrance sign

This sign is in badly need of paint. The weeds on the base of the sign should be removed.

Difficulties in the Parking Lot

In about 2012, 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.

  • 10 incorrect statements on the MHS Site Sign Website have been corrected.

“U.S.-Dakota Conflict” Trail Sign

This trail sign is posted near the commissary entrance. It contains a whopping 23 incorrect statements. It is the worst sign 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 in about 2013. 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 achieve. This plastic base is popping up in many places creating hazardous conditions. 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.

  • I visited the site on May 27. Long cut dead grass covered much of the trails. Not only did this look bad, but it concealed the hazards on the trails.
  • The site manager and volunteers from the Friends of Fort Ridgely lowered much of the popping plastic and pounded in many popping nails. However, I can still count at least 16 spots where plastic is popping. The popping nails are too numerous to count.

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.

Inside the Commissary

If you go inside the commissary, do not believe everything you see and hear. There are many incorrect statements in the introduction video and 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:

  1. The statement is wrong.
  2. The statement is incomplete.
  3. The statement cannot be proven.
  4. 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 Fort Ridgely Information Website
     52 incorrect statements

Review – MHS Fort Ridgely Site Sign [and Sign Website]
     6 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 – Introduction Video
     27 incorrect statements

Review – MHS Fort Ridgely Exhibits
     34 incorrect statements

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

Review – Gustavus Adophus Exhibit

  • Thank goodness, this error-filled exhibit has been removed.

I count a total of 218 incorrect statements in the Fort Ridgely websites, signs, video, and exhibits.

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? Visitors should be warned of the many incorrect statements before they pay their admission.

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

I sent copies of my June 2016 “Historic Fort Ridgely – Visitor Beware” essay to people at MHS and NCHS. By ignoring these problems in site maintenance and interpretation, MHS and NCHS are perpetrating a fraud on the visitors to this site. MHS and NCHS need higher standards. If this is not possible, this site should be closed.

2 thoughts on “MHS FR – Visitors Beware – May 2017

  1. Thank you once again for your diligence in pointing out the issues and incorrect statements. I appreciate your efforts to maintain accuracy at Fort Ridgely. It’s one of my favorite Dakota War sites, and it’s a shame to see the neglect here. In my opinion, the golf course detracts from the site, but that’s a separate issue. I am willing to help if I can.

    • Lynne:

      Thanks for your comments. I send copies of my Fort Ridgely reviews to the Minnesota Historical Society. They did remove the offensive “Commemoration Controversy” exhibit and made corrections to one of their websites. There is still much to fix in the maintenance and interpretation at Fort Ridgely. I think the Friends of Fort Ridgely prevented the golf course from being closed, in part, by working with their State Legislators. However, people forget that Historic Fort Ridgely is also part of the State Park.

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