Fort Ridgely: Stories and Reflections




Fort Ridgely

Patricia Emerson: “From the perspective of both the Dakota and the Euro American settlers, Fort Ridgely was really critical.”

Narrator: While originally built as a place to protect newly arrived European settlers and later a training center for Civil War volunteers, in August of 1862, Fort Ridgely became a turning point in the U.S.-Dakota war, with lasting implications.

Patricia Emerson: “We have documentary evidence that some Dakota believed that if they could take Fort Ridgely, then the Minnesota River Valley would be theirs.”

Archaeological History of Fort Ridgely

Grace Goldtooth-Campos: “I think it’s important for all Minnesotans to know that the Dakota people were here long before the European contact.”

Patricia Emerson: “We still do have evidence of at least 10,000 years of Native presence. That’s something that people forget about.”

Narrator: Archaeological research reinforces what Dakota people have always known about the land.

Patricia Emerson: “In the 1930’s, an archaeologist named G. Hubert Smith directed the excavation that left the foundations that you see out there today. Quite by accident, Smith also wound up excavating an earlier occupation which represents a Native cultural tradition that archaeologists call Oneota. The artifacts date to 1300-1400 A.D. There are also prehistoric burial mounds in Fort Ridgely that were initially documented in the 1880’s.”

Narrator: Recent digs have provided even more evidence of Native presence.

Patricia Emerson: “One of the interesting things that was found several years ago was the remnants of a circle of rocks that were intended to contain a fire. The recent archaeological work did include consultation with representatives from both Lower Sioux and Upper Sioux communities. That ability to document Native presence was important to them. The heritage of Native people is really part of the heritage of everybody who calls himself Minnesotan.”

Dakota Reflections on Fort Ridgely Today

Tamara St. John: “When we find ourselves going to Fort Ridgely and examining this history, our role in it is one of trauma and it’s often very hard.”

Narrator: While a rich historic site to visit for many, Fort Ridgely brings up strong emotions for people in the Dakota community.

Gabrielle Tateyuskanskan: “It’s really difficult teaching your children that these forts were built to protect Euro-Americans against Indians and that their job was to kill Indians. They are difficult reminders that there’s still that attitude in America that Indians are the enemy.”

Narrator: Today’s educators in the Dakota community use Fort Ridgely as a tool to educate Dakota youth, not only about their history but also important values in the community.

Dallas Goldtooth: “We talk about the history. We tell the youth ‘this was frontier at one point, this was the western edge of the western world. And this is the site where we had a battle with the Americans; this is where the Dakota people attacked the fort.’”

Grace Goldtooth-Campos: “When I’m riding in Fort Ridgely and we’re using our Dakota language when we’re riding there, I feel like that’s a way of healing, not only for ourselves, but for the land there that once heard the language spoken so freely within the area there. This land, it appreciates that.”