Fort Ridgely both contradicts and fits the popular culture stereotype of a frontier fort. Following its 1855 completion, the Fort's primary role was to assist the federal government with an orderly transition of land ownership from American Indians to the growing number of European immigrant farmers. Nothing in that definition suggests the need for a stockade for defense against dramatic attacks.
Yet that is what happened. When the six-week U.S.-Dakota War began in August, 1862, the fort assumed great importance as the only military post in the area. On August 20 and 22, 1862, as many as 400 Dakota warriors attacked the fort, defended by just 280 soldiers and refugees. The use of artillery compensated for the lack of a stockade and for the fort's vulnerable location, compelling Dakota forces to withdraw.
Up until the events that led to war in 1862, loneliness and boredom afflicted the Fort Ridgely soldiers: records described complaints about housekeeping detail and harsh winters. With the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, Minnesota's citizen soldiers relieved regular Army soldiers needed in the South. When the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862 erupted, those same volunteer soldiers were among the first to respond and the first to fall in combat. Hundreds of European immigrant families fled to Fort Ridgely for protection.
The U.S. military abandoned the fort in 1872, and most of the buildings deteriorated or were converted for other uses. The state erected a battle monument in 1896. In 1911, the Minnesota Legislature created Fort Ridgely State Park. Excavations in 1935 revealed eight building foundations. The fort's stone commissary was preserved and today serves as a visitor center.
Clean Water, Land & Legacy Amendment
Minnesota Historical Society