Backstory and Context
Compliant to the U.S. government, the Dakota moved to a small reservation near the Minnesota River after selling 35 million acres of their land. Fort Ridgely, which was constructed in 1853 “near the southern border of the new reservation and northwest of the German settlement of New Ulm”, was named “Ridgely” in honor of three men with that same name whom died in the Mexican War. 1 The fort was completed in 1855. Not long after the fort was completed, it became home to 300 soldiers and civilians.
The U.S.-Dakota War began in August of 1862 after “unkempt promises by the U.S. government, nefarious practices by fur traders and crop failure all helped create tensions.”1 On August 20th and August 22nd, Dakota forces attacked Fort Ridgely. On August 20th, about 400 Dakota attacked the fort but with no success. Then on August 22nd, double the amount of Dakota forces, 800, attacked the fort but still to no avail.2 “This was one of the few instances of a full assault on a U.S. Military post in the west.” 3 During the two-day battle, three soldiers were killed and thirteen were wounded. Four civilians were killed and there were 26 wounded.4
Fort Ridgely was abandoned by the Army in 1867. There was one soldier left behind as a caretaker, but he left the fort in 1872. This is when civilians in the area occupied the buildings in the fort and then later took them apart to use the materials. Much of the fort was rebuilt between the years of 1935 and 1942. “The Veteran Conservation Corps excavated the site, restored the foundations of eight fort buildings and reconstructed the entire commissary building.” It was in 1970 that Fort Ridgely was added to the National Register of Historic Places.1 Within Fort Ridgely State Park today, the Minnesota Historical Society are a private group that preserves the buildings on the site. The museum is located inside of the old commissary building.3