MHS FR – A Dinosaur

Minnesota Historical Society
A Dinosaur at Historic Fort Ridgely
© August 4, 2017, John LaBatte

There is a small diorama at Historic Fort Ridgely that was donated to the Minnesota Historical Society in 1962. That’s right, 55 years ago! It contains at least 26 incorrect statements, 7 offensive terms and 4 spelling errors. It should be updated and corrected else it should be removed. This essay takes a closer look at this diorama.

Four scenes are depicted:
Fort Ridgely, Minnesota
Officer Quarters
Headquarters Building
Battle with Sioux Indians, 1862

NOTE: The statements below in quotes are from the diorama.

“Fort Ridgely, Minnesota – During the Sioux Indian Attacks of Aug. 20 and 22, 1862”

  • Disrespectful – Some today consider “Sioux” to be offensive.

“This scene depicts the defenses set up at the SW corner of the Fort. The gun position was manned by Sgt. John Jones and members of Co. B. The men in civilian clothing represent the newly formed “Renville Rangers”, half breed Indians who had been recruited at the Upper Indian Agency for service in the Civil War.”

  • Is this correct? – Can it be proven that building structures in this scene and in the other scenes are correct?
  • Is this correct? – This scene depicts a horse near the cannon. Would a horse be here?
  • Disrespectful – Some today consider “half breed” to be offensive.
  • Incorrect – The majority of the Renville Rangers were Whites.
  • Incorrect – Not all of the Renville Rangers were recruited at the Upper Agency.
  • Incorrect – There were civilian volunteers assisting with the cannon. It is likely they were also dressed in civilian clothing.
  • Incorrect – The diagram shows the magazines west of the log cabins. The magazines were 200 yards northwest of the parade grounds.
  • Incorrect – The diagram shows the guardhouse southwest of the commissary. The guardhouse across from the commissary.
  • Is this correct? – The diagram shows an officer mess in an officer quarters building. Can this be proven?

“Here we see the six pound field piece – “Napoleon” – smooth bore cannon that kept the Indians from storming the fort from the ravine located 300 yards to the SW. This gun was quite accurate up to 500 yds.”

  • Incorrect – In the 1st battle, Sgt. Jones had a 6-pounder field gun defending the south side of the fort. He moved it about as needed. In the 2nd battle, Sgt. Jones had his 6 pounder field gun at the southwest corner of the fort.
  • Incorrect – The Napoleon cannon was a 12-pounder. It was not in service in the 1st battle. The Napoleon cannon was at the southeast corner of the fort during the 2nd battle.
  • Incorrect – The nearest ravine on the southwest corner was closer than 300 yards.
  • Incorrect – Both the Napoleon and 6-pounder field gun had a much longer range than 500 yards.
  • Is this correct? – Shouldn’t the term for cannons be pounder instead of pound?

“Defending an open fort against 500 to 1200 Indian warriors is exceedingly difficult, but in this instant was successful because the open areas were defended by cannons which the Indians feared.”

  • Incorrect – It is estimated that there were 400 Indians in the 1st battle and 800 in the 2nd battle.
  • Disrespectful – Some today consider “warriors” to be offensive.
  • Incorrect – Spelling – “instant” should be “instance”

“Inside the fort there were:
Minnesota 5th Regiment:        Men     Guns
Company B                                33        20
Company C                                52        52
Renville Rangers                       51        40
Regular US Army                        1          1
Doctor – Sutler                             2          1
–                                               —–      —–
–                                               139      114
Civilians (wives – refugees)     300          6
–                                               —–      —–
–                                               439      120”

  • Incorrect – Women civilians are counted under the heading “Men.” There were also children among the civilians.
  • Incorrect – There were at least 30 civilian defenders.
  • Incorrect – These numbers are not consistent with other numbers from other sources. 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.
  • Incorrect – The Renville Rangers were not part of the Minnesota 5th. They had not enlisted at this time.
  • Incorrect – Show proof that the distribution of guns is correct. Why would Company B have only 20 guns? Did the author take into consideration the old guns found in the magazine and put into service? How does the author count the men manning the cannons? How does the author know that the Renville Rangers had only 40 guns? Did the author take into consideration the guns furnished to the Renville Rangers in St. Peter? It seems doubtful that there would be only 1 gun between the doctor and sutler. From other stats, among the 300 refugees, there were about 100 men. Is it possible they had only 6 guns?

“Officers’ Quarters”

“In this building the bachelor officers lived. The building was 97’ x 38’ with eight rooms. Usually one man was billeted in each room. The rooms were heated by fireplaces and probably contained a bed, stand with wash basin, a straight back chair, small table or desk, a lounging chair, and a wardrobe cabinet. The officer’s mess was in the building on the opposite side of the yard.”

  • Is this correct? – Can it be proven that the officer’s mess was in the building on the opposite side of the yard?

“Lt. Timothy J. Sheehan – Brought Co. C down from Fort Ripley to assist Capt. Marsh. Became Commanding Officer after death of Marsh.”

  • Incorrect- Lt. Gere became Commanding Officer when Marsh died. Sheehan became Commanding Officer upon his return to Fort Ridgely on Tuesday, August 19

“Headquarters’ Building”

  • Is this correct? Wasn’t there a central hallway in this building?

“Battle with Sioux Indians, 1862”

“…Donated 1962…to the Minnesota Historical Society on the 100th anniversity of the Sioux Uprising for use in the Fort Ridgely museum.”

  • Incorrect – Spelling – “anniversity” should be “anniversary”
  • Disrespectful – Some today consider “Sioux Uprising” to be offensive.

“From this position you see the gun crew which was trained by Sgt. Jones preparing their 6 lb. smooth bore “Napoleon” cannon for fire. They could fire about once a minute, either solid shot or canister.”

  • Incorrect – In the 1st battle, Sgt. Jones had a 6-pounder field gun defending the south side of the fort. He moved it about as needed. In the 2nd battle, Sgt. Jones had his 6 pounder field gun at the southwest corner of the fort.
  • Incorrect – The Napoleon cannon was a 12-pounder. It was not in service in the 1st battle. The Napoleon cannon was at the southeast corner of the fort during the 2nd battle.

“Protecting this position were members of Company B and the Renville Rangers, recent recruits, shown in civilian clothing.”

  • Is this correct? Can this be proven that members of Company B and the Renville Rangers were in this position?
  • Incorrect – As stated above, there were about 30 civilian defenders who were also likely in civilian clothing.

“There were probably no more than 50 to 80 men at this end of the Fort, but with their cannon they kept the Indian Warriors from advancing from the ravine to the southwest.”

  • Incorrect – The author cannot possibly estimate the number of men at this end of the Fort.
  • Disrespectful – Some today consider “Indian Warriors” to be offensive.

“This was a nine day siege with the Indians making two major attacks: The first attack on Wednesday, Aug. 20th gave the Indians a taste of cannon fire that threw them into confusion and convinced many that it was better to go and loot the farm houses.”

  • Incorrect – The Indians had already looted many farmhouses. Apparently, the “taste of cannon fire” was not enough because more returned on August 22.

“On Friday, Aug. 22, 1862, the Indians mass 1200 warriors at the Fort in an effort to overpower the soldiers and ‘drive the whites out of Minnesota.’ Probably half of them swarmed in from the west toward this position. They succeeded in getting to the Sutler’s Store and barn and coming up out at the ravine they reached the horse shed (between the Headquarter Blg. and the river). Cannon balls were heated red hot and fired into these buildings setting them afire. As the Indians ‘ran screeming out the soldiers racked them with gun fire…’”

  • Incorrect – On August 22, an estimated 800 Dakota attacked the fort. See Chief Big Eagle and Lightning Blanket accounts in Anderson/Woolworth, Through Dakota Eyes.
  • Disrespectful – Some today consider “warriors” to be offensive.
  • Incorrect – It cannot be stated how many “swarmed in from the west”.
  • Incorrect – Red-hot cannonballs were fired only into the large horse and mule barn.
  • Incorrect – Spelling – “screeming” should be “screaming”
  • Incorrect – Spelling – “racked” should be “raked”

“On one charge out of the ravine, eleven warriors were knocked down by one canister charge.”

  • Incorrect – It cannot be stated how many were knocked down.
  • Disrespectful – Some today consider “warriors” to be offensive.
  • Incorrect – A double-canister charge was fired into the charging Dakota.

In My Opinion

Someone knowledgeable on the architecture of Historic Fort Ridgely should validate these buildings. Is the chart that shows number of defenders, guns and refugees correct? If it is correct, then other MHS products are wrong. The incorrect statements, the offensive terms and the spelling errors in this exhibit should be updated and corrected else this dinosaur should be removed.

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