Minnesota Historical Society
Historic Fort Ridgely – Just the Facts
© July 9, 2017, John LaBatte
Updated on July 24, 2017
This essay is for those people who think my reviews on Historic Fort Ridgely products have little or no merit. Does anyone at Minnesota Historical Society or Nicollet County Historical Society want to debate me on my facts?
Fort Ridgely State Park is owned and managed by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. Historic Fort Ridgely occupies about 22 acres within the State Park. Minnesota Historical Society (MHS) owns Historical Fort Ridgely and sub-contracts its operation to Nicollet County Historical Society (NCHS). Historic Fort Ridgely is the most significant historic site in Minnesota.
There are 8 MHS products that interpret Historic Fort Ridgely: 3 websites, 2 exhibits, site sign, trail signs, and introduction video. Reviews of these products were sent to people at MHS and posted to this blog. For more detailed information, refer to my essay, “Historic Fort Ridgely – Visitors Beware – May 2017” at:
Fact vs. Opinion
According to Webster, a fact is “something that truly exists or happens; something that has actual existence; a true piece of information.” An opinion is “a belief, judgment, or way of thinking about something; what someone thinks about a particular thing.”
My reviews find about 220 incorrect statements in the 8 MHS products. About 180 are factually incorrect. About 40 are opinions. This does not mean that my opinions are wrong. MHS has many opinions in their products. This does not mean that their opinions are correct.
Just the Facts
Following are factual corrections to factual incorrect statements in the MHS Historic Fort Ridgely products. Many duplicates have been removed. The corrections are sorted in approximate chronological sequence.
Facts – Attackers
- On August 20, an estimated 400 Dakota attacked the fort. On August 22, an estimated 800 Dakota attacked the fort. See Chief Big Eagle and Lightning Blanket accounts in Anderson/Woolworth, Through Dakota Eyes. MHS products get this wrong 5 times.
Facts – Defenders
- There were 180 military and civilian defenders. See General L. F. Hubbard, “Narrative of the 5th Regiment,” Minnesota in the Civil and Indian Wars, Volume I, 251.
- The statistics shown in the small diorama are not consistent with numbers from other sources. The small diorama does not count the men manning the cannons.
- The Renville Rangers were not part of the Minnesota 5th Regiment.
- The Renville Rangers were not all “half-breeds.”
- “Half-breed” is a derogatory term and should not be used.
- Not all of the Renville Rangers were recruited at the Upper Agency.
- There were at least 30 civilian defenders.
- Lt. Gere became Commanding Officer when Captain Marsh died. Lt. Sheehan became Commanding Officer when he returned to Fort Ridgely on August 19.
Facts – Refugees
- At least 7 sources state that there were from 300 to 350 refugees inside the fort. Add this to the 180 defenders less 30 refugees who were defenders. Total defenders and refugees inside the fort were 450 to 550. It cannot be determined how many families were inside the fort.
Facts – The Dakota Indians
- The Eastern Dakota were the Mdewakanton and Wahpekute. The Western Dakota were the Sisseton and Wahpeton.
- It is not known when and where the Dakota first encountered the Whites.
Facts – The Treaties
- There were 2 treaties in 1851.
- It cannot be stated how many millions of acres of land were sold in the Treaties of 1851. This land was never surveyed. MHS products differ on total acres sold.
- The Dakota did meet in councils before they signed the Treaties of 1851.
- The missionaries and the U.S. Government built the schools on the reservations.
- The treaties gave the Dakota much more than gold, goods, schools and help in building farms.
- The Dakota were not given ownership of their reservations in the 1851 treaties and they were paid for these reservation lands. In the 1858 Treaties, they were asked to vacate their reservation lands on the north side of the Minnesota River. They were paid a 2nd time for these lands they vacated. In the 1858 Treaties, they were given ownership of their remaining reservations on the south side of the river. Thus, they were given ownership to lands for which they were paid in the 1851 treaties.
Facts – Reservations
- There were 2 reservations created by the Treaties of 1851: The Upper Dakota Reservation and the Lower Dakota Reservation. MHS products state at least 8 times that there was only one reservation
- An 1859 mileage chart of the Minnesota River shows 80 river miles between the Upper and Lower Agencies.
- The Lower Reservation started northwest of New Ulm. The Upper Reservation extended into present day South Dakota.
- Dakota leaders agreed that their people would move to the reservations.
- Some Dakota villages did not move onto their new reservations. Some villages were already on their new reservations.
- The Dakota were not confined to their reservations. See my essay “Reservations – Confinement?” posted on this blog.
- By 1862, there were about 250 Dakota families on farms indicating that there was a plan for the Dakota to remain in Minnesota. This was also contrary to Chief Big Eagle who said “The whites were always trying to make the Indians give up their life and live like white men – go to farming, work hard and do as they did – and the Indians did not know how to do that, and did not want to anyway.”
Facts – Fort Ridgely
- Captain Randolph Ridgely died during the Mexican War, but not in the war.
- It cannot be determined when actual construction of Fort Ridgely started.
- Fort Ridgely was not built on a true north-south, east-west direction.
- Fort Ridgely was constructed on the Lower Reservation about 5 miles west of the eastern border of the Lower Reservation.
- Fort Ridgely was located about 13 land miles southeast of the Lower Agency.
- Fort Ridgely was between the Dakota and some of the settlers. It was not between the Dakota and settlers in Brown, Murray and Renville Counties.
- Fort Snelling, Fort Ripley and Fort Abercrombie, the other forts in the area, all had protective walls.
- There were ravines on 3 sides within musket range of the fort.
- Fort Ridgely was defended 2 times against superior numbers of Dakota attackers – proof that it was not poorly designed for defense.
- Fort Ridgely did not “enforce violations.” They tried to prevent violations of the treaties.
- Soldiers at Fort Ridgely killed hostile Dakota only in self-defense.
- The Dakota Indians did not need Fort Ridgely to protect them from intrusions.
- The Minnesota River was frozen or too low for steamboats most of the year.
- The log building on the far east, behind the barracks, was the home of Sgt. Jones and his family.
- The 2 powder magazines stood 200 yards northwest of the fort.
- There was a Fort Ridgely ferry crossing. When the Minnesota River level was low, the river could be crossed in two places (without a ferry) near Fort Ridgely.
Facts – Map – Southern Minnesota, 1862
- The Upper Reservation is misidentified as “Upper Agency.”
- The Lower Reservation is misidentified as “Lower Agency.”
- “Lac Qui Parle” is shown but not identified. Is it the lake, county, river, or mission site?
- In 1861, there were 35 Dakota Indian villages. But, only one village is shown.
- 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?
- There is a bullet identified as “Redwood.” What does this mean?
- The road shown between Fort Ridgely, Henderson and Fort Snelling was not the only road in this area in 1862.
Facts – War
- By the summer of 1862, some Dakota families were starving, some were on the verge of starving and some were not starving.
- Annuities were due at the end of June. In 1862 the annuities were about 7 weeks late.
- Agent Galbraith issued food during the winter of 1861-62.
- Galbraith issued food to the Sisseton and Wahpeton in August 1862. He did not issue food to the Mdewakanton and Wahpekute.In 1861, the Dakota received the food and money promised by the U.S.
- In 1861, many of the crops on the reservations were destroyed by cutworms.
- In the spring of 1862, many of the traders stopped giving them credits. Some traders continued to give credits.
- Dakota leaders asked Galbraith for food. He asked Andrew Myrick for the traders to supply food to the Dakota. It was the U.S. Government’s responsibility to feed the Dakota.
- It cannot be proven why 4 Dakota men killed 5 settlers in Acton Township, Meeker County, Minnesota. See my essay, “Dakota War Causes – Acton.”
- A large majority of Dakota leaders were not present when the decision for war was made.
- The Dakota War was fought across a wide area.
- The hostile Dakota did not release their captives. The friendly Dakota took control of the captives.
- More than 650 whites died in the Dakota War and its aftermath.
- The official army record stated that 102 Dakota died in the Fort Snelling internment camp.
- It cannot be proven that Chiefs Mankato and Wabasha were present in the 2nd battle of New Ulm.
- There were no captive settlers at Fort Ridgely.
- The only fight Sibley fought was Wood Lake.
Facts – Major Battle Sites U.S.-Dakota Conflict, 1862
- There was no battle at Lower Sioux Agency.
- There were 2 battles at New Ulm.
- Following the Battle of Wood Lake, Little Crow fled with his followers. His followers included men, women and children.
- There was no battle at Camp Release.
- There were 2 battles at Fort Abercrombie.
- There was a Battle of Acton.
Facts – Battles of Fort Ridgely
- Spelling – “instant” should be “instance”
- Spelling – “screeming” should be “screaming”
- Spelling – “racked” should be “raked”
- “…Gere Gov. Ramsey…” should be “…Gere wrote Gov. Ramsey…”
- Lt. Sheehan left with his company on Sunday, Aug 17 to return to Fort Ripley.
- Before Captain Marsh left Fort Ridgely for the Redwood Ferry, he sent a message to Lt. Sheehan to return to Fort Ridgely.
- Captain Marsh, Peter Quinn and 22 soldiers were killed in the Battle of Redwood Ferry.
- The last of the survivors of the Battle of Redwood Ferry did not return to the fort until Wednesday.
- Learning of the losses at Redwood Ferry, Lt. Gere sent a message to Lt. Sheehan to hasten his return to Fort Ridgely.
- At Fort Ridgely, soldiers and Dakota battled on 2 separate days: August 20 and 22.
- During the 1st battle, civilians were sent to retrieve cannon ammunition from the powder magazines.
- On August 20, Dakota attacked from several points not just from the northeast and southeast as shown on the map.
- The map shows the mail carrier coming in from the southwest. The text says the mail carrier was coming in from the east.
- On August 22, Dakota attacked from many points not just from the west and southwest.
- On August 22, it cannot be stated how many Indians “swarmed in from the west.”
- On August 22, it cannot be stated how many defenders were at different places inside the fort.
- Cannon fire from east of the barracks, cannon fire from west 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.
- In both battles, the Dakota were defeated by cannon and musket fire.
- 3 cannons were used in the 1st battle and 5 cannons were used in the 2nd battle.
- The Napoleon cannon at Fort Ridgely was a 12-pounder.
- Sgt. Jones had a 6-pounder field gun in the position shown.
- Both the Napoleon and 6-pounder field gun had a much longer range than 500 yards.
- Rate of fire for cannons was about 2 times aimed to 4 times not aimed shots per minute.
- The nearest ravine southwest of the fort was closer than 300 yards.
- It cannot be stated how many Dakota were “knocked down” when they charged from the southwest ravine.
- Red-hot cannonballs were fired only into the large horse and mule barn.
- Many small out-buildings, serving as cover, were burned by cannon fire.
- Sibley arrived at Fort Ridgely on August 28.
- Sibley sent 150-170 men to search for survivors, bury the dead and locate the hostile Indians. They were not sent to rebuild the Redwood Ferry.
- Only 2 Dakota men brought whites to the fort.
- An 1859 mileage chart of the Minnesota River shows 102 river miles between Fort Ridgely and Upper Sioux Agency where Lorenzo Lawrence started.
- Total white losses were 3 soldiers killed and 13 wounded, 4 civilians killed and 26 wounded, 5 killed carrying dispatches to St. Peter and 7 babies born during the siege.
- Total Dakota losses are not reported anywhere in these products. Lt. Gere wrote that at least 100 Indians were killed.
- Spelling – “anniversity” should be “anniversary”
Facts – After the War
- There was at least 1 white and several mixed-bloods among the 303 men condemned to death by Sibley’s military commission.
- 40 court cases were heard on only one day – October 30. See Bachman, Northern Slave, Black Dakota, page 203.
- Godfrey testified in more than 45 trials. See Bachman, Northern Slave Black Dakota, page 220.
- There were originally 303 death sentences. See Bachman, Northern Slave, Black Dakota, page 221.
- The hanging of 38 men was the largest simultaneous mass hanging ever to take place in the United States.
- There was at least 1 white and several mixed-bloods among the 38 hanged.
- The Dakota were removed from their land on the Upper and Lower Reservations.
- Most of the Dakota were exiled from the state.
- Company H of the 10th Infantry Regiment departed Fort Ridgely for Fort Wadsworth in Dakota Territory.
Facts – VCC, CCC and National Register
- The CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) began restoration of the fort in 1934-1935. The VCC completed the work.
- They located the building foundations underground and outlined them with stones and mortar on top of the ground. If is not clear that the cellar walls are original stones.
- In 1970, Fort Ridgely Historic District was added to the National Register. The Historic District included 220 acres.
- In 1989, the CCC and VCC structures were added to the National Register. Included were 25 structures in the park, the work around the Fort Ridgely parade ground and the historic commissary reconstruction.
In My Opinion
MHS should do any or all of the following:
- Reduce or eliminate admission fees to this site.
- Provide verbal warnings to visitors before they pay admission.
- Provide copies of this essay to visitors before they pay admission.
- Post signs that there are many mistakes in the interpretation of this site.
- Fix the problems.
It is unethical to charge people admission to see products riddled with many incorrect statements. It is unprofessional to interpret history this way. This is an insult to those brave men and women who fought here and to those settlers who found refuge here.
Does anyone at Minnesota Historical Society or Nicollet County Historical Society want to debate me on my facts?